To identify the core of BJP politics since 2019, I would like to introduce a new concept: Jim Crow Hindu Nationalism. This concept allows us to distinguish the current politics of the BJP from how the party exercised power when it last ruled Delhi. Equally important, the concept also reveals how BJP’s India is different from Nazi Germany, to which it is now increasingly compared in many circles around the world.
What exactly is “Jim Crow”? Taking its name from a musical piece depicting black Americans in a humiliating light, the term has come to refer to a body of laws and practices, which have deprived black Americans of their right to vote, subjected them to lynchings and forced segregation in their neighborhoods, churches, schools, businesses and social lives. Interracial marriages were prohibited and interracial sex, especially between a black man and a white woman, was severely punished. In the 1890s, such laws and practices were institutionalized in the southern states of the United States, creating the term “Jim Crow South”.
Such a policy spanned more than seven decades, eventually ending with the civil rights and voting rights laws of the mid-1960s. Until then, according to democratic theory, America was a “semi-democracy.” .
Electoral democracy coexisted with a racial political order, based on white nationalism, in those 11 southern states which seceded during the Civil War, 1861-65, and were defeated. Two and a half decades later, white majorities in those states have succeeded in legally enforcing a brutal regime of black subordination.
This period of American history is well known to politicians, intellectuals and many American citizens. Apart from those on the political right, most have come to hate Jim Crow’s American past. But he remained generally unknown abroad. Until America’s rise to preeminence after 1945, the history of the United States was not part of the world’s consciousness. Martin Luther King made the struggles of black Americans visible internationally in the 1960s, and the Black Lives Matter movement further broadened global consciousness, forcing a historical calculation in the United States as well.
In comparative analyzes of Hindu nationalism, this period of American history is not invoked. Rather, the focus was on the better known Nazi period in European history. Part of the reason is that early Hindu nationalists openly drew inspiration from the Nazis. Welcoming Hitler’s treatment of Jews, Mr. S. Golwalkar, an ideological father of Hindu nationalism, argued that Muslims “must have no idea, but those of the glorification of Hindu race and culture … can remain in the countries entirely subordinate to Hindus. nation, claiming nothingâ¦ not even the rights of citizens. (We or Our Nationhood Defined, 1938).
When Hindu nationalism is compared to fascism, a major difference is not noted. The institution of concentration camps was absolutely central in Nazi Germany. This institution had three goals: to imprison indefinitely “enemies of the state”, real or imagined, with administrative approval, but without judicial authorization; physically eliminate unwanted groups of people, again without judicial consent; and pushing prisoners to forced labor. The Jews were the main victims. Six million people are estimated to have died or been killed.
In the post-1945 world, concentration camps are almost impossible. International ostracism would salute the country that built them. Because of its military-economic power outside and Han majoritarianism inside, only a country like China has been able to get away with its concentration camps, erected for Uyghur Muslims.
The Hindu nationalism of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004) sought to make India more Hindu in symbolism and public discourse without using laws to make India anti-Muslim. The politics of the BJP today and the forces it set in motion, especially after the electoral victory of 2019, do not stop at a Hinduization of the public sphere. Laws are made to turn Muslims into second-class citizens; mob lynchings and intense hatred instill fear; and law and violence combine to prevent religious mixing and deepen communal segregation. Hindu nationalists do not know the story of Jim Crow, but their policies threaten to create a Jim Crow India in the territories ruled by the BJP. What race was in southern America, the ethnicized religion is Hinduism
Consider what happened to black Americans in the Jim Crow South. In the post-Civil War period, 1865-1870, three constitutional amendments emancipated blacks. The 13th Amendment ended black slavery; the 14th Amendment provided for equality of citizenship and equality before the law; and the 15th amendment gave them the right to vote.
In the 1880s, the racist white parties, recording electoral victories, launched their counter-revolution. Using their power over elected legislatures, they passed laws to establish literacy, residency and voting tax requirements for the vote, effectively denying the right to vote largely illiterate and poor blacks. . By 1872-1872, smelling the air of emancipation, 80 to 85 percent of blacks had registered to vote in the south. In 1905-6, subject to new laws, only 5 to 6% of voters remained. Lynchings have installed a regime of fear. Between 1882-1930, an average of 100 Americans were lynched to death each year, mostly in the South, mostly black.
Now consider how legislative oversight was used in India after May 2019. The amended âpublic securityâ laws give the government the power to designate anyone as a terrorist or âanti-national,â imposing preventive detention with uncertain access. to the courts; Section 370 and Section 35 (a) were abolished and hundreds of Kashmiri politicians jailed; through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a religious requirement was introduced into citizenship laws, excluding only Muslims; laws banning interfaith marriages are passed in states ruled by the BJP; and the âjihad of loveâ militias punish personal Hindu-Muslim interbreeding. Delhi also announced that a National Citizens Registry (NRC) would be created as a result of the CAA. In principle, by using the CAA, the NRC can withdraw their citizenship from Muslims who do not have the correct documents. If implemented, a future NRC will effectively deprive millions of Muslims of their voting rights and, possibly, social benefits. Lynchings have already frightened Muslims to death.
To prevent the nation’s descent into a Jim Crow India, the political imperatives are now clear: challenge the BJP, electorally, beyond the 11 states where it is not in power – the most critical, in Uttar Pradesh ; encourage greater federal retreat; and mounting protests and democratic movements. In the United States, until the 1950s, courts and newspapers in the South did not oppose Jim Crow. In India, too, these two institutions are currently unreliable. Can they change? Are they going?
The author is Professor Sol Goldman of International Studies and Social Sciences at Brown University