With Islam as a common enemy and the Muslim as a common target, the Hindu right-wing is colluding with white supremacists, especially the Americans, in more ways than ever. The question is, how deep is their love? And what can we do about it?
Why Hindutva and White Supremacy is Grounded in Islamophobia
On January 6, 2021, a motley rabble of sycophants, or self-proclaimed, good patriots, believing their homespun election lies were confident that their president, Donald Trump, had been clothed with the power of a winner. The Capitol Hill riots have forever been etched in the history of the United States, but these riots resonated in regions far beyond North America.
In the melee of flags, and the company of the confederate flag was also seen an outlier – a flag of the Republic of India. Waved by a group of Indian-Americans with links to Hindu right-wing organisations including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Hindu American Foundation, the incident laid bare the imminent danger these Hindu nationalist groups pose to democracy in the US. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, abbreviated as RSS is a fascist Hindu supremacist group akin to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
Like the American right-wing, Hindu nationalists combine religious conservatism with the unbridled pursuit of success. Like Trumpism, Hindu nationalists want to Make India Great Again. A clear indication that a section of Indian Americans’ descent into fascism of the Modi regime came when 50,000 of these fans traveled across the states to cheer Modi and Trump in NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas when the Indian Prime Minister visited in September 2019.
Their claim of being Hindu and nationalists are both dubious because they neither speak for all Hindus nor India. In fact, they are mere power worshippers who are in it to accumulate votes and perpetuate upper caste hegemony, near similar to the anti-black racism championed by the white supremacists.
One such Hindu nationalist organization in America is the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC), modeled after the Republican Jewish Coalition. The Coalition endorsed Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees.
“We applaud the Trump administration for taking this decisive move to protect our citizens from Islamic terror,” its chairman Shalabh Kumar told the crowd. He further called on the US government to monitor the mosques throughout the country.
Three weeks before the election in 2016, Trump made a brief but rousing appearance at the Republican Hindu Coalition’s (RHC) Humanity United Against Terror charity concert, a blatantly Islamophobic event that was framed around raising money to combat “radical Islamic terrorism”, particularly for Hindus from Bangladesh and Kashmir.
Almost on cue, the RHC recruited former White House Chief Strategist and Chief Counselor to President Trump — Steve Bannon — as an honorary co-chair, joining former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in that role.
The Hindu Supremacists and the Neo-Nazis have many things in common. The instances of white nationalism colluding with the Hindu right-wing are not limited to just public events and political occasions. The first director of the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), an organization committed to promoting the Hindu right-wing, was Ajit Doval, the current National Security Advisor to the Indian Prime Minister.
While the VIF claims to be an “independent, non-partisan institution,” its links to the RSS are well known. Swaminathan Gurumurthy, the RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagaran Manch’s chairman, was a driving force behind the founding of the VIF.
In 2016, VIF hosted an interactive session with noted Islamophobe and Middle East Forum founder Daniel Pipes on Islamism and the politico-religious dimensions of the conflict in the Middle East. The most interesting, or disturbing (depending on how you look at it) was Pipes’ assertion that “the political version of Islam practiced in countries like Turkey is far more threatening than the violent form of Islam practiced by the Islamic State (IS).”
This is done to justify targeting the ‘other’ and minorities who are perceived as a threat. This old trick is being deployed to victimize a group by labeling them as aggressors, even “Termites” as the Indian Home Minister refers to “Illegal immigrants”.
One Hindu supremacist, Tappan Ghosh, was even emboldened to make a statement that the UN should control the birth rate of Muslims and that all Muslims are Jihadis. This process is then followed up by ‘othering’ the targeted group for exclusion, which consists of immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, and other marginalized groups.
It may appear that the Hindutva group is following the script of the White supremacists.
Islamophobia in the Textbooks
While veiled Islamophobia was almost always inherent in our textbooks, things got heated in 2016 when a Hindu supremacist alliance led by the Hindu American Foundation and its various allies such as the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), an educational project of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh; took to California Department of Education to try to sanitise Hindutva and vilify Islam.
The HEF’s ideological underpinnings are revealed in its suggested Islamophobic edits on Islam. Their inputs portray Islam as inherently warmongering, violent, and Muslim rulers were portrayed as tyrants, bigots, and enslavers.
The Uberoi Foundation, another HAF ally, has sought other anti-Islam edits. For instance, the Grade 7 textbook says: “Muslims did not force Christians or Jews, “people of the book,” to convert, but people of other religions were sometimes forced to convert.” Uberoi Foundation’s suggested change: “Muslims did not force Christians or Jews, “people of the book,” to convert, but people of other religions were forced to convert most of the time in India as well as in other countries such as in Central Asia.”
This reference to “forced to convert most of the time in India…” is an oft-repeated canard in the Hindu nationalist discourse, on how Islam spread in India. In truth, Islam arrived in India through Arab traders and the great Sufi saints who converted hundreds of thousands to Islam through their spiritual teachings.
Neo-Nazi Affinity of White Nationalists and Hindu Nationalists
One might be tempted to believe that the bonhomie between the Hindu right-wing and white supremacists is a product of post 9/11 Islamophobia. But even a cursory look into the origins of both ideologies reveals that their origins are far older and sinister.
One needs to only go back to the idea of the “Aryan Race” to understand that the marriage of convenience between the Hindutva and the white supremacists was not an issue of if, but when.
The RSS believes in one, common, uniform narrative of India, dominated, controlled, and administered by the “Hindus”, the Aryans. The white supremacists similarly believe that all good things were the handiwork of the white people (mostly white men). There was another ideology, in the late 20s and 30s, which similarly deluded people of returning to a “Golden” age.
French-Greek thinker and mystic, Savitri Devi, who later became a Nazi intellectual symbol, popularized the notion that all civilisations had their origins in the same Aryan “super race” in India. She came to India and converted to Hinduism, marrying Asit Krishna Mukherji, a Hindu nationalist and Indian supporter of Nazism who had praised the Third Reich’s commitment to ethnonationalism, seeing commonalities between the goals of the Hitler Youth and the youth movement of Hindu nationalism, Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS).
M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS’ second chief, wrote about how Nazi Germany motivated him, citing it as an example of “racial pride at its best” and a “healthy learning to use” in India. The word “Hindutva” was invented by V.D. Savarkar, who argued that “Germany had every right to return to Nazism, and Italy to Fascism.”
He also likened India’s Muslims to “German Jews.” In defiance of Gandhi’s pro-Muslim opinions, a former member of the RSS — and emissary of Savarkar — would subsequently kill Gandhi. Years later, notorious white nationalist extremist Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, gushed about the RSS brand of Hindutva extremist politics in his manifesto, describing the ideology as extremely important, and calling onto the Hindu Nationalists to fight alongside him.
Along with shared Islamophobia and the disdain for secular state structures, the destructive actions, protests, and aggravations of the Hindu nationalists and the Western far-right are also very much alike.
The support among these religious nationalists, American Evangelicals and Indian Hindutva, has now taken on an unholy alliance with each sharing and supporting the other. The fascist tactics of Nazi Germany and white supremacists are now “legally” being used against Muslims in India.
The identity-based politics of the Hindutva fascist organizations have been at play since the 1980s. Muslims are portrayed as cruel invaders and outsiders in order to justify the abhorrent behavior of the Hindu supremacists. The culmination of this project was the illegal and immoral destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992 for rank political gains. The recent tactic of passing discriminatory laws such as the Citizens Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens is an ongoing attempt to exclude Muslims and render them stateless. In fact, many Muslims are already in concentration camps for being “illegal immigrants or foreigners” who were born in India and their ancestors were Indians for hundreds of years.
The alliance between the Hindu right-wing and the white supremacists is neither new nor temporary. It is based on centuries-old hatred for Islam, and by extension, Muslims. Knowing about this is one thing; the larger question must be what can be done about it. Merely pointing this bonhomie will do precious little; for these people love the “hate” they get.
The bigger challenge is for both Muslims and non-Muslims who respect freedom, equality, and human rights, to come together against this menace. The Norwegian massacre and the Christchurch massacre are a mere trickle of what could follow if these two are allowed to run amok.