Not many people would know that the governing party of India—the so-called largest secular democracy of the world—is an offshoot of a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization that sees controversial figures like Hitler and Mussolini as its role models.
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), whose founders idealized both fascism and Nazism.
As we gear up to celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, there is a need to have a candid conversation on the agenda of the RSS and the BJP government. Under its rule attacks on religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, have grown.
The RSS was founded in 1925 with a mandate to establish an exclusionist Hindu nation. It was started as a cultural outfit that is dedicated to the cause of establishing a Hindu theocracy.
Volunteers were encouraged to take physical training. Interestingly, the group was formed under British-occupied India, but remained aloof to the freedom struggle that was more inclusive and secular in character.
Since the time of its foundation, the RSS has always seen India as the land of Hindus, while viewing Christianity and Islam as foreign religions. Other minority faith groups such as Sikhism and Buddhism have always been viewed by the RSS as part of the Hindu fold.
The BJP later came into being as a political arm of the RSS with a mandate to transform India into Hindu state through electoral means. Many prominent BJP leaders are the members of the RSS. Among them is Indian prime Mminister Narendra Modi.
He was the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat when an anti-Muslim pogrom broke out in that state in 2002. The violence began after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing more than 50 passengers.
The Modi government blamed the incident on Muslim fundamentalists. At the time, he reportedly asked the police to look the other way and let Hindus vent out their anger if there were protests in the streets. Though Modi was never convicted for the violence, human rights groups and the survivours continue to allege his complicity. It is for this reason that he was denied visa by many countries until he was elected prime minister in 2014.
Much before, in 2002, the BJP government in Gujarat was also accused of inciting anti-Christian violence, whereas Sikh settlers from Punjab in the state also became targets of attacks around 2014. In recent months, so-called untouchables within the Hindu society endured vicious attacks by Hindu extremists in Gujarat.
The founder of the RSS, Keshav Baliram Hegdewar, and his ally, B.S. Moonje, were greatly impressed by the fascist regime of Italy. In fact, Moonje—who was the mentor of Hegdewar—visited Italy in 1931. Not only did he meet Mussolini, he also visited important military schools and the fascist academy. Following in the footsteps of the fascist government, the RSS began recruiting young boys who were given physical training.
Likewise, Veer Savarkar—another prominent Hindu supremacist leader who had an influence over the RSS—was an admirer of Hitler. Savarkar had earlier participated in the freedom movement but later quit after seeking a pardon while serving jail time. He did not agree with those who saw Hitler as a “human monster”. He rather noted that Nazism proved the saviour of Germany. He even went to the extent of supporting Hitler’s anti-Jewish genocide and saw in it a solution for the “Muslim problem” in India.
For these leaders, Hindus are Aryans who belong to the national race of India while Muslims and Christians are viewed as aliens whose sacred lands are located far away. The RSS also believes in a brutal caste system and orthodox Hindu texts that subjugate women as inferior.
When India was divided on religious lines in 1947, the year it got its official independence from British, RSS cadres indulged in violence against Muslims to drive them out to fledgling Pakistan.
In 1948 Mahatma Gandhi, the towering leader of the passive resistance movement against the British, was assassinated by an RSS supporter for denouncing partition of the country and standing up for Muslims. As a result, the RSS was briefly banned. Savarkar was arrested in connection with Gandhi’s assassination but was acquitted for a lack of evidence.
As things stand today, the RSS continues to enjoy impunity under the Modi government. And Modi has acknowledged that he is indebted to the RSS. In some of states ruled by the BJP, officials can also join the RSS drills.
Significantly, Modi has publicly paid respects to Savarkar, whose portrait is now installed inside the Indian parliament.
That the RSS and the BJP supporters believe in ethnic cleansing became clear in number of violent incidents targeting Muslims and Christians across India during different times. The RSS even justified an anti-Sikh massacre in 1984 following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
It came after Gandhi had ordered a military attack on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, to flush out armed religious extremists. Massive damage to the buildings inside the shrine and many deaths enraged Sikh communities around the world.
Whereas, the so-called secularist Congress party of the slain leader was involved in the anti-Sikh violence, the RSS tried to rationalize it by blaming the Sikh leadership for inviting the violent reaction.
Only recently, it was discovered that tribal girls are being taken away from their poor and vulnerable parents in the northeastern states and sent away to RSS-run schools in other parts of India for religious indoctrination. These girls are made to give up their tribal culture and adopt Hindu rituals.
The method is no different than what was once advanced by Indian Residential Schools in Canada: to kill the Indian within Indians by Christianizing them. The racist history of the Canadian system is now being repeated by the RSS in India.
The world needs to wake up and see which way India is heading to before considering extending free trade and business with it. India under the BJP government is not immune to becoming an outright fascist state despite its glorious history of pluralism and diversity.
In fact, it may only be a matter of time until the Modi government amends the constitution to turn the country into a Hindu state.