During the seven years of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, India has moved away from its self-professed credentials of being a secular state towards becoming a Hindu Rashtra by consciously implementing the Hindutva ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Since Modi has been a lifelong member and worker of the RSS, this is hardly surprising. His government has pursued policies that are converting India into an exclusive Hindu state, involving, in particular, discrimination against religious minorities, especially the country’s two hundred million Muslims. In effect, this pernicious Hindutva ideology is no different from Nazi fascism. Since Hindutva has taken hold over India through democratic means, it implies that there is widespread support for it in the country. Over the long term, this portends disaster not only for India but the entire region. Pakistan, among other countries, is justifiably concerned over these developments.
Fascist Hindutva Ideology
The Oxford dictionary defines Hindutva “as an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life.” The Alliance for Justice and Accountability goes further to maintain that Hindutva, “is a majoritarian political ideology and far-right ethnic nationalist movement that uses religion as a justification for atrocities against Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists”, and that advocates of Hindutva “believe in the racial and cultural superiority of Hindus” who view themselves as an “oppressed group” which has been victimised in the past by Muslims.
The propounder of the Hindutva ideology, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, in his 1920 book, ‘The Essentials of Hindutva,’ argued that a Hindu can only be one born of Hindu parents and regards Bharat (India) as their holy motherland. As such Bharat can only be a land for Hindus where Hindu hegemony, as a “superior” race, must be established. All non-Hindus must either leave India or convert to Hinduism.
Such views clearly demonstrate a linkage between Hindutva and fascism which is based on ultra-nationalism, involving a belief in superior racial and cultural identity, a sense of real or perceived grievances due to past oppression and the need to suppress any opposition from minority groups. This linkage has been clearly identified by Indian economist and political commentator, Prabhat Patnaik, who writes, “Hindutva is similar to fascism in a classical sense.”His argument maintains that Hindutva attempts to: create a unified homogenous Hindutva majority; create a sense of grievance against past injustice; promote its own interpretation of history according to this grievance; claims a sense of cultural superiority; rejects all rational arguments against such interpretation and appeals to a majority based on race and masculinity.
A dangerous dimension to Hindutva was given in 1925 when it inspired the formation of RSS by KB Hedgewar as a virulent and aggressive militant force. Not only was the RSS dedicated to the implementation of Hindutva, but also to avenge the perceived persecution of Hindus by past Muslim rulers. All Hindus in India were called upon to unite under the RSS banner, enforce the supremacy of Hindu rule and rid the country of foreign “invaders”. The RSS also encouraged the proliferation of like-minded groups such as Bajrang Dal, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Shiv Sena among others. The Jana Sangh, which later became the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), emerged and continues to be the political arm of the RSS. Acting in unison, this Sangh Parivar (family) has increasingly become a potent political and religious force in India.
Indian Secularism on Trial
Leading the Indian independence movement, the Congress party envisaged India to be a secular state. Yet, it has been recognised by notable Indians, such as Arundhati Roy and others, that this secularism was more of a compulsion than a conviction, in view of India’s religious, linguistic and cultural diversity. As such secularism was seen as the cement that could bind such a diverse country together. However, in reality, the Hindu identity of India has always existed beneath the superficial veneer of secularism.
After independence, tension between secularism and Hindutva persisted. Despite the assassination of Gandhi by an RSS follower, the organisation has continued to operate. As India’s first Prime Minister, Nehru, not only gave the key Home Ministry portfolio to an extremist Hindu like Patel but also included a Hindu Mahasabha leader, SP Mukherjee, in his cabinet. On the emerging controversy over Babri Masjid, Nehru refused to force militant Hindus to vacate the portion of the 14th century mosque that they had illegally occupied. Later, his daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi claimed to have “avenged thousands years of humiliation of Hindus by Muslim rulers” after the 1971 War while also using Hindu symbolism for election campaigns by projecting herself as Durga, the Hindu goddess of war. Rajiv Gandhi, another Congress leader and grandson of Nehru, allowed Hindu Fanatics to conduct puja (worship) at the Babri Masjid, yet another violation of legal injunctions.
Meanwhile, the BJP continued to expand its political base, increasing its two seats in Parliament in 1984 to forming the national government in 1997. Once of the emotive issues used by the BJP was to destroy the Babri Masjid and build a Ram Temple in its place. BJP leaders like L. K. Advani first undertook a Rath Yatra to the site of the mosque in Ayodhya in 1990 and then in December 1992 instigated frenzied Hindu mobs to demolish the mosque and lay the foundations of a temple. While this demolition was taking place, the Congress government of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao took no action to stop the destruction. As K. S. Komireddi writes in his book, Malevolent Republic, “This was the greatest affront to India’s secular core since the foundation of the Republic”. He adds that “for the expanding Hindus middle class…. the barbarism in Ayodhya contained a self-empowering, even redemptive, message: an ancient civilization had purged itself of the shame inflated by history by razing the monument to its subjugation”. This destruction was followed by several days of communal violence against Muslims all over India by rampaging RSS-led Hindus mobs. Such communal riots were not an aberration, but part of a persistent pattern of violence against Muslims by Hindu bigots ever since independence.
Rise of Hindutva
It is in this fertile ground that the seeds of Hindutva planted in 1920 have grown to overwhelm ‘secular’ India. While the BJP led by AB Vajpayee formed its first government in 1998 and immediately thereafter set about conducting five nuclear tests in 1998 to demonstrate the emergence of a ‘muscular India’ and stake its claim to great power status, it was not until the rise of RSS worker, Narendra Modi, in 2014 that the party achieved its greatest success. Modi had already demonstrated his diabolical designs by overseeing the 2002 massacre of 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat when he was Chief Minister of the state.
Instead of becoming a stain on Modi’s political career, the Gujarat episode propelled him to greater heights and set the stage for Modi to become Prime Minister when the BJP won the national election in 2014. In the words of British writer of Indian origin, Pankaj Mishra, Modi had “seduced India by envy and hate.” Komireddi writes that “Modi’s politics were animated” by the “beliefs of the RSS – to establish a Hindu state, to revenge the trauma of Islamic invasions and Pakistan on the bodies of Indian Muslims and to eliminate minorities to the status of second class citizens.” Ashis Nandy, an Indian author, wrote after interviewing Modi that he had “met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, perhaps even a future mass murderer.” The hysteria whipped up by Modi has given free rein to fanatical Hindu vigilantes to persecute innocent Muslims.
The broad national support for Modi’s Hindutva agenda has been demonstrated for the second time through his re-election in 2019 with an unprecedented majority. This has encouraged Modi to push through discriminatory legislation such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, both designed to disenfranchise 200 million Indian Muslims. This fate has already overtaken thousands of Muslims in Assam, and is spreading to other states as well. Protests in reaction by Muslims and secular Hindus have been brutally put down.
Even this dire plight of Indian Muslims has been surpassed by the treatment meted out to the Muslims of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Before Modi came to power, previous Indian governments had used draconian measures enforced by security forces and pliable Kashmiri leaders to brutally suppress the freedom movement that has been ongoing since 1990. However, Modi has taken this brutality to an even lower level of depravity, using the repression of Kashmiri Muslims to showcase his ‘muscular’ policies. Given impunity under Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Indian security forces have unleashed a campaign of terror to bludgeon Kashmiris into submission. In August 2019, Modi went further by revoking article 370 of the Indian constitution which gave nominal autonomy to occupied Kashmir as well as article 35A which safeguarded Kashmiri Muslim identity and culture. More than 900,000 troops were deployed, making the region the most militarised zone in the world. This was accompanied by curfews, lockdown and media blackout, widespread arrests of innocent men, women and even children.
Modi’s state of siege in IIOJK and attempts to subjugate Muslims in India are contrary to international law, the United Nations (UN) Charter, UN Security Council Resolutions and bilateral agreements with Pakistan. Along with Pakistan, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General, the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as, international human rights organisations, have all condemned Modi’s policies. As attested by various governmental, international and non-governmental organisations, Indian policies amount to crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide. This was recently validated by the Russell Tribunal on War Crimes and by Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch who provided evidence to the US Congress on the matter.
While western human rights organizations, media and even Members of Parliaments have condemned Modi’s fascist policies, most western governments have maintained a deafening silence. Driven by the profit motive through trade with the large Indian market and pursuing geo-political interests by using India as a counter-weight to China, western flag-bearers of human rights have sacrificed their principles for profit and strategic gain. Such western apathy can prove to be counter-productive in the long run. Ignoring or soft-pedaling on Modi’s atrocities will only encourage him, but 200 million Indian Muslims cannot be eliminated and any effort to subjugate them will tear India apart. The resultant chaos will not only engulf India and its neighborhood but the world as well. The west needs to wake up to this reality.