The rise of Hindu extremism in India is raising concerns among human rights activists and left-wing political parties, movements and groups. Nevertheless, the international community is silent. Nothing is being done either by the US or by the European Union (EU) to condemn India’s political stance. Why is the West failing to take severe actions against India’s discrimination against Muslims? Why are western governments tacitly legitimizing Hindu extremists’ activities?
Hindutva Extremism in India
Hindutva refers to the project of achieving a Hindu State also known as “Akhand Bharat” and designating an ideology that encompasses a wide range of actions within common the restoration of Hindu culture through the use of violence — seen as legitimate means to achieve political goals. The origin of Hindutva extremism is to be found in colonial India. After India’s independence, Hindutva ideology emerged through sustained interactions with Fascism and Nazism. During this period, Hindutva actors played a central role in the nation-building process and created a majoritarian identity for India. The ideology remained in the margins until 2014 when Narendra Modi won the elections and took charge of the Prime Minister Office. Modi based his mandate on the issue of Hindu insecurity due to “the Muslim threat.” Nowadays, talking about Hindutva is talking about Indian nationalism. In this article, I will try to move a step forward, saying that Hindutva is equal to Indian nationalism and white supremacism and the right-wing movement’s ideology.
Hindutva and right-wing movements
Despite the plethora of literature on right-wing extremism in Europe, very little attention has been paid outside (except for Turkey, South Africa, Israel, Japan and Indonesia). When it comes to India, scholars have depicted Hindutva as a type of nationalism that is primarily religious rather than ethno-nationalist. Hindu fundamentalists are not centred on religion but rather on how religion is politicized. The obsession with religion per sè is not what interests Hindutva ideology. Because Hindutva is not an isolated ideological phenomenon, religion is concerned with how it explains one of the macro-political strategies of Hindutva. For example, Modi succeeded in creating a strategic coalition, a mix between religion and the bourgeoisie under his control. The new social group steeped in neoliberal values and provided him with the necessary political support to keep him in power during all these years. The strategy is to appear superficially inclusive while continuing to promote Hindutva ideology.
Hindutva and anti-muslim stance
For many years Modi and BJP’s politicians fueled anti-muslim narratives on the idea that Muslims are “enemies from within”, taunting them for their supposed involvement in terrorism and sympathy for Pakistan. Modi and the BJP strengthened their anti-Islam stance, generated and nurtured Islamophobia in India. The goal was to erase religious groups and communities that are seen as non-Indian under the Hindutva ideology. Between 1951 and 1971, the BJP tried to bar Muslim immigrants who had arrived from neighbouring Bangladesh, rebranding them as refugees. Modi has called for those who came after 1971 to pack and return home. The BJP continued to expel what today it calls “illegal infiltrators”, and close to 2 million Muslim Indians are now subject to the whims of the state.
Modi fueled the process by playing the odds, gaining the votes of the Hindu majority to secure its electoral success. He revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, the only regions with a Muslim majority population. Modi grabbed the momentum to inflame tensions in part for ideological reasons but also knowing the tacit support of the US, which has been silent on Kashmir. Modi also has linked his moves to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Trump administration’s support for Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. In conclusion, India exploits US and EU silence to make Hindutva great again. This is possible due to the support of the new global far-right movements which supports Modi.
Hindutva and US linkages
The arrest of Narsinghanand, one of the Hindu extremists who organized an event in India that called for the genocide of Muslims, does not only have implications for India but also for the US. Hindu nationalists have been allowed to operate without any obstacles and develop their programs as tax-exempt religious and charity organizations. The Biden administration is aiding the reach and the influence of Hindu nationalists movements such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), which operates in the US as the religious wing of the Hindu nationalist paramilitary outfit Rashtriya Swayamsevak (RSS). According to the CIA, in 2018, the VHP was designated as a militant religious organization responsible for violent extremist acts. But why these Hindu extremists organizations are free to fly under the radar of the US, especially when Joe Biden has made domestic extremism a top national priority for the country? Soon after Biden took the White House, he unveiled its strategy to counter domestic extremism, focusing on confronting “the longstanding drivers of domestic terrorism: racism and bigotry”. Yet somehow, that Hindu nationalist groups are calling for a genocide of religious minorities to transform India into a Hindu country seems irrelevant to him.
Worse, five organizations with strong ties to Hindu nationalists and religious groups have received COVID-19 funding amounting to $833,000 as part of the United States’s Small Business Administration (SBA) Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance (EIDLA), Disaster Assistance Loan (DAL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). VHPA received more than $150,000.
Why are Hindu Extremists Organizations Free to Fly under the Radar of the US-EU?
Because today India is the 10th largest trading partner of the EU and among the top 10 for the US. Concerning the EU, their political and economic ties began in 1962 when India was one of the first Asian countries to extend diplomatic relations with the new-born European Economic Community 1962. Since then, EU-India relations have progressively developed until they evolved into a strategic partnership in the 21st century.
Bilateral ties were furthered in 2004 at the 5th India–EU Summit when India and the EU became strategic partners. In 2020, the summit was revitalized with a new roadmap: ” India–EU Partnership: A Roadmap to 2025” to further strengthen the India–EU Strategic partnership. This Roadmap also specifically highlights the necessity to build cooperation on data protection and regulation. Additionally, attention is being paid to green investments and green infrastructure buildings. There is considerable potential for growth in trade and investment in India for the US, considering the trade war between China and the US. Process of lowering non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that businesses in both countries face started with the Biden administration.
So why white supremacists and Hind nationalists are so alike?
Many members of the so-called “alt-right” — a coalition of populists, white supremacists and nationalists — turned to India to find historical and current justification for their racist and xenophobic postures. Using a peculiar white brand of Orientalism, they projected their idea of a pure society into the Indian one. In return, they received a warm welcome from the Hindu extremists. The alliance between the alt-right and the Hindu extremists has a long history. Today, what touches us about this story is the shared goal of eroding the secular character of their respective states and combating a common enemy: Muslims. Hindu nationalism and white supremacy are the two sides of the same coin. Both nationalists and Hindutva called for an ideology of pride, patriotism and fundamentalism.
Moreover, both fuel exclusionary and discriminatory narratives around the complex definition of “who belongs” or “does not belong”. Both ideologies believe in “purity” even if India is a melting top of cultures. The definition of pure is what aligns Hindutva with Fascism and Nazi ideology. Violence on both sides is a core aspect, and self-defence is a top priority. While Hindutva continues to grow and destroy and displace minority communities in India, such as Muslims, I hope that the West realizes the serious and grave threat that Muslims in India face every day and act to stop this silent atrocity.