Saturday, 2 November 2013

Notes on the Patriarchal Moral-political Economy: Hindutva, Fascism & the masculine politics of domination

“Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”
Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended

In my previous post, my central argument was to explore how the patriarchal moral-political economy is Janus-faced; that is, how, through “collective conscience”…the moral-political economy “legitimates violence against the bodies of criminals, not because of the crime they commit, but because who they commit it against; and…in doing so, through its various institutions, it creates and reinforces network of hegemony, that defines criminality…and its (selective, and often brutal) punishment.” In this post, I attempt to offer further explanation on what I call the “masculine politics of domination”, in the context of the political Right-wing Hindutva in contemporary India.
Thus, to reiterate my other two conditions of moral-political economies: there is no one model of a moral-political economy; there are moral-political economies. That is, networks of hegemony, patronage and violence; networks that fall outside the ambit of government, but are insidious components of governance. And one way these networks of violence are operationalized (and legitimated) is through what I call the masculine politics of domination. This ‘politics’ invests its power in the category of the masculine as the dominant trope of organising power relations. However, this does not work in, or limited to, the rigid binaries of gender, or even sexualities. It is located at the intersection of political ideologies, spaces, economics, and, more importantly, in engendering violence, and manufacturing the legitimacy for the same.
Therefore, our discussion on moral-political economies also has a lot to do with the events that unfolded on our television screens the same day that the Saket Sessions court awarded the death sentence to the Delhi gang rape-murder perpetrators: Narendra Modi’s anointment as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

Masculine Politics of Domination: More forms of legitimating violence
That there’s a lot being said about Modi is an understatement. And it is indeed quite a task to sift out contradictory and divergent strands of thought, or ideas that can elucidate what the deal with him is: Is it purely economics? Based on the merits of his so-called Gujarat Model of development? The belief that he can deliver “maximum governance, with minimum government”, where the corrupt UPA has failed?
Or, is it about his complicity (if not direct involvement) in the genocidal riots that rocked Gujarat in 2002? – That are, by any account, one of the worst instances of communal conflicts in India. Clearly, his refusal to talk about 2002, and his usage of metaphors (for when he does) – that the riots were like a “puppy coming under the wheels of a car” and that, naturally, he is sad – is, to say the very least, problematic But, what then? And let us not forget the spate of fake encounter killings between 2004 and 2007, that were, undoubtedly, a quasi-policy of the state in dealing with the sublime threat of Islamic terrorism.
Personally, I do not think that dwelling on 2002 purely on the basis of rhetoric gets us anywhere (which degenerate into petty exchanges). The proof against Shiv Sena leader, Balasaheb Thackeray, in the 1992 Bombay riots was as damning, if not more. And that man, on whose watch one of India’s greatest cities burned, got a state funeral. Will Modi ever be held accountable for 2002? I am not sure. In fact, if anything, the question of the 2002 riots vis-à-vis the patriarchal moral-political economy begs a pertinent intervention in discussing what Ward Berenschot calls “riot politics” in his book Riot Politics: Hindu-Muslim Violence and the Indian State.
For Berenschot, the violence in Gujarat was possible not because it was an explicit government pogrom, or because the riots were uncontrollable; they were possible because of several factors, like the decline of traditional mediation networks in the communities, decline of trade unions, and the rise of virulent Hindutva politics. Older structures, like Pol Panchayats had but lost their influence in the communities of Ahmedabad; in lieu of them, politicians, goondas, and chamchas were now extended patronage networks, to which people (the Gujarati middle class) turned to. And it is these social actors that served as “riot networks”, and the riot, ultimately, was a way of “maintaining power relations” (read his paper here). A feminist reading of Berenschot’s arguments thus renders a conception of a “working” moral-political economy: the question of macro- and micro-spaces, making Berenschot’s work indispensable in our understanding of masculine politics of domination.
Following Judith Butler’s idea of performativity and violence, politics of domination would refer to not only the legitimation of violence – “rape-as-punishment” & “rape-being-punished-by-death” – but also the very nature of the violence perpetrated (the appalling description of violence and rape chronicled by Human Rights Watch’s report on Gujarat). Moreover, this form of violence is a perverse process of creating the bodies of the “other” – women, Muslims, Dalits – as a site which engenders a fundamentally Right-wing politics of violence. Thus, the violence enacted on Muslim bodies during the riots, of allowing Hindus to express their anger”, of “putting the Muslims in place”; as well as the violence perpetrated on Dalits, and women, engenders the legitimacy of violence, and more so, the necessity of it, in the creation of moral-political economies.
In this essay, however, I also explore another fundamental idea: the intersection of fascism with the Right’s moral-political economy. It is my argument that, by representing Modi as the dominant trope of masculinity, and, through his own attempts to forge more secular or tolerant credentials for himself, Modi’s image as “the governator” is essential for the creation of the Sangh’s moral-political economy. Secondly, I also extrapolate how the Sangh itself embodies or represents what Italian philosopher Umberto Eco calls “Ur-Fascism”. [Note: the term ‘Sangh’ is shorthand for mainly the RSS, and its associated organisations: the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal & Durga Vahini].

Modi, Hindutva and image of the “governator”
It is no secret or great big revelation, that the RSS, the VHP and other right-wing outfits associated with the BJP are regressively patriarchal. They, and their assorted misogynistic codswallop, represent what I have earlier described as a culture of violence. Misogyny, policing of sexualities, a pervasive rape culture, are actually normalized fields of violence for them. In Masculinities, R.W. Connell differentiates between different masculinities, and the relationship between them – these being, hegemony, subordination, complicity, and marginalisation (see the previous post for a discussion of Connell’s work on hegemonic masculinity).
The masculine that Modi comes to define and inhabit is, to refer the arguments above, a penultimate form of hegemonic masculinity. The resurgence of the right can also be seen, in part, as a re-masculinization in reaction the emasculating politics of the soft, corrupt UPA regime. It also functions to emasculate and marginalise the masculinity of the Muslim “other” – which has always been the Sangh’s object of attack (more on that later).
That might offer some preliminary explanation on why Hindutva figures so virulently in the political agenda of the BJP specifically. I mean, on the one hand, they are desperate to show that they are not entirely dominated by the regressive patriarchy of the VHP, and much less, the RSS. And on the other, they are equally desperate to reverse the emasculating policies of the UPA, to reassert, and reinstate, what Michael Messner has called the “masculinity of the governator”.
Messner argues that the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger in American politics was done so by him forging a credible, hybrid masculine imagery as a “kindergarten commando”. This, he says, “represents an ascendant hegemonic masculinity…foregrounding toughness, and the threat of violence and following the situationally appropriate symbolic displays of compassions”. This utilisation masculine imagery, for the Republicans, was necessary in national politics to gain voters’ trust in times of fear and insecurity. What the BJP and Modi are trying to achieve, is a similar process. Both, the so-called Gujarat Model and Modi’s masculine imagery, his “56-inch chest” included (he was dubbed “Rambo Modi” with news of his rescue of 15,000 stranded Gujaratis in Uttarakhand after the floods) represents both, a kind of Janus-faced politics, and the constitution of a hegemonic category of masculinity. The shrill cry of Hindutva – his claims of being a “Hindu nationalist” – contrary to being (just) a communal assertion, is actually a masculine assertion. It is, among many other things, an attempt for the BJP to forge the Hindutva patriarchal moral-political economy with the image of Modi as governator at its helm (if the claim of “Ram-rajya”  is not a plea for more patriarchal control, then I don’t know what is). 
Many of these arguments on Hindutva politics, masculinity and male embodiment are explained in Joseph Alter’s Moral Materialism: Sex and Celibacy in Modern India. Alter locates the discussion on celibacy in the milieu of nationalist discourse of post-Independent India, where to contrast the hegemonic, western masculinity of the colonisers, there was a revival in the Indian (more so, the Hindu) conception of celibacy and sexuality.  Incidentally, however, the RSS' recent claim that Hindus should scrap the one-child norm and have more children to “balance” the demographic imbalance (i.e., to counter “rising” Muslim population) represents yet another patriarchal attempt at biopolitics—the most notorious being the mass-sterilizations and family planning under the aegis of Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi.
Thus, apart from being Messner’s “governator”, Modi also serves as the epitaph of popular Hindutva for a vast majority of Hindus (predominantly, male youth) in the country. His stance on the economy (especially, the Food Security Bill), the armed forces, the border, and India’s (emasculated) relationship with China and Pakistan, are fantastic ideological tools that have, and pardon my use of floral language, captured the hearts and minds of the masses. For, as sociologist Shiv Visvanathan rightly points out in his essay, ‘The Remaking of Narendra Modi’: “He [Modi] is a cultural dream for Hindus tired of softness and gentleness who welcome his technocratic machismo.”

Modi, Hindutva & Ur-Fascism
Modi’s hard, masculine stance is, for obvious reasons, highly problematic. Further to Connell’s understanding of the “relation between and within genders”, a closer and more nuanced examination of Modi also begs extremely pertinent questions on fascism, and its relation of the patriarchal moral-political economy. In an interview with Modi when he was an RSS prachalak in the 1980s, social scientist Ashis Nandy described him as “a classic, clinical case of a fascist” and that for the first time in his life he had “met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, and perhaps even a future mass murderer”. [Note: it should be clarified that I do not have access to Nandy's original statement]. 
Now, I am wary of throwing around a term like ‘fascist’ – partly because Digvijay Singh’s (or, more recently, Nithish Kumar’s) more-than-judicious use of the same bothers me; and also because I do not possess Nandy’s qualifications. However, situating the discourse of Modi in the larger scheme of the Sangh, some of the fascist iterations become evident. Also, Nandy’s later writings on Modi – for instance, in which he claims that politics has “blunted him and made him less dangerous” – are interesting. He writes: “Modi's earnestness has declined...he has become more instrumental [and] is at once less threatening and more dangerous”. Modi, now, can balance his power ambitions, and project the RSS’ (and the Sangh's) patriarchal ideologies in a manner that hides their regressive patriarchy in the patina of “development” and “governance” (Janus-faced). And, while Nandy may seem reluctant to revisit his diagnosis of fascism, I would agree with Shiv Visvanathan, when he writes that we must understand “the remaking of Modi, the modernist as fascist…if we wish to unmake it”.

Umberto Eco’s essay, Ur-Fascism, is extremely pertinent in this regard. Eco, who as a boy survived the Fascism of Mussolini in Italy in the 1940s, has offered the most compelling, exhaustive and chilling explanation of what he calls “Ur-Fascism”, or “Eternal Fascism”. He writes:
“…fascism [did not] contained in itself…all the elements of any later form of totalitarianism. On the contrary, fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions.” 
But despite of this “fuzziness”, Eco outlines a list of 14 features that are typical to “Ur-Fascism”. A more contextual reading of Eco would thus render a lot of sense to the insidious politics of the BJP and, more importantly, of its allied bodies in the Sangh Parivar (more so when we put Modi in the picture). However, due to constraints of space it is difficult for me to explain and extrapolate entirely Eco’s points on Ur-Fascism to the discourse of the BJP & RSS’ Hindutva politics. However, I shall retain some of the points that I think are extremely relevant in my analysis. 
[Note: I would urge the reader to read Eco’s essay more closely to understand the points he raises about fascism; see also, Sumit Sarkar's essay on The Fascism of the Sangh Parivar, which he wrote after the 1992 Babri masjid demolition, and the subsequent riots that followed].
Thus, with regard to the BJP-RSS in general, and to Modi in particular, my understanding of fascism, and its intersection with the patriarchal moral-political economy, is based on seven fundamental points that are raised by Eco in Ur-Fascism. The first is the “cult of syncretistic traditionalism” which “rejects modernism”. Although Modi’s Gujarat model is, supposedly, pro-development, the Ram janmabhoomi debate features vociferously the BJP’s election agenda. An argument can also be made about the Janus-faced nature of the BJP’s political agenda here: their claims on development, and a regression to their idea of Hindu Rashtra. In fact, it would seem that only in the discourse of patriarchy and fascism can such glaring contradictions coexist.
Second, is the fear of difference, and the obsession with a plot (which is an appeal to xenophobia); this grows with an appeal “against intruders”, which is why Eco terms Ur-Fascism as racist. Third, in relation to the second point, is pacifism is trafficking with the enemybecause life is permanent warfare—be it against the threat of our neighbours, or ISI-sponsored terrorists within the country – who, then, are killed in fake encounters, for display to the world. Tehelka journalist, Rana Ayyub’s exhaustive coverage of the fake encounters in Gujarat is exemplary in this regard.
Fourth, is will to power to sexual matters…this is the “origin of machismo”, and perhaps, the most important point insofar as we are looking at the relationship between patriarchy and fascism. As a woman, a friend of mine once commented, she is uncomfortable with what sees about the BJP’s rise to power; and as a feminist, I share her concern: I find it disconcerting too, that Modi, being a part of a supra-patriarchal institution like the RSS—whose chief, Mohan Bhagwat, claimed that “rapes don’t happen in Bharat; they happen in India”—can appropriate the voice of protests that were witnessed post-December 2012 gang-rape murder (the supreme irony of Modi being anointed the same day as the accused were given a death penalty).
If you require any more evidence, there is none more clear, or shocking, than this clip from Nisha Pahuja’s documentary, The World Before Her. The clip examines two contrasting scapes: first, the camp of the RSS’ women’s wing, Durga Vahini, and the assaults on women and couples in public places, and pubs (the latter by the notorious Shri Ram Sene); and second, the selection round of the Miss India pageant. The instructor at the Durga Vahini (women's wing of the RSS) camp goes on record to say that women are “biologically weaker than men”, and must, therefore, shun any hopes for gender equality. The more shocking aspect about this brainwashing at the camp, according to Pahuja, is what Prachi, a trainee at the camp, has to say about her father, (and, thus, the moral-political economy he and the RSS represent):
 “In a traditional family they don’t let girl child live. They kill the child. So this is the thing. I get angry; I have quarrels with my dad. But this thing, when it comes in my mind, I feel like crying… he let me live. That is the best part.” 
 Modi, for all his claims on development, for all his talks on the “Gujarat model”, ultimately, represents (and, comes from) the same oeuvre and ideology that is espoused by the Durga Vahini camp instructors when they claim “women are weaker than men”; by the Shri Ram Sene when they attack women in pubs; by the Ranveer Sena when they attack Dalits trying to reassert their rights; and, ultimately, by misogynists like Prachi’s father, who claim to mould her as “their product”. My stance as a Leftist often unsettles many of my critics (who happen to be supporters of Modi), inviting jibes of “Stalinism/Maoism”; but, as a feminist, I have more than enough reason, and am more than justified, to be critical of him, and the Right. And I’d dare any apologist to prove so otherwise.
The fifth condition of Ur-Fascism is an appeal to the frustrated middle class – who are (rightly) tired with ten years of the UPA’s corrupt regime and soft policies on terror, the economy, and so on. In continuation, the sixth is selective populism, where the people (in this case, the Hindus they represent) are only a theatrical fiction. Eco says, “…there is, in our future, a TV or an internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
Ramachandra Guha’s experience with such “Hindutva Hate Mail” – what journalist Sagarika Ghose has termed “Internet Hindu” – perfectly illustrates this facet. Terms like “Sickular”, “paid-media”, and, my personal favourite, “anti-national”, are in fast currency amongst these anonymous handles on Twitter. Nowhere, however, have these anonymous Twitter handles provided enough proof to counter any arguments, or to back up the accusations they hurl. And this brings us to the seventh and final condition of my interpretation of Ur-Fascism: it [a syncretistic faith] “cannot withstand criticism”. Eco sums up my thoughts, when he says that the modern community “praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.”
“Development” and the “Gujarat model” are, for apologists and supporters of Modi alike, sanctimonious; any criticism of the same is tantamount to treason. And, they very conveniently forget the fact that any true development must happen through an informed process, through scientific argument, and critical reasoning. These are qualities whose glaring absence is not only conspicuous, but also (I suspect) deleted in the discourse on Modi: because, unlike capitalism for Marx, the masculine politics of domination cannot afford to sow in the seeds of its own destruction. It needs to be fought, and resisted, unceasingly, and without respite. More than anything, a deeper understanding of patriarchal moral-political economies is required to reassert, and refashion feminist politics.

Understandably, my argument is too little, and perhaps, too late, to convince anyone (his supporters, most of all) that it is a very dangerous place for country to resort to desperation to want an authoritarian persona as Modi. His persona – for the lack of a better term – is situated at the intersection of so many discourses of violence and exclusion: and his elevation as a potential prime minister only escalates some of these concerns. However, this discourse is not about Modi: he just happens to be the dominant form of hegemonic masculine in the patriarchal moral-political economy that the Sangh is projecting.
We must remember that the patriarchal moral-political economy is more than just one person; it is an ideology, and an insidious, brutal network of hegemony, dominance, violence and exclusion. It is a system which valorises a persona like Modi, because for the BJP’s (and the Sangh Parivar’s) moral-political economy to come to force, it needs a Modi. An older figure, like Manmohan Singh – or even Advani, for instance – is spent, exhausted, if not entirely emasculated. Moreover, Modi’s image gives legitimacy to the underlying fascist tendencies of the political right, reasserts its core (fascist & patriarchal) values, and constructs what is perhaps the most powerful, and ideologically virulent, form of the patriarchal moral-political economy.
And that is precisely why we will need feminist politics. Always.

My criticisms of Modi, and the 2002 riots, are in relation to a particular and specific argument I am making on the nature of patriarchal moral-political economies. And it stands to reason that any kind of genocide or mass violence engenders a masculine politics of domination. Of course, on the other hand, the Congress would represent a different, “softer” kind of hegemonic system altogether—a more Janus-faced one, as my previous post argued; one that cannot tolerate dissent, or criticism. This is reflective of a larger problem of intolerance in the political space—a governance of paranoia. However, an objective measure cannot be adopted for the two forms; and a discursive criticism becomes necessary.
Any counter-argument, stating that Modi and the BJP represent the lesser evil, and therefore, are the necessary evil, is reflective of intellectual laziness; and so is defending the UPA’s Janus-faced policies. Both forms require incessant criticisms. And I believe I have provided enough critiques on both, in previous posts and on social media platforms. Understandably, this presents a dilemma for less nuanced minds who tend to see and organise realties in binaries.
In this post, I have, to the best of my abilities, tried to infuse a degree of analytical rigour, and provided references to back my arguments. At the end of the day, however, this is a blog post, and lacks the expansive research required for a more academic work; any suggestions regarding the arguments are more than welcome. Conversely, I do not make any claims to being an intellectual; I write. But writing, while not entirely cathartic, is a political act. And, with that, I stand by the by-line of this blog, and the feminist adage that has inspired it: the personal is indeed political 

  This post is a dedication to the brilliant women, and men. I admire, and follow on social media; many of them feminists, activists & enthusiasts, but more importantly, people who value reason & argument. I am thankful to their engaging debates, exchanges & criticisms. 
I am especially thankful to Shubhra Rishi, Ketaki HatéVaishali J, Malathi Jogi, Arundhati Bhattacharya, and Vivien D'costa, for their comments, feedback & criticisms on the earlier drafts of this essay; and to Nolina, for her constant encouragement, support and love. 


  1. Beautiful post! Insightful, inciting.

    There are three things I'm looking forward to: firstly, a meticulous calculation of how modi fares against the regional parties. My guess is that many of these smaller pillars might crumble when the roof collapses (like deve gowda has in karanataka), but overall the federated structure will remain. Secondly, I'm looking forward to certian kinds of population to become more politicized: people who describe themselves as "apolitical," migrant populations, the diversity of identities that have sprung into prominence over the limited liberalism that's been around, the left might see sense and move towards unity, so on. Difficult to say HOW they would politicize, but my guess is they will not be pleased with the system that's already partially in place and promises to intensify with modi's ascent. Thirdly, I'm not sure how far the silicon dream that modi is will be realized (or felt to be realized) given that material conditions are not as farfetched as his claims might require them to be.

    That much aside, I have this particular question to ask: there's an unfair tilt in our view of dictatorships towards those of the second world war. In fact, there's a gaping dearth of serious reference to the dictatorships in pakistan, which (if such special interest is justified) hold special interest by virtue of similar conditions. In speaking of hitler and mussolini, we tend to revitalize the gaping personality of those guys over other, worthy dictators.

  2. As always, thanks for your comments, Pratik.

    Well, about your second question: true, our views of dictatorships are too invested in models/ideas of western political thought. An indigenous critique, or understanding, of totalitarian aspirations (let's say, in South Asia, for instance) would certainly be very interesting. But at the same time, I think there is a move towards this regard: for example Zizek's "capitalism with Asian values" (aren't there studies on dictatorships in Cambodia, Myanmar?). And I really like your take on "worthy dictators".

    Now, about Modi: true, I am unsure of how Modi's image would fare in regional politics; because in that micro-space, the functioning of politics is truly befuddling (for instance, despite Mamata's hysterics, TMC did manage to clinch the Panchayat elections and the by-elections). So, that, for me, would also undermine the weightage we tend to give meta-figures like Modi.

    About your third point: exactly! Modi, if he does come to power, will be constrained by the realities and limitations of material conditions and policy structures. From a purely academic standpoint, it'll be interesting to see how his technocratic Janus-faced politics (as opposed to the Congress') can merge with the Sangh's syncretic politics, to represent a wholly different Indian policy. But, I think we're all well aware that this could have potentially disastrous consequences. Or, maybe none at all.


  3. I enjoyed reading your critical essay. As with these forecasts of patriarchal dominance - in specific - it would be interesting to observe the resistant discourses that would attempt to negotiate power. For example, if you remember, there was this Pink Chaddi campaign to counter Pramod Muthalik's idea of the anti-Valentine's Day. Yes, I need to concede here that these ideas of modernity and cultural nationalism are both problematic and cannot be taken at face value.

  4. Exactly, Parth. But there's a few clarifications I would like to make, in addition to the arguments in the post.

    Firstly, when I speak of a feminist politics (as opposed to masculine politics of domination), I'd like to clarify that I do not mean so in terms of rigid gender binaries. It is, in fact, more informed by a post-feminist understanding; as I put it, feminist politics is one where there isn't an assumption of a stable feminine subject/object. In fact, it attempts to extrapolate the specificities of feminist theory into a wider, more contemporary politics.

    Secondly, while I agree that micro-struggles like the Pink Chaddi campaign are important the thing with micro-level movements is that they are rich, dense with meanings on that level, with those specific objectives - and run the risk of erasing other concerns (criticisms of elitism, racist, classist and so forth). Hence, there is a need to think of the whole spectrum of feminist theory AND movement, to situate it better in understanding contemporary politics.

    Thanks for the comment; they're most appreciated.

  5. I have always believed that there are no born heroes.They are always the product of situations.And people for that matter who preach morality and ethics should be utmost care full not to be vindictive or self-righteous. Truth is what would I do if a friend whom I know for the last twenty years and also his family who is about to be married tells me that he has under the influence of alcohol tried to sexually assault a subordinate at work place and repents in front of you and you know he is not a repeat offender.Difficult to answer.shall I destroy him and his family for the sake of justice.As I said I won't because I am no hero.but those who preach idealism our conscience keepers should at least have the courage to say publicly that something grave has happened.I feel sorry for Shoma because of her predicament.But alas she turned out to be another me.
    Sorry to say but idealists are a lonely bunch.They don't have friends only followers.