Ab ki baar, fascism ki sarkar. This time, it’s the government of fascism.
As an Indian-American who was born in India but has spent her entire life in the United States, it’s fair to say I’ve been far removed (by about 11,700 km) from the ever increasingly disturbing realities of race, caste, and religious identity politics in India. What I am intimately familiar with, however, is the deep scars woven into the fabric of American institutions and culture by the mantle of white supremacy. Through this vantage point, it’s easier for me to draw salient parallels between two deeply oppressive ideologies that are currently enjoying a great resurgence — but these parallels go much further back in history than what’s immediately observable today. I feel it imperative to speak my peace on this as a Hindu by origin — I’ve been appalled at the complicity of my fellow Indian peers, who decry racist American policies while remaining conveniently silent on the rising fascism back home. The following passages are my account of some of the disturbing intersections between Hindu nationalism and white supremacy.
Ultranationalism through Racial & Religious Uniformity
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), often termed “the world’s largest NGO”, can be understood to be the parent organization of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist political party: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The RSS sought to dispel British colonial rule in India, but also to combat Muslim separatists, soon extending their militancy towards Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and lower-caste communities. During WWII, the RSS drew inspiration from fascist movements in Europe — notably admiring Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for their ideologies on strengthening nationalism through racial purity —
“To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.” — M.S. Golwalkar, RSS’ 2nd Sarsanghchalak, in We, or Our Nationhood Defined, 1939
“If we Hindus in India grow stronger, in time these Muslim friends of the League type will have to play the part of German-Jews instead.” — Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, founding Hindutva ideologue, in Hindu Rashtra Darshan, 1949
While references to early far-right European influences are not explicitly found in RSS’ official “Vision & Mission” today, the statement repeatedly calls for the protection, preservation, and dominance of Hindu culture through the “re-organization” of society. This philosophy, formally known as Hindutva, espouses similar ideas as Italy’s Fascist Party (PNF) and Germany’s Nazi Party of instituting ultranationalism through forging adherence to a single, pure Hindu society —
“Sangh is unique in according primacy to inculcation of patriotism in all citizens and in all life’s activities. […] Erosion of the nation’s integrity in the name of secularism, economic and moral bankruptcy, incessant conversions from the Hindu fold through money-power, ever-increasing trends of secession, thought-patterns and education dissonant with the native character of the people, and State-sponsored denigration of anything that goes by the name of Hindu or Hindutwa: these pervasive tendencies provide ample proof of the soundness of the philosophical foundation of the Sangh as conceived by Dr. Hedgewar and its continued relevance for the survival and health of the Hindu society and of the nation as a whole.” — RSS official statement on fostering nationalism through Hindu dominance
Compare this to Adolf Hitler’s visions of the ideal relationship between the State and race, it’s not hard to see an ideological likeness —
“Thus the highest purpose of the folkish State is the care for the preservation of those racial primal elements which, supplying culture, create the beauty and dignity of a higher humanity. We, as Aryans, are therefore able to imagine a State only to be the living organism of a nationality which not only safeguards the preservation of that nationality, but which, by a further training of its spiritual and ideal abilities, leads it to the highest freedom.” — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925
Hindu nationalism and white supremacist movements today are unified through the belief that concepts such as secularism and cross-border migration has allowed for the displacement of the dominant, “pure” groups within society’s social hierarchical order. This is often referred to as “The Great Replacement” theory (colloquially: “White Genocide”): the fear that the influx of minority migrant populations in Western countries will replace white people due to higher rates of reproduction. One of the more recent infamous manifestations of Great Replacement was evidenced by the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where neo-Nazis wielded tiki-torches and shouted “Jews will not replace us”. US-based white supremacist groups have heralded prominent conservative news hosts like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham for bringing the “replacement” ideology to the mainstream masses — the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist online forum calling Carlson “their greatest ally”. Perhaps indeed the greatest ally who received the official endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, America’s most notorious white supremacist group, sits in the Oval Office of the United States today . Hindu nationalist groups such as Hindu Sena and Republican Hindu Coalition also endorsed Trump during the 2016 US Presidential Election, touting his pledge for instituting a Muslim ban and fight against “radical Islamic terrorism”.
Substituting “white” with “Hindu” in white nationalist rhetoric, one can find the same underlying displacement fears reverberated in both ideologies. Hindu nationalist groups often deem Muslim migrants in particular as “infiltrators” who threaten the preservation of a Hindu nation, just as Trump uses “invaders” to describe migrants and asylum seekers at the US southern border. Rejection of secularism, protected by the Indian Constitution, also goes further back in Hindu nationalist history. While the RSS and Mahatma Gandhi both called for India’s independence from British rule, Gandhi was a proponent of secularism and sought to unify Hindus and Muslims against the colonization — to which the RSS opposed. A prominent RSS and Hindu Mahasabha member, Nathuram Godse, openly dissented Gandhi’s acquiescence to Muslim interests, assassinating him in 1948.
Hardline Policies — Minorities, Migrants, and Muslims
Shared replacement theories have manifested in policy implementations by today’s far-right governments, commonly with respect to immigration, but also including citizen registry, minority disenfranchisement, and settler colonialism. Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz have imposed hardline immigration policies to close the Balkan route used by migrants and refugees to enter Central and Western European countries. The genesis of Brexit, promulgated by far-right leader Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), was a backlash to EU-imposed open immigration policies. Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro withdraw from the UN’s Global Compact on Migration. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly stated that Arab citizens are not ‘real’ Israelis and has been given the greenlight by Trump to annex a majority of the West Bank.
Narendra Modi’s government has implemented several policies that codify the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda. Modi’s government vows to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across India to effectively ethnically cleanse Muslim populations, claiming that such groups are illegal infiltrators.
The NRC was created to ascertain who is a “true” Indian citizen and who is a Bangladeshi migrant residing in the eastern state of Assam. As of now, 1.9 million unlisted persons in the NRC registry have been deemed “stateless”; the government has been building detention facilities to house newly stateless persons until they can provide evidence of citizenship. While the BJP fashions this as an issue of illegal immigration, the RSS seems to betray the government’s true modus operandi — “Continuous efforts have been there to make Assam a Muslim majority province.”
The recent declassification of now “stateless” persons and citizen registry evokes historical comparisons to Jewish registration and enforcement of Jews wearing the Star of David badge during Nazi rule, and Japanese internment camps during WWII after Pearl Harbor. Such haunting parallels can be drawn today as well. “Howdy, Modi!”, a Modi-led event in Houston, Texas to symbolize strong US-India bilateral relations was recently attended by ~50,000 Indians. The disturbing irony of the event was thousands of Indian immigrants cheering on Modi and Trump while Central American migrants were being held in border detention facilities in the very same state under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. Inhumane living conditions coupled with the indefinite containment of persons without trial have led to such facilities being called concentration camps — naturally evoking comparisons to Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. On registration, Trump has expressed openness to the creation of a “Muslim database”.
Modi government’s recent abrogation of Article 370 of India’s constitution, which granted Kashmir special autonomy powers, has been cited as a long held Hindu nationalist dream. Firsthand reports have cited imposed communication blackouts, arrests of journalists, politicians, and protestors, and increased military personnel presence. The abrogation sparks comparisons between occupied Kashmir and Palestine, as fears loom of a Hindu settler colonial project that ultimately displaces Kashmiri Muslims, similar to Israel’s settlements in the West Bank which has led to the erasure of Palestinian communities. The UN Security Council has deemed Israel’s settlements as a violation of international law and human rights; time will tell how it views India’s fascist move.
Preservation of Heritage and Culture
Both movements have a shared fascination in preserving religious and racial relics and symbols. Hindu hardliners have long campaigned for the construction of a temple devoted to Hindu Lord Ram in Ayodhya, which they believe is Ram’s birthplace. The age-old controversy, on which the Indian Supreme Court has devastatingly just ruled, is that the temple is proposed to be built at the same site where Mughal dynastic rulers had built Babri Masjid — destroyed by right-wing Hindu mobs in 1992. In the US, moderate conservatives to neo-Nazi groups lament the removal of Confederate statues which symbolize the Confederacy’s defense of slavery during the Civil War. Germany has taken a harsh stance on freedom of speech compared to the US, banning open displays of Nazi symbols and formation of National Socialist parties.
Since Modi’s ascent into power, “cow vigilantism” has been on the rise, which has resulted in Muslims and Dalits being killed over the protection of cows, sacred in Hinduism. There has been significant Brahmin-initiated violence against lower caste individuals. Sectarian communal riots since Modi took power can be compared to the rise in hate crimes associated with Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-POC, anti-Muslim rhetoric. White and Hindu nationalists, generally regarded as fringe groups in society, feel increasingly emboldened in this new era of far-right populism. With the belief that leaders like Modi and Trump hold the same ideology as they do, they have become fearless in carrying out its manifesto.
History has proven time and time again just how uncreative she indeed is, often repeating herself. While these ideologies share a scary past and present, their future can be sufficiently quelled through the steadfast dissent by all persons standing for basic freedoms, equality, and justice for all human beings.
Each of us has sat in history classes, aghast at the horrors our textbooks told us of slavery, genocide, apartheid, and war…in bewilderment of such wickedness of mankind. Surely some of us asked ourselves what the innocent bystanders of the time did to stop it. Here’s a revelation for you — what you are doing in this exact moment in history is what you would have done then. This is why I am speaking up. It is imperative that we boldly speak out against the disease that is Hindu nationalism and white supremacy here and now, so that the future students of history won’t have to ask the same of us.
Disclaimer: This article has been published in The Asia Times.