By Gurnam Singh | OPINION |
In 1926, following an alleged attempt on his life, Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini decided to erase even the semblance of democracy in Italy by banning all opposition parties and launching a campaign of arrests throughout the country.
Among those arrested was a 33-year-old leftist MP and thinker, Antonio Gramsci. At his trial, a famous demand was made by the official prosecutor to the judge that “We must stop this brain working for twenty years!” Though his subsequent imprisonment took its toll on his physical body, his jailers did not succeed in stopping his brain from working and Gramsci was able to smuggle out many notes to the people, which were later published in his famous book Prison Notebooks.
What Gramsci reminded us of was the power of critical thinking and the threat that this poses to fascists who trade in fear and lies. If we fast forward 100 years, Ram Guha draws revealing parallels between Italy of the 1920s and India of the 2020s. He suggests, Mussolini, like Modi, are mythical figures, crafted by writers and propagandists.
The created myth is “of the Duce, the chief who is always right, the leader who dares where others vacillate”. Like the vast crowds in the 1920’s that greeted Mussolini’s every reference to glory and patriotism with chants of ‘Du-ce! Du-ce! Du-ce!’”, today we see in Modi’s rule, especially after he won a second term in 2019, his every utterance greeted with “Mo-di! Mo-di! Mo-di!”.
The good news is that Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) may just have met their match in the form of the India Farmers movement, inspired by great Punjabi revolutionaries and thinkers, too numerous to mention here. Though Modi’s propaganda machine has sought to undermine the movement by arguing that the farmers are ill-educated sheep being led by the enemies of the state, the truth is that our brains have never been more productive.
It is the critical thinking and acting of the farmers that is raising the consciousness of vast numbers of Indian’s who had become entrapped by Modi’s nationalist rhetoric of making India great. They now realise they are unlikely to benefit from Modi’s cocktail of Hindutva nationalism, fascism, and neoliberalism, and the only beneficiaries will be a small elite, just like in the times of British Colonialism.
And following Gramsci, who used scraps of paper to write his notes, which were smuggled out of prison, today, we can all follow his example by utilising social media to express our opposition to Modi’s fascism and the politics of hate and greed. We can all become citizen journalists and public intellectuals to educate each other about the evils of this present reigime. But in doing so we must avoid being a mirror image of Modi’s hate campaign. And therefore, if as Gramsci argued, ‘to tell the truth is revolutionary’, our role should be to focus on facts, fairness, freedom, and fraternalism.
Perhaps one of Gramsci’s most profound observations was to proclaim ALL human beings as philosophers, that they have a brain, and that the capacity to think and question is not restricted to those with titles, status or academic qualifications. And when ordinary people raise their voice against injustice, they begin to claim their natural intelligence, and revolutionary possibilities of a new type of society begin to be realised.
[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.email@example.com]
* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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