Environmental and Human Rights Struggle is not a Fight Against Fascism

Text of a talk delivered by Abir Dasgupta at the Anti Fascist Grand Conference in Calcutta. The talk was in Hindi, this is the English original.

We are convened today at an anti-fascist conference, where we are all united by a common agenda. Yesterday, in Ayodhya, Hindu Fascism concluded one of its decades-long campaigns at the site of the Babri Masjid – which was destroyed by its militants in 1992, amid a nationwide pogrom of Muslims. This moment, for the Hindu Fascists, represents not a crowning glory, but an early step in its stated goal of recasting India as a Hindu Rashtra, and as the centre of the so-called Akhand Bharat, in which, per its founding figures’ words, the “internal enemies of the nation” – Muslims, Christians, and Communists – are permanently persecuted, at threat of ethnic cleansing and genocide. International experts have long issued warnings of genocide of Muslims under India’s current Hindu Fascist regime.

I emphasize this context to remind you of what the political priority is today. As my co-panelists have spoken in detail – the current Indian government is speaking in two voices on its climate commitments. The push to “make in India” – to substitute imports of petrochemicals by growing the domestic petrochemicals manufacturing base is the grounds on which the government is permitting the Adani group to build a massive coal- to-PVC plant in Mundra in Gujarat – despite having committed to a phase out of coal. The project, which is being financed reportedly by a Rs 34000 crore line of credit by a consortium of banks led by the SBI, is set to burn 31 lakh tonnes of coal annually. As my co-panelists have outlined, the risks are both to the baseline of India’s carbon budget, and also more immediate term, with health concerns surrounding the outputs of the plant, and fears of the impact of the project on the fragile eco-sensitive coastal zone, in an area that faces annual cyclone risk.

But in my talk I want to expand beyond the question of petrochemicals, and even the environmental struggle as a whole, to situate ourselves in the current political moment. As a journalist, I have covered the Adani group closely over the past seven years. I have covered people’s movements in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and elsewhere, all of which are concerned with the human and environmental impacts of various projects by the group – displacement of people, violations of their rights, short- and long-term impacts on the environment.

These movements, rightly, are focused on their own immediate goals in their immediate struggles. However, we can all recognize that such struggles are not a new phenomenon – they have long preceded the current upsurge of Hindu Fascism – and will continue even after Hindu Fascism ends. I am subsuming these struggles under the catch all term – environmental and human rights struggles – even while I am aware that the term flattens many differences and nuances among them.

My argument, as a journalist covering the Adani group closely, is that these environmental and human rights struggles, even taken together, do not constitute a struggle against Hindu Fascism. To see them as such is to misunderstand the role that the Adani group plays in the current iteration of the Hindu Fascist movement, under the leadership of India’s current Prime Minister.

A common refrain in oppositional discourses in India is that the Adani group funds the ruling party, and gets favours in return. In this framework, the group is an unfair beneficiary of a rigged political economy – we call this crony capitalism.

The first time that the HIndu Fascist politicians entered the Indian government, it was in alliance with the mainstream Indian communist parties.

This formulation misses the central position of the Adani group in the current Hindu Fascist political project. The same position has been occupied by other business houses in earlier phases of the Hindu Fascist movement – before its ascendance to power. The role of the group is not as financier and illegitimate beneficiary – rather it is ideological.

We often repeat the common analysis of 20th century European fascism – that capitalism was in crisis and teetering on the edge of working class led socialist revolutions, and thus the capitalist class supported fascist politicians in a bid to save the capitalist political economy. We should recognise, whether or not this analysis was correct in the European case, that it is misapplied in the Indian context. There was no capitalist crisis that predated the rise of Hindu Fascists to power in India. In fact, the first time that the HIndu Fascist politicians entered the Indian government, it was in alliance with the mainstream Indian communist parties.

Rather, the crisis that Hindu Fascism rose to contain, or the social progress that it is a reaction to, is the weakening of the hegemony of the traditional ruling classes in the Indian subcontinent.

It is in this context that a business house like the Adani group’s role in Hindu Fascism comes into relief. Fascism is based on an imaginary conception of reality, and seeks to impose a solution to the imagined problem. In the Hindu Fascist conception, Hindus have faced centuries of oppression by the enemies of Hindus – Muslims, Christians, and in the modern era communists and liberals. These enemies have set up a political economy and state system that marginalizes Hindus and prevents them from taking up their natural position at the top of the social hierarchy in India, according to the Hindu Fascists. So, to correct this, a “Hindu” state system has to be established – with “Hindu” businesses and capitalists at the apex of its political economy. For the Modi led Hindu Fascist regime, this is epitomized by the Adani group.

The group is an exemplary product of the baniya code of capital. Its start came through community support and deployment of community controlled capital – both finances as well as social capital in the form of contracts and support from the members of the community in the state government of Gujarat in the 1980s and early 1990s that gave it its first major breakthrough. And then, the group in 2002 established itself as a contender for ideological leadership of the Hindu Fascist political economy – when it supported Modi at a key moment.

Some months after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, there was a meeting of India’s top industrialists convened in Delhi by one of India’s top lobbying groups – the Confederation of Indian Industry. In that meeting, several titans of industry spoke out against the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi, questioning his alleged role in the carnage. After that meeting, the Adani group chairman Gautam Adani took strong offense. He led a breakaway group of industrialists, which formed an alternative group that split from the CII. This group – comprising many Gujarati business houses – declared itself a guardian of Gujarati Asmita or Gujarati Pride, and helped then CM Modi organize the first few editions of the famous Vibrant Gujarat summit – as Modi sought to change his image from the leader of a communal pogrom to a business friendly politician.

Contrast that moment to the Adani group’s reaction to the revelations made by the Hindenburg report a year ago, to the day, on 23rd January 2023. It termed it an attack on India, and India’s economy. Like the 2002 moment was an attack on Gujarat’s Hindu Fascist political economy, now, Hindenburg was an attack on India’s Hindu Fascist political economy – and the response, naturally, was to be led by the leading Hindu Fascist business house.

If you aren’t convinced yet that the Adani group is an ideological partner of the project of Hindu Rashtra – let me give you a couple of examples from my reporting. In northern Chhattsigarh, in the Hasdeo Aranya forest, for a decade an Adivasi movement has struggled against coal mining, where the Adani group is the Mine Developer and Operator for one operational mine and three proposed mines. When I went there to report in 2020, the Adivasi residents told me that the Adani group’s local officials were on a mission to “Hinduize” them. The group’s officials had sponsored celebrations of Hindu festivals – Durga Puja, Ganesh Puja, and Diwali celebrations had been organized for the Adivasi residents for the first time by the group’s officials. I covered this in a report I filed from Hasdeo in mid 2020. Come to Jharkhand – in Godda the Adani group has set up a controversial thermal power plant, which imports coal from its mines in Australia and exports electricity to Bangladesh. Over there it did not take any journalistic discovery – the group itself, in a press release, announced that its CSR funding was supporting schools run by an RSS affiliate, that states its intention to initiate Adivasi children into Hinduism. An Adivasi activist there told me that the local struggle against Adani was prioritizing Adivasi self rule under the 6th schedule of the constitution.

Locals protest against tree felling in Hasdeo, Chhattisgarh. 

On 22nd January, Gautam Adani was one of the prominent attendees at the Hindu Fascist celebration at Ayodhya. He declared his wish that it be a “gateway to peace.” Let there be no mistake, his peace is peace under Hindu Fascism, where the “internal enemies of the nation” are permanently persecuted.

Remember that fascism is a distortion of reality, and in the final analysis even a harbinger of the downfall of capitalism. It is its own political economy, that is described by the term that the Nazis invented – national socialism.

So to return to where I began, we have to remember today that neither the environmental struggle, nor the human rights struggle, when it comes to specific Adani projects, like its petrochemicals projects, constitute a struggle against fascism. The Adani group is no regular opportunistic business house, which speaks in the tongue of whoever is in power. It is an activist business house, a leader of the Hindu Fascist movement. It has been so when it was a minor player, back in 2002, is so now, and will remain so even if its mounting challenges lead to failure in a capitalist sense.

Remember that fascism is a distortion of reality, and in the final analysis even a harbinger of the downfall of capitalism. It is its own political economy, that is described by the term that the Nazis invented – national socialism. It ends, after wreaking havoc and perpetrating mass death, when the contradictions in its encounter with reality become insurmountable.

Where it is a failure for the environmental struggle, say, if Adani is forced to stop an environmentally destructive project but another business house takes it up, it is a victory for the anti fascist struggle.

In this context, our task as anti fascists must be prevention and mitigation of harm to the extent possible. Events such as these, where organizers and movements from across the country come together, should be focused singularly on this goal, to the exclusion of all others. The collective resources and capabilities represented at this platform must be directed solely towards the fight against fascism – rather than a diffuse sense of anti-establishment protest that subsumes all issue based campaigns into its banner.

Where the Adani group is concerned, in this context, our focus must be to minimize and mitigate its capabilities as a Hindu Fascist business house. Here, the institutions of global capital can even be our allies. While local movements strategise to protect people’s rights and the environment, we should not lose sight of this larger context. Global ratings agencies, analysts, lenders, insurers and markets are avenues where Adani’s Hindu fascist business ideology comes into conflict with traditional, for-profit capitalism. The Hindenburg report represented one such moment, where capitalism triumphed over fascism, albeit temporarily. We should not lose sight of this dynamic. Our position on the Adani group’s projects should be informed, first and foremost, by its position as a Hindu Fascist business house, not due to its impact on the environment or its violation of human rights.

This is where, at times, the goals of the environmental struggle may come into conflict with the anti fascist struggle. Where it is a failure for the environmental struggle, say, if Adani is forced to stop an environmentally destructive project but another business house takes it up, it is a victory for the anti fascist struggle. As hard as it may be to hear from the perspective of a local movement for people’s rights, the same is true even if a coal mine or power plant or cement factory by the Adani group fails to the benefit of some other business house that moves in.

To restate the point again, the struggle against fascism is not the same as the struggle to protect the environment or human rights. It is a specific political struggle against a specific political movement, and my appeal is that we must not let it be colonised by our other priorities. While fascism will inevitably be defeated in the long run, by reality itself, that is not enough, for the millions of lives that are facing an existential threat in Hindu Fascist India at present. I end with this.


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Abir Dasgupta Written by:

Abir Dasgupta is an independent investigative journalist based in New Delhi

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