Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power

1 / 3
Gujarat state's then chief minister Narendra Modi, third left, with former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, second right, and leaders of Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), salute during the concluding ceremony of the eight-day RSS convention in Ahmedabad, India, on Jan. 1, 2006.(AP photo/File)
2 / 3
In this Feb. 23, 2014 file photo, Indian Muslims shower flower petals as volunteers of Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS), march on the concluding day of their three-day meeting in Bhopal, India. For the RSS, Indian civilization is inseparable from Hinduism. (AP Photo/Rajeev Gupta, File)
3 / 3
Youth and children participate in Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)'s shakha in Ahmedabad, India, on April 8, 2024. Shakhas, or local units, induct boys by combining religious education with self-defense skills and games. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
Short Url
Updated 19 April 2024
Follow

Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power

  • While Mahatma Gandhi preached Hindu-Muslim unity a few decades earlier, the RSS advocated for transforming India into a Hindu nation
  • RSS, which stands for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is paramilitary, right-wing group founded nearly a century ago
  • Modi joined the political wing of the RSS in the late 1960s in their home state, Gujarat, when he was a teenager

AHMEDABAD, India: Hindu nationalism, once a fringe ideology in India, is now mainstream. Nobody has done more to advance this cause than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of India’s most beloved and polarizing political leaders.

And no entity has had more influence on his political philosophy and ambitions than a paramilitary, right-wing group founded nearly a century ago and known as the RSS.
“We never imagined that we would get power in such a way,” said Ambalal Koshti, 76, who says he first brought Modi into the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the late 1960s in their home state, Gujarat.
Modi was a teenager. Like other young men — and even boys — who joined, he would learn to march in formation, fight, meditate and protect their Hindu homeland.
A few decades earlier, while Mahatma Gandhi preached Hindu-Muslim unity, the RSS advocated for transforming India — by force, if necessary — into a Hindu nation. (A former RSS worker would fire three bullets into Gandhi’s chest in 1948, killing him months after India gained independence.)
Modi’s spiritual and political upbringing from the RSS is the driving force, experts say, in everything he’s done as prime minister over the past 10 years, a period that has seen India become a global power and the world’s fifth-largest economy.
At the same time, his rule has seen brazen attacks against minorities — particularly Muslims — from hate speech to lynchings. India’s democracy, critics say, is faltering as the press, political opponents and courts face growing threats. And Modi has increasingly blurred the line between religion and state.
At 73, Modi is campaigning for a third term in a general election, which starts Friday. He and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are expected to win. He’s challenged by a broad but divided alliance of regional parties.
Supporters and critics agree on one thing: Modi has achieved staying power by making Hindu nationalism acceptable — desirable, even — to a nation of 1.4 billion that for decades prided itself on pluralism and secularism. With that comes an immense vote bank: 80 percent of Indians are Hindu.
“He is 100 percent an ideological product of the RSS,“in said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who wrote a Modi biography. “He has delivered their goals.”
 




In this Feb. 23, 2014 file photo, Indian Muslims shower flower petals as volunteers of Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS), march on the concluding day of their three-day meeting in Bhopal, India. For the RSS, Indian civilization is inseparable from Hinduism. (AP Photo/Rajeev Gupta, File)

Uniting Hindus
Between deep breaths under the night sky in western India a few weeks ago, a group of boys recited an RSS prayer in Sanskrit: “All Hindus are the children of Mother India ... we have taken a vow to be equals and a promise to save our religion.”
More than 65 years ago, Modi was one of them. Born in 1950 to a lower-caste family, his first exposure to the RSS was through shakhas — local units — that induct boys by combining religious education with self-defense skills and games.
By the 1970s, Modi was a full-time campaigner, canvassing neighborhoods on bicycle to raise RSS support.
“At that time, Hindus were scared to come together,” Koshti said. “We were trying to unite them.”
The RSS — formed in 1925, with the stated intent to strengthen the Hindu community — was hardly mainstream. It was tainted by links to Gandhi’s assassination and accused of stoking hatred against Muslims as periodic riots roiled India.
For the group, Indian civilization is inseparable from Hinduism, while critics say its philosophy is rooted in Hindu supremacy.
Today, the RSS has spawned a network of affiliated groups, from student and farmer unions to nonprofits and vigilante organizations often accused of violence. Their power — and legitimacy — ultimately comes from the BJP, which emerged from the RSS.
“Until Modi, the BJP had never won a majority on their own in India’s Parliament,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, an expert on Modi and the Hindu right. “For the RSS, it is unprecedented.”
Scaling his politics
Modi got his first big political break in 2001, becoming chief minister of home state Gujarat. A few months in, anti-Muslim riots ripped through the region, killing at least 1,000 people.
There were suspicions that Modi quietly supported the riots, but he denied the allegations and India’s top court absolved him over lack of evidence.
Instead of crushing his political career, the riots boosted it.
Modi doubled down on Hindu nationalism, Jaffrelot said, capitalizing on religious tensions for political gain. Gujarat’s reputation suffered from the riots, so he turned to big businesses to build factories, create jobs and spur development.
“This created a political economy — he built close relations with capitalists who in turn backed him,” Jaffrelot said.
Modi became increasingly authoritarian, Jaffrelot described, consolidating power over police and courts and bypassing the media to connect directly with voters.
The “Gujarat Model,” as Modi coined it, portended what he would do as a prime minister.
“He gave Hindu nationalism a populist flavor,” Jaffrelot said. “Modi invented it in Gujarat, and today he has scaled it across the country.”
A few decades earlier,
In June, Modi aims not just to win a third time — he’s set a target of receiving two-thirds of the vote. And he’s touted big plans.
“I’m working every moment to make India a developed nation by 2047,” Modi said at a rally. He also wants to abolish poverty and make the economy the world’s third-largest.
If Modi wins, he’ll be the second Indian leader, after Jawaharlal Nehru, to retain power for a third term.
With approval ratings over 70 percent, Modi’s popularity has eclipsed that of his party. Supporters see him as a strongman leader, unafraid to take on India’s enemies, from Pakistan to the liberal elite. He’s backed by the rich, whose wealth has surged under him. For the poor, a slew of free programs, from food to housing, deflect the pain of high unemployment and inflation. Western leaders and companies line up to court him, turning to India as a counterweight against China.
He’s meticulously built his reputation. In a nod to his Hinduism, he practices yoga in front of TV crews and the UN, extols the virtues of a vegetarian diet, and preaches about reclaiming India’s glory. He refers to himself in the third person.
P.K. Laheri, a former senior bureaucrat in Gujarat, said Modi “does not risk anything” when it comes to winning — he goes into the election thinking the party won’t miss a single seat.
The common thread of Modi’s rise, analysts say, is that his most consequential policies are ambitions of the RSS.
In 2019, his government revoked the special status of disputed Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority region. His government passed a citizenship law excluding Muslim migrants. In January, Modi delivered on a longstanding demand from the RSS — and millions of Hindus — when he opened a temple on the site of a razed mosque.
The BJP has denied enacting discriminatory policies and says its work benefits all Indians.
Last week, the BJP said it would pass a common legal code for all Indians — another RSS desire — to replace religious personal laws. Muslim leaders and others oppose it.
But Modi’s politics are appealing to those well beyond right-wing nationalists — the issues have resonated deeply with regular Hindus. Unlike those before him, Modi paints a picture of a rising India as a Hindu one.
Satish Ahlani, a school principal, said he’ll vote for Modi. Today, Ahlani said, Gujarat is thriving — as is India.
“Wherever our name hadn’t reached, it is now there,” he said. “Being Hindu is our identity; that is why we want a Hindu country. ... For the progress of the country, Muslims will have to be with us. They should accept this and come along.”
 


No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

Updated 5 sec ago
Follow

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • Taliban’s edicts on women’s freedoms have been described by United Nations as “gender apartheid“

United Nations, United States: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, adding that the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha was not a legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”


New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US

Updated 23 min 15 sec ago
Follow

New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US

  • Nikhil Gupta was extradited to United States this month after his arrest in Prague last year
  • Gupta is accused by US of unsuccessfully plotting with Indian official to kill a US citizen

NEW DELHI: New Delhi is in touch with the family of an Indian man who is accused of plotting with an Indian government official to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States, the foreign ministry said on Friday in reaction to a Reuters report.
Nikhil Gupta, extradited to the United States this month after his arrest in Prague last year, has been accused by US federal prosecutors of unsuccessfully plotting with an Indian official to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US citizen.
Gupta, 52, pleaded not guilty on Monday to murder-for-hire conspiracy charges in a court in Manhattan and a source close to his family told Reuters on Thursday that it wanted New Delhi’s help to “get justice.”
“We have so far not received any request for consular access from Gupta, but his family has got in touch with us,” Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal told reporters. “We are in touch with the family members and we are looking at the matter as to what can be done on their request.”
The US government has said it thwarted the alleged plot to kill Pannun and warned India about concerns of its involvement.
India has designated Pannun an “individual terrorist” but has dissociated itself from the plot, saying it goes against government policy. Pannun advocates for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.
The source, who declined to be named given the sensitive nature of a case that has diplomatic implications, had said Gupta’s family has not been able to establish direct contact with him since his extradition.
“Regardless of the allegations raised against him, he is an Indian citizen and a patriot who deserves the rights and protections granted by the government to its citizens.”
The source said the family believed Gupta “is a victim in this series of events” but that “he will get justice.”


Arab-American mayor warns Biden has not ‘earned my vote’

Updated 41 min 57 sec ago
Follow

Arab-American mayor warns Biden has not ‘earned my vote’

  • First Muslim mayor of Dearborn thrust into the national spotlight for his outspoken criticism of fellow Democrat Joe Biden, over the president’s support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza

DEARBORN, United States: Abdullah Hammoud’s election as the first Muslim mayor of Dearborn was a watershed moment for this city, an automaking hub home to the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States.
But while his early focus was on upgrading sewer infrastructure and investing in parks, he has now been thrust into the national spotlight for his outspoken criticism of fellow Democrat Joe Biden, over the president’s support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
“I’ll be the first to say that we don’t want to see (Donald) Trump reelected to the White House,” Hammoud told AFP in an interview. “But people want to be inspired to come out.”
Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit famous as the birthplace of Henry Ford and home of the Ford Motor Company’s headquarters, has a population of around 110,000 residents, of whom 55 percent claim Middle Eastern or North African heritage.
In 2020, Dearborn voters overwhelmingly supported Biden and their ballots could tip the scales in Michigan — a crucial swing state that may ultimately decide the White House winner in November’s election.
Hammoud’s profile surged in January after he declined an invitation to meet with Biden campaign officials seeking to shore up the Muslim vote.
Since then, he helped galvanize a movement that saw over 100,000 voters mark “uncommitted” in Michigan’s Democratic primary in protest against Biden’s policy on Israel, and was asked by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein if he would be her running mate.
Hammoud, who won’t meet the Constitutional requirement of being 35 until next March, was too young to accept the role, though he said the offer was “very humbling.”
Besides, he remains unsure about how he’ll cast his ballot.
“I would say that no presidential candidate has earned my vote,” said the father-of-two, urging both parties to pay attention to increasing public disapproval of Israel’s actions.
“If you look at all the polling data that’s emerging across the country, from coast to coast, the issues that we have been advocating for, fighting for... are issues that have popular support.”
These demands include a permanent ceasefire as the pathway to provide safe harbor for all hostages and prisoners, unfettered access to humanitarian aid, and ending the supply of weapons to Israel.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Hammoud grew up in a “working poor” blue collar family. His father drove a truck while his mother’s father worked on an auto factory assembly line.
He was drawn toward the Democratic Party for its support of the labor movement, and equally repelled by Republicans, whom he says have a history of “demonizing Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and other people of color.”
Hammoud’s first dream was to become a physician, but he wasn’t able to get the grades. He instead trained as an epidemiologist and began climbing the corporate ladder as a health care executive.
But the sudden death of his beloved elder brother — Hammoud was the second of five children — made him re-evaluate his priorities, and in 2016 he won election to the state legislature.
Then in 2022, he became the second in a trio of new Muslim mayors in the southeast Michigan cities of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck.
Hammoud immediately set to work righting historical wrongs.
For decades, the city had been marred by a reputation for racism, exemplified by the openly segregationist policies of former mayor Orville Hubbard.
Hammoud appointed the city’s first Arab-American police chief, which led to a drastic drop in tickets issued to Black drivers within a year, according to his spokesman.
Until the war in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’s attacks and hostage taking on October 7, 2023, Hammoud considered Biden a “transformative” president, but now believes “the genocide outweighs the impact of that domestic policy.”
Hammoud sidesteps the question of whether he could ultimately endorse Biden under the right circumstances, emphasizing that whatever he might say, it’s too late for some of his constituents who have lost dozens of relatives to Israeli bombs.
He has no doubt that Trump, who imposed a Muslim travel ban during his tenure, would be an utter disaster — citing the Republican’s arming of Saudi Arabia against Yemen, backing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem.
But Hammoud recoils at suggestions that members of his community would be to blame for potentially paving the way for Trump’s return by withholding their support for Biden.
Asked how he would respond to this criticism, Hammoud said: “The question should be asked of President Joe Biden — what will he do to prevent Trump being reelected come this November? What will he do to help prevent the unraveling of American democracy and the fabric of our society?”


DR Congo militia kills more than 20 in village raid

Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

DR Congo militia kills more than 20 in village raid

  • Locals blame Codeco militia, which claims to be fighting for the interests of the Lendu tribe against the rival Hema tribe, for the killings

BUNIA, DR Congo: Militia fighters on Friday killed more than 20 civilians in a village in the gold-rich Ituri province in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, local residents said.
The residents blamed the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (Codeco) militia for the killings. Codeco claims to be fighting for the interests of the Lendu tribe against the rival Hema tribe.
“Codeco militias attacked the village of Lodjo on Thursday, where they killed eight civilians. They came back on Friday, the current death toll is 36,” Innocent Matukadala, head of the Banyali Kilo administrative center, that takes in Lodjo, told AFP.
He said the Congolese army “arrived too late” to prevent the massacre. “The population is in disarray,” he added.
“For now, there are 28 dead (on Friday) and a massive displacement of the population,” said a civil society leader on condition of anonymity.
Other sources put the number of dead at 23. One said the dead included gold miners, women and children.
Dozens of civilians have been killed in Codeco attacks on villages in the province since the beginning of this year.
Inter-communal violence killed thousands in Ituri from 1999-2003 until an intervention by European forces restored calm.
The conflict erupted again in 2017, resulting in thousands more deaths and the mass displacement of local people.
The southern part of Ituri has also suffered from the inter-communal violence spilling over from neighboring North Kivu province, which has been ravaged by attacks blamed on rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces group, affiliated with Islamic State.
The ADF, originally mainly Muslim Ugandan rebels, have established a presence over the past three decades in eastern DR Congo, killing thousands of civilians.
 


Mali political parties say leaders arrested amid crackdown

Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

Mali political parties say leaders arrested amid crackdown

  • Eleven people arrested at private meeting, mostly political leaders, activists say
  • Political parties accuse authorities of silencing democratic voices, pursuing dictatorship

BAMAKO, Mali: An alliance of political parties and civil society groups in junta-led Mali said several of their leaders were arrested on Thursday evening during a private meeting at a house of a former minister. The alliance in a statement demanded their prompt release. The West African country, which has been under military rule since a coup in 2020, in April issued a decree that restricted political life in the name of maintaining public order.
The political parties and civil society groups did not say how many people were detained, but Boubacar Toure, a representative of one of the parties, told Reuters on Friday that 11 people had been arrested at the private meeting. Most of them were political leaders, he said.
In a statement, the political parties and groups accused the authorities of pursuing “a path to dictatorship ... with the sole aim of staying in power and silencing all democratic and republican voices.”
Mali’s security ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling junta has suspended all activities by political parties and “associations of a political nature” after the group of political parties and civil society organizations jointly criticized the authorities on March 31 for failing to schedule elections within the promised time frame.
In response to the junta’s order, the political parties turned to the Malian Supreme Court but it is not clear when the top court will consider the appeal.
The location of Thursday’s gathering had been shared in a WhatsApp group for activists and political party members, the president of an association told Reuters. He spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his safety.
“The objective of these arbitrary arrests ... is to create fear among citizens, so that no activist, no member of an association, will raise a finger or come out to denounce what is being done,” he said.
Those arrested had gathered during the Eid religious festival to exchange best wishes and also to discuss politics, said the secretary-general of a political party who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
“With the suspension of political parties, the banning of political party activities, it is difficult for people to come together and talk, so every opportunity that allows people to come together is an opportunity to address essential questions,” he said.
He said the arrests would damage confidence in the ruling junta but would not prevent Malians from discussing politics.
“People continue to call each other on the phone, they continue to express their opinions,” he said. “One way or another, we will find the means to meet again, whether in the fields, whether in the orchards, whether around the squares.”