On 9 October 2022, the day of the canonization of Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, a person who did so much for migrants in his lifetime, Pope Francis used very strong words which were unscripted; he thundered, “the exclusion of migrants is scandalous; indeed, the exclusion of migrants is criminal, it makes them die in front of us. Thus, the Mediterranean is the largest cemetery in the world. The exclusion of migrants is disgusting, it is sinful, it is criminal” He added, “we exclude them, we send them away to the concentration camps where they are exploited and sold as slaves. Brothers and sisters today do we think of our migrants, those who die and those who are able to enter, do we receive them as brothers or do we exploit them? I leave the question ". He continued, “we stop dividing ourselves on the basis of merit, the roles we hold or some other external aspect of life, and the internal walls, prejudices, fall. Thus, finally, we rediscover ourselves as brothers. It does us good to take off our outer armour, our defensive barriers and take a nice bath of humility, reminding us that we are all fragile inside and in need of healing, all brothers, let us remember this: the Christian faith always asks us to walk together with others, never to be solitary walkers”.
Pope Francis’ strong words would not have been taken kindly by Giorgia Meloni’s who was elected as the new Prime Minister of Italy on 25 September. Her ‘Brothers of Italy’ party won the snap general elections in Italy. The party, which is the most ultra-right-wing party to gain power in Italy since Mussolini’s fascism is known for its anti-immigrant stand and its disdain for human rights particularly those of women and of the LGBTQI community. Meloni’s Government took office on 22 October and in her maiden speech she reiterated,
“we must stop illegal departures and human trafficking,”; repeating a campaign pledge to stop boats heading to Italy from North Africa. Several leading international editorials and op-eds have captioned Meloni’s rise to power as ‘the return of the fascists. It was exactly one hundred years ago, on 28 October 2022, that the fascists marched to the capital Rome, forcing the King to send a telegram to Benito Mussolini to form the government!
Some weeks earlier, there was another shock awaiting the people of Europe: Sweden , once regarded as a bastion of democracy and of liberal values voted by a slim margin for a right-wing Government Analysts said that the recent vote had been one of the closest in modern times and reflected a desire by Swedes to move in a new direction after decades of centre-left policymaking that has included an openness toward asylum seekers, an emphasis on individual liberties and an adherence to socially liberal ideals. All cherished values of democracy! There are other countries in Europe like Belarus, Hungary and Poland that have blatantly shed any pretence of being democracies as authoritarianism takes over. In Belarus, the elections are openly rigged and civil liberties are throttled. The despotic President there has total control of the military, the judiciary and other institutions that are meant to be independent. Pro-democracy protests and movements are brutally dealt with.
The new UK Government with the Pakistani-origin Hindu Rishi Sunak at the helm clearly has very fascist and pro-capitalist trends. The reappointment of Suella Braverman as the Home Secretary is a clear sign of this. Braverman is considered to be a staunch supporter of Brexit and right-wing culture. She recently said "I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit. Look at migration in this country, the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants." Braverman further said that the agreement between the Indian and the UK government to facilitate better cooperation on migration has not "necessarily worked very well".
The world continues to wait in expectation for the second round of polling in the Brazilian elections on 30 October. If former President Lula wins (as he is likely to do so) it will be, people say, a victory for Democracy. The past years governed by the right-wing President Bolsonaro have been disastrous for the poor and the marginalised, the indigenous peoples and for the Brazilian economy in general. Bolsonaro is in the same mould of Trump, Modi, Putin and Xi. Yes, democracy is in peril everywhere! There is no doubt about that!
We see how democracy (and the values it embodies) is slowly but surely being dismantled in country after country. Rights and freedoms guaranteed in Constitutions held sacred by people across the globe are systematically being denied. ‘Neo-fascism’ usually includes ultranationalism, racial supremacy, populism, authoritarianism, nativism, xenophobia, jingoism, exclusivism and anti-immigration sentiment, as well as opposition to liberal democracy, social democracy, parliamentarianism, liberalism, Marxism, neoliberalism, communism, and socialism. Under the pretence of democracy, that’s exactly what’s happening today!
Donald Trump and his cohorts are back in the news, as the trial continues with regard to the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on 6 January 2021. That was certainly a black day for democracy. Trump called his supporters to Washington DC for a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on the day Congress would count the votes of the Electoral College. No one expected the violence and the mayhem, that would take place in the world’s oldest democracy. The world watched with shock and angst. Such a terrible reality could not be happening in the United States and more so, instigated by an outgoing President
Watching the apparent falling apart of the great American Democracy- there was universal condemnation; world leaders reacted swiftly and strongly. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor said Mr. Trump bore responsibility for the riot by his supporters “unfortunately, President Trump did not accept his defeat since November, not even yesterday, and that has naturally created an environment that enabled such violent events.” Her foreign minister, Heiko Maas, was even more blunt, drawing a parallel with Hitler’s power grab, “Violent actions come from inflammatory words—on the steps of the Reichstag and now in the Capitol,” he said, in reference to the burning of republican Germany’s parliament building in 1933. “Disregarding democratic institutions has devastating consequences.”
Democracy in India is in the doldrums too! India attained her independence on 15 August 1947; later the Constituent Assembly gave the people of India a democratic and visionary Constitution, based on the four non-negotiable pillars of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. For years India went to town priding herself of being the world’s largest democracy. But suddenly those very institutions which are meant to be the bulwark of democracy have begun collapsing, like a pack of cards. Thanks to the fascist regime!
Since 2019, there has been a dramatic and drastic erosion in the democratic space in every respect and particularly for dissent in the country; the ordinary citizen has been experiencing this in many brutal ways. The calculated destruction of democratic values and of the rights of the citizens, take place at a frightening regularity. Hate speech is on the rise; the demonization and the denigration of the ‘other’ particularly the minorities have gained official legitimacy! The perpetrators indulge in verbal and physical violence with impunity: knowing full well that nothing will eventually happen to them! On the other hand, a strategy that has been central to the erosion of democratic space, has been the weaponizing of the criminal justice system by the State, to harass and punish those who dare to protest against the anti-people and anti-Constitutional policies and actions of the Government.
The disheartening part is that the judiciary in India has not sufficiently played the role of being independent, impartial and for ‘the people of India’. Judges have often acted in a partisan manner and have been reluctant to speak truth to power and restore justice. Earlier, the mainstream media allowed for ex
Those who have taken a visible and vocal stand for justice and peace, those who have taken up cudgels for the excluded and exploited, the marginalised and the minorities are at the receiving end of a brutal vengeful system. Many, as those in the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case are still languishing in jail without trial. Recently, Prof G. N Saibaba, Umar Khalid, Jyoti Jagtap, Siddique Kappan were denied bail. Stalwarts like Teesta Setalvad, R. B. Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt are hounded and harassed no end. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand and realise that those who support constitutional rights and the democratic framework of the country have false and fabricated charges foisted on them.
Last year a ‘National Campaign to Defend Democracy’ was launched when 165 movements, platforms and organizations, representing thousands of citizens, gave a call for a country wide action to save our democracy: marking the international day for Indigenous people & Quit India movement day, as a day of Public Action. The action all over the country continued until 28 August with India’s Independence Day (15 August) being the high point, when thousands pledged to campaign for the repeal of draconian laws and to protect our democracy. The pledge read: “On the occasion of the 75th Independence Day, on 15th August, we pledge to defend the legacy of our Freedom Movement, the spirit of the Preamble and the values of our Constitution. We pledge to campaign for repealing all draconian laws and assert the right to bail of every citizen. We believe that the right to question and the Right to Dissent are the foundation of our democratic, secular and socialist republic. We commit to campaign against all ideologies, laws, and state actions that deprive us of the freedoms of speech and opinion, conscience, association, and to non-violent opposition”.
Strongmen, dictators, those who attempt to destroy democracy and democratic institutions have with them money: Modi and his ilk have amassed huge amounts of wealth, because of demonetization, electoral bonds, the GST and through corrupt deals. They have been able to buy up elected members from opposition parties and others, silence them, black mail them. Then there is muscle: the violence they use to intimidate, harass, incarcerate and even kill; the military establishment normally toe their line. They are adept at manipulation: both minds and machines. Then have with them the media which is completely ‘godified’. Tell a lie a thousand times and people will accept it as the truth. That was the dictum of Josef Goebbels the information minister of Hitler
Some years ago, historian Lawrence Britt studied the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile) and found they had 14 elements in common. He calls these the identifying characteristics of fascism. (published in ‘Free Inquiry’ Spring 2003, pg. 20 as ‘Fascism Anyone?’); these are:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
4. Supremacy of the Military
5. Rampant Sexism.
6. Controlled Mass Media
7. Obsession with National Security
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
9. Protection of Corporate Power
10. Suppression of Labour Power
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
14. Fraudulent Elections
Britt provides clear indicators to each of the above characteristics. One does not need too much of an intelligence, to realise, that the above characteristics are a reality in India and elsewhere today! The fact is that with the throttling of the fundamental rights of citizens and the shrinking of democratic space, the emergence of neo-fascist regimes in India and elsewhere have gained ground as never before.
But all is not lost! ‘We the people of India’ need to take hope from the visionary inspiration of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, who defined democracy as “a form and a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed”. We need to ensure that this much -needed change, takes place now!