Social Scientist. v 26, no. 304-305 (Sept-Oct 1998) p. 3.

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Right-Wing Politics, and the Cultures of Cruelty

I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to deliver the Ved Gupta Memorial Lecture this year.1 Unfortunately, I never had the privilege of knowing the late Mr. Gupta. I am nevertheless gratified to be speaking in the memory of a man who gave so much of his energy and passion to the building of a culture of broad democratic values, at a time when values of a democratic culture are under greater assault and stress than ever before. Later in this lecture, I shall be arguing that the current assault on our educational and research institutions is designed specifically to permeate the educated sections of society with politics of hate and cultures of cruelty in the service of a rightwing project for which the word 'fascist' seems appropriate.21 shall be using this word repeatedly throughout this lecture. So, let me start by reflecting on the meaning and salience of this word.

There are three perfectly correct but quite distinct ways of using this word. One is the colloquial one, in which we sometimes use the word 'fascist' , when we are righteously angry and when we mean to be abusive, for any particularly repugnant act of cruelty, violence or repression, certainly in public life but also in what are generally understood as personal relations. At the opposite end is the most strictly accurate usage of the term, whereby, really, only the Mussolini regime in Italy could be called fascist; Nazis were not, Franco' s dictatorship in Spain was not, and the Sangh parivar evidently is not. But then there is also a third usage, by no means uncommon or inappropriate, but more supple and wide-ranging, in which the word 'fascism' is used to negotiate a very complex experience, spanning a whole century and virtually the whole world, in which a wide range of ideologies, movements and regimes have arisen which are not exactly the same, so that it becomes irrelevant

* Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi

Social Scientist, Vol. 27, Nos. 9 - 10, Sept. - Oct. 1998

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