At Jubilee Park, Parramatta – western Sydney – the Indian community contributed to the setting up of a statue to Mahatma Gandhi. This statue is in recognition of the courageous and principled struggle of Gandhi and his supporters to establish a culturally tolerant, democratic India. Sadly, the current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his Hindu sectarian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), follows the ideological tradition of Gandhi’s assassin. Hindutva is steadily making inroads into the Indian diaspora communities in Australia, Britain and the United States.
Hindutva is an ethnonationalist political ideology which advocates for a purely Hindu majoritarian state. An ultranationalist philosophy, Hindutva partisans demand the expulsion of non-Hindu minorities, such as India’s Muslim community, from the lands of historic India. To be certain, Hindutva exploits the religion of Hinduism for political and ethnosupremacist reasons. There is no suggestion that every Hindu is an extremist or fanatic. Please do not conflate Hindutva with Hinduism.
Jacobin magazine has been regularly covering the rise of BJP-affiliated Hindutva lobby groups in the United States. Azad Essa, in an extensive article, details the rise and operations of Hindu sectarian organisations. The Overseas Friends of the BJP, (OFBJP), has been active in projecting a Hindutva image of India externally. Founded in 1991, it has grown into a powerful lobby group in the halls of the US Congress.
To be sure, projecting a Hindutva image of India overseas is nothing new. In the early 1990s, the destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya, carried out by Hindu nationalists (under the protection of the authorities), created a public relations problem for India.
The Hindutva supporters overseas quickly mobilised to promote a Hindu supremacist rationalisation of the mosque demolition, framing it as a legitimate reclamation of land by majoritarian Hindu forces. The Indian Muslim community has long been stigmatised as the products of foreign invaders.
Indeed, the main philosopher behind the ideology of the BJP and its associated Hindutva organisations, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883 – 1966) was an outspoken Hindu supremacist. Savarkar, the creator of this ethnonationalist ideology, was anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and anti-British. Let’s clarify that while he opposed Britain, he was never an anti-imperialist. His opposition to Britain was based on his hostility to non-Hindus.
It is no exaggeration to state that Savarkar is Modi’s original inspiration. In fact, Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, was motivated by Savarkar’s vision of a Hindu supremacist India. Savarkar expounded his views, which included the expulsion of Muslims from India.
He sympathised with Nazi and fascist movements in Europe, and expressed his support for Zionism, as an allied ideology committed to building an ethnonationalist state in Palestine. Shared hostility to Muslims contributed to this burgeoning ideological correspondence.
Islamophobia is a potent ideological glue, cementing alliances between various ultrarightist political groups. Hindutva organisations, such as the BJP, have long been Islamophobic, agitating for the violent expulsion of India’s Muslims. However, since 2001 and the launch of the purported war on terror, Islamophobic ideology moved to a new level of state policy.
From Azad Essa’s article, the following observation is directly relevant here:
The War on Terror didn’t merely usher in programs of surveillance and racism against the Muslim community. It also facilitated the cross-pollination of essentially right-wing ethnonationalisms and helped normalize anti-Muslim bigotry in different parts of the globe.
In the 2000s, Hindu nationalist groups have learned from political lobbying organisations, in particular from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Modelled on AIPAC, Hindutva organisations are creating a new generation of politically engaged Indians in the diaspora. One of their main goals is forging agitating closer cooperation between Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi.
When Indian PM Modi travels to the US, he is welcomed by a near-rock star reception by Indian audiences. Since becoming PM, the Indian government has oriented strongly towards Tel Aviv, providing support to the Zionist state. Hindutva organisations in the US and Britain have dutifully circulated anti-Muslim and pro-Israeli propaganda, in contrast to India’s traditional support for the Palestinians.
Abdulla Moaswes, writing in 972 magazine, states that in similar fashion to the Israeli government, the BJP intends to make membership of a religion the political basis of citizenship. Modi has constructed the most Israel-friendly government in independent India’s history. Savarkar, the ideological forebear of the BJP and Hindutva organisations, expressed his support for the Zionist ethnostate.
This is not to suggest that there is no opposition to the BJP and its ideology inside India – in fact, opposition to the Hindutva ethnonationalist vision of the BJP is growing. However, we must not allow the Indian communities in the diaspora to become unchallenged partisans of Hindutva philosophy. The ghost of Gandhi’s assassin needs to be exorcised.