Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built up a solid friendship with US President Donald Trump since the latter took office. It may seem strange that a South Asian head of state would find common ground with an avowed white supremacist.
Scratch beneath the surface, and we will find a political correspondence based on mutually-reinforcing bigotry; white nationalism on Trump’s part, and ultranationalist Hindu supremacism from Modi. In fact, the ideology advocated by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is directly based on its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The latter is longest continuously-existing fascist movement in the world, and seeks to establish India as Hindutva, a Hindu supremacist state excluding ethnic minorities.
Narendra Modi is a longtime activist and missionary for the fascistic RSS. The latter, founded in 1925, is the wellspring of Hindu nationalist ideology. Its acolytes promote an exclusionary and Hindu communalist vision of India – a vision that Modi and the BJP have faithfully implemented since coming to power in 2014. The RSS, the National Volunteer Organisation, does not directly participate in party politics. However, its fanatical devotees have numerous offspring groups which control the streets and levers of power, such as the ruling BJP.
The RSS and its affiliates throughout society have organised mass pogroms and violence against India’s minority communities. In the name of purging India of non-Hindu elements, the RSS militants have carried out attacks, demolished mosques and imposed a strictly conservative Hindu nationalist political agenda. Its version of history regards the Muslim community, and Islam in general, to be a threat to the Hindutva state. Islamophobia is a common, uniting feature of the Indian and American far right.
One of the main leaders and ideologues of the RSS was Veer Savarkar, an anti colonial activist and scholar. Writing in his seminal 1923 text, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu, Savarkar elaborated a strictly religious foundation and boundary for the Indian state. Hinduism, he claimed, would be the sole organising principle of the entire society. Viewing Islam and Christianity as ‘foreign religions’, he expressed his admiration for Mussolini’s fascist regime. In the 1930s, Savarkar voiced his support for Hitler and the Nazi party.
Savarkar, and RSS partisans today, express their open admiration for Zionism and the colonial policies of the Israeli settler state. In the 1920s and 30s, Savarkar and his co-thinkers, were influenced by the Zionist model of building an exclusionary ethnonationalist state, reflected in the concept of muscular Hindutva. Current Indian PM Modi has built up a working alliance with the Israeli government of PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
There was a time when independent India denounced Zionism as an exclusionary ideology and a form of racism. That is no longer the case with PM Modi and his Hindutva ideology. Indeed, the BJP government is using the Zionist example as a template for its own actions.
When the UN in 1947, decided to partition Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, Savarkar was particularly disappointed. Since the 1920s, the RSS has voiced its support for the settler-colonial philosophy of Zionism. Savarkar stated that the realisation of the Zionist project would gladden him as much as the Jewish settlers. Supporting an ethnonationalist Jewish state did not stop Savarkar from admiring Nazi Germany. He elaborated the view that India’s Muslims should be treated in the same way that Hitler treated Germany’s Jewish communities.
Hindutva is not only a religious exclusionary concept, but easily crosses over into a racialist one as well. The white nationalists in the United States want to construct a whites-only racially unified state – a goal that finds parallels in the Hindutva project in India. The Nazi party did not only borrow the hooked cross – the swastika – from Hindu India.
The pseudoscientific notion of an Aryan super-race of a long-lost ancient civilisation is not Germanic in origin, but derives from Hindu-Vedic mythology. Recovering the ancient glories of a mythic ‘great race’ motivates not only the Hindu nationalist community, but also the pan-Germanic anti-Semitism which fed into Nazi ideology.
The Sanskrit civilisation of early India, called Indo-European or Aryan, was transformed into a political project by 19th century pan-German nationalists. In the pseudo archaeological imagination of European white supremacy, Aryan was transmogrified into ‘whiteness’, and thus began a crisscrossing of racist pseudohistory.
The admiration for, and appropriation of, Hindu-Vedic mythology, continued with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Himmler and Nazi leaders read the Hindu texts, the Bhagavad Gita, respected the hierarchical structure of the Indian caste system, and regarded themselves as reviving the racial purity of the original Aryan civilisation.
Himmler, as head of the SS, viewed his organisation as a modern application of the Kshatriyakaste, the old warrior caste from the Hindu-Vedic social structure. Racial killings, for the Nazi party, were not crimes, but service for the revival of an Aryan new order based on a mythical glorious past. Imperial nostalgia based on pseudoarchaeology makes for a toxic combination.
While Trump and American white nationalists deserve vocal condemnation, we can not afford to ignore the rise of religious ethnonationalist supremacy closer to home. The rise of Hindutva, in the form of the governing party of India, the BJP, is its own form of toxic bigotry. The fight against the far right must necessarily have a global perspective.