By Leena Gita Reghunath
On the second day of the Kerala Literature Festival, conducted on the beach in Kozhikode town, India’s leading political psychologist and social critic Professor Ashis Nandy delivered a talk on the topic ‘Mass Psychology of Fascism’. Prof Nandy was a senior fellow and Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi till his retirement.
Introduced by blogger Harshad MT, Prof Nandy started his talk by claiming that he would not want to talk about fascism since it’s currently used as a word of abuse.
“And once you use it as a word of abuse, you lose the capacity to either identify or empathise with the person and confront the evil in him or her,” remarked Prof Nandy. Instead, he said, he wanted to attempt to identify the dynamics behind the authoritarianism through his talk and detail what makes authoritarians tick.
Ashis Nandy went on to speak about how authoritarianism functions, and what our responsibility is and why it is important to study it. He reminded the crowd that fascism is also an ideology and like any other –ism it also has its organising principles; it was the duty of people like him and others engaged in the profession of studying it to look at what lies behind or below the ideology.
He said that from his vast reading of RSS literature he has come to realise how the RSS had a deep-seated hatred for Hindus and a secret admiration for Muslims and Christians because of their belief that these communities would be more supportive than Hindus of their idea of nation-state. RSS literature often describes Hindus as “emasculated, cowardly and disorganised, who have forgotten themselves, who have let go of opportunities to take revenge and so one and so forth,” Prof Nandy pointed out. He said that it was hard to miss their secret admiration for their enemies who they believe have performed better in the global scene.
Speaking more about RSS literature, he observed that dissent as a concept was unknown to Savarkar’s idea of a perfect nation-state as envisioned by him in his book, Kala Pani. “Nobody even gets the temptation to dissent” in this grand social engineering dream by Savarkar, chuckled Prof Nandy.
Fascism is not always about ardent armed killers annihilating their defenceless perceived enemies like the Jews, or homosexuals or gypsies. Fascism in its pure form can be seen in Mussolini’s version of it, claimed Nandy, who has published studies of theoretical critiques of European colonialism. Mussolini’s regime was run by local thugs, local goons and local police. In Italian villages, fascist goons force-fed castor oil to their detractors so that they got diarrhoea. It was that kind of petty bullying that the Italian fascists indulged in compared to the mass gassing of Hitler that gained more popular attention. The killing was only accidental by-products in Mussolini’s Italy, and a version of this can be seen in the present day gau rakshaks of India.
What were new about the mass killings of the 20th century were two things, Prof Nandy pointed out.
“First, the killings came to be justified neither by primitive bloodlust or irrational hatred nor by impassioned ethnocentrism or nationalism. Killings got increasingly associated with lack of hatred, lack of passions. It became disjointed, non-emotional, rationalised killings like in the advertisements of Monsanto, where American farmers are photographed standing with a pile of insects that they have killed with the help of Monsanto insecticides. That’s the way human beings are killed.” Germany tried this for the first time with the tribes of West Africa, noted Prof Nandy.
According to Prof Nandy, the sanitised killings of new-age fascism are a pathology of scientific rationalities and not of any irrationality.
“Dispassionate violence where annihilation was carried out like an industrial operation,” was how Prof Nandy described the new-age fascist killings; he said that very early Tagore had pointed out the role of science as an enabler for this through his writings. The increased distance between the victim and the perpetrator of violence was a contribution of modern science, as correctly remarked by Tagore, he pointed out.
As an anecdote to this, he shared how, during World War II, the top military heads of the US were against the bombing of a militarily insignificant city like Hiroshima. But the scientific community insisted on choosing Hiroshima as it was a city which was not previously bombed and hence they could measure the exact causalities that the atomic bomb could cause. And since they had two different kinds of bombs and wanted to test both, they chose Nagasaki too, he remarked.
Any individual can ultimately find justification for any kind of –ism, and hence there is no permanent solution to stopping the misuse of –isms. It is impossible for humans to have perfect theories and that’s why people are dutybound to question every manmade theory, concluded Prof Nandy.
The Kerala Literature Festival, organised by the DC Kizhakemuri Foundation, was held from 8-11 February around the topic “No Democracy without Dissent”.