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

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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)
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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)
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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)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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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.”
 


Russia says main power line to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant goes down, no safety threats

Updated 4 sec ago
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Russia says main power line to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant goes down, no safety threats

The reasons for the outage, which had not caused any change in the radiation level, were being investigated
The main 750 kilovolt (kV) “Dniprovska” power line went down at 13.31 local

MOSCOW: Russia said on Thursday that the main power line supplying the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) in Ukraine had gone down, but that there was no threat to safety and the plant was being supplied via a backup line.
The six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant, held by Russia and located close to the front line of the conflict in Ukraine, are not in operation but it relies on external power to keep its nuclear material cool and prevent a catastrophic accident.
The Russian management said on their official channel on the Telegram app that the reasons for the outage, which had not caused any change in the radiation level, were being investigated.
It said the main 750 kilovolt (kV) “Dniprovska” power line went down at 13.31 local (1031 GMT), while the 330 kV “Ferosplavnaya” line was supplying power to the plant now.
The main “Dniprovska” power line also went down for almost five hours on March 22, highlighting what the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said were “ever present dangers to nuclear safety and security” from the Russia-Ukraine war.
Russia and Ukraine have each accused the other at various times of shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is Europe’s largest.
IAEA has said that the ZNPP has been experiencing major off-site power problems since the conflict began in early 2022, exacerbating the nuclear safety and security risks facing the site.

US will announce $275 million more in artillery and ammunition for Ukraine, officials say

Updated 33 min 40 sec ago
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US will announce $275 million more in artillery and ammunition for Ukraine, officials say

  • This will be the fourth installment of military aid for Ukraine since Congress passed a long-delayed foreign aid bill late last month
  • Russia has sought to take advantage of Ukrainian shortages in manpower and weapons while the war-torn country waits for the arrival of more US assistance

WASHINGTON: The United States is expected to announce an additional $275 million in military aid for Ukraine on Friday as Kyiv struggles to hold off advances by Russian troops in the Kharkiv region, two US officials say.
This will be the fourth installment of military aid for Ukraine since Congress passed a long-delayed foreign aid bill late last month and comes as the Biden administration has pledged to keep weapons flowing regularly and to get them to the front lines as quickly as possible.
The package includes high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, as well 155 mm and 105 mm high-demand artillery rounds, according to the two US officials. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details of the aid package before the public announcement.
It follows a monthly gathering Monday of about 50 defense leaders from Europe and elsewhere who meet regularly to coordinate getting more military aid to Ukraine. At this latest meeting, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukraine was in a “moment of challenge” due to Russia’s new onslaught on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. He pledged to keep weapons moving “week after week.”
Russia has sought to take advantage of Ukrainian shortages in manpower and weapons while the war-torn country waits for the arrival of more US assistance, which was delayed for months in Congress. Ukrainian forces have been pushed backward in places, while Russia has pounded its power grid and civilian areas.
In the month since President Joe Biden signed the $95 billion foreign aid package, which included about $61 billion for Ukraine, the US has announced and started to send almost $1.7 billion in weapons pulled from Pentagon stockpiles.
It’s also announced $6 billion in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. That pays for longer-term contracts with the defense industry and means that the weapons could take many months or years to arrive.
With this latest package, the US has now provided almost $51 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.


First pilgrims from Philippines depart for Hajj 2024

Updated 23 May 2024
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First pilgrims from Philippines depart for Hajj 2024

  • About 5,000 Filipino Muslims are set to perform Hajj this year
  • Muslims make up 10 percent of majority Catholic Philippine population

MANILA: The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos sent off the first group of Hajj pilgrims on Thursday, marking the beginning of the annual pilgrimage season for Muslims from the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the nearly 120 million Philippine population, with most living on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in the central-western province of Palawan.

With the Hajj this year expected to start on June 14 and end on June 19, many pilgrims depart early to make the most of the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

The Philippines’ first group of 150 pilgrims left early on Thursday morning from the main airport in Manila, making the first leg of their journey to Madinah via Oman.

“The Hajj is not merely a journey undertaken for personal fulfillment, it is a profound act of devotion symbolizing unity, equality and submission to the will of the Almighty Allah,” NCMF Secretary Sabuddin Abdurahim said during the sendoff ceremony.

NCMF is the body governing Muslim affairs in the Philippines, in charge of organizing the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

“As we bid farewell to our beloved pilgrims embarking on the sacred journey to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, my heart is filled with prayers for your safety, security and the smoothest of journeys,” Abdurahim said.

“I fervently pray that this year’s Hajj is free from any hurdles of challenges, ensuring a profound spiritual experience for each of you.”

About 5,000 Muslims have confirmed their travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage this year, the NCMF said.

Hapidz Yusop, a pilgrim from Sulu, said that he was fulfilling his dream of doing the sacred pilgrimage.

“It’s been my lifelong dream. I’ve been planning to do the Hajj for a long time, but I don’t have the means, I don’t have the money. But by the mercy of God and the help of our mayor in Talipao, I’m finally here,” he told Arab News, referring to how his arrangements for Hajj were sponsored by the local government in Talipao.

“It feels like we are born again, that we will be cleansed of all of our sins and be born again. May God give us mercy,” Yusop said.

Rahyan Tulawi Amaraja, a 30-year-old nurse from Sulu’s Jolo island, will embark on this year’s Hajj with her parents.

“It has been my aspiration since I was a child to perform my pilgrimage. Fortunately, I will perform my Hajj journey with my parents, which is one of my aspirations, too,” she told Arab News.

“I am overwhelmed with joy,” she said. “For this Hajj journey, I wish to have Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, and to be able to perform it well and successfully.”


Pro-Palestinian protesters leave after Drexel University decides to have police clear encampment

Updated 23 May 2024
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Pro-Palestinian protesters leave after Drexel University decides to have police clear encampment

  • News outlets reported that police gave protesters a warning to clear the encampment and protesters left
  • “An unauthorized encampment that involves large numbers of people unaffiliated with Drexel trespassing on our campus is illegal,” Fry said

PHILADELPHIA: Protesters packed up their belongings and left a pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University on Thursday after the school announced a decision to have police clear the encampment.
University President John Fry said in a statement that he decided to have campus police and public safety officers join Philadelphia police in clearing the encampment as peacefully as possible.
News outlets reported that police gave protesters a warning to clear the encampment and protesters left. Protesters didn’t immediately comment.
Fry said the university is committed to protecting the community members’ right to assemble peacefully and express their views, but he has the responsibility and authority to regulate campus gatherings to ensure safety and fulfill the mission to educate students.
“An unauthorized encampment that involves large numbers of people unaffiliated with Drexel trespassing on our campus is illegal,” Fry said. “The language and chants coming from this demonstration, underscored by protesters’ repugnant ‘demands,’ must now come to an end.”
Protesters gathered their belongings as dozens of officers on bicycles arrived around 5:20 a.m., but in less than a half hour only a few items remained on the Korman Family Quad where the 35-tent encampment had been, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“The campers picked up their belongings for the most part and left by their own free will,” Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp said.
The encampment had persisted despite Fry’s threat earlier this week to have the encampment cleared. Fry said Tuesday that classes would be held virtually for a third day on Wednesday after administrators tried to open a line of communication to the protesters but were rebuffed. News outlets reported that the university announced Wednesday night that the campus would return to normal operations Thursday.
In his statement early Thursday, Fry said previous requests for protesters to disperse had been ignored, but he was asking Drexel affiliates to leave the encampment so police could “escort any remaining trespassers off our campus.”
A wave of pro-Palestinian tent encampments on campuses has led to over 3,000 arrests nationwide.
On Thursday, the leaders of Northwestern University and Rutgers University are expected to testify at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about concessions they gave to pro-Palestinian protesters to end demonstrations on their campus. The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, also was scheduled to appear at the latest in a series of hearings looking into how colleges have responded to the protests and allegations of antisemitism.


Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

Updated 23 May 2024
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Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

  • Marina Tabassum is among Time’s most influential people of 2024
  • Her mosque in Dhaka received the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture

DHAKA: With structures that “breathe” and are designed in tune with Bangladesh’s history and environment, Marina Tabassum’s work focuses on the local community and resilience in the country where every year millions of people lose their homes and livelihoods to climate change.

The award-winning founder of Marina Tabassum Architects came to the international spotlight after winning the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, which she designed, built and fundraised.

An architect and educator, she is also the recipient of the prestigious 2021 Soane Medal for Architecture, the 2021 Gold Medal by the French Academy of Architecture, the 2021 Arnold W. Bruner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters 2021, and the Lisbon Millennium Lifetime Achievement Award, which she received in 2022.

In 2024, she was featured on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list for developing a “practice and a way of being that prioritizes local cultures and values, as well as the perils faced by our shared planet.”

One of the drivers of Tabassum’s work is a sense of responsibility.

“There is enormous disparity in our human condition in Bangladesh and I feel like it’s not just my responsibility, (but) it’s for everybody to take that, their own share of the responsibility, and to do something about it,” she told Arab News at her practice in Dhaka.

“And I am of a breed who has the knowledge, has the capacity, all the different things that are required to take the responsibility to reduce these differences.”

Throughout her nearly three-decade career, she has designed some of Bangladesh’s most famous structures, which, besides the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, are the Museum of Independence in Dhaka — a project with Kashef Chowdhury — as well as housing adapted to the environment, including a modular mobile house for climate victims in the country’s south and north.

The Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, which is personally very close to Tabassum, was built on land donated by her grandmother and with a modest budget raised through community contributions.

“I was not just designing it, but also constructing it, fundraising it, so that became a very intensely involved project. I would say it is an important milestone for me and also it gave me a lot of international acclaim, which definitely helps in many ways,” she said.

The prayer hall of Marina Tabassum's Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka. (Aga Khan Trust for Culture)

The building’s porous brick walls keep it ventilated and cool while natural light enters it through a skylight. For Tabassum, one of the most important features in her work is that it “has to be able to breathe without artificial aids,” especially in her own subtropical country.

“It’s important for us to have our buildings as open as possible so that we can have natural ventilation, air can come and pass through the buildings. That’s what I call the breathing of a building,” she said.

“That’s an absolutely crucially important phenomenon that we should integrate in our architecture.”

Another crucial factor is having her architecture rooted, as much as possible, in the local context, including by sourcing material locally and working with local craftsmen.

Working with local communities and “trying to make ourselves available to their service,” is the main focus of her projects now — inspired also by her parents and teachers.

“Till date, my father, who is 87 years of age, is still working as a doctor, giving treatment to people who cannot afford cancer therapy. I think that’s embedded in us, to some extent, to have that value of giving,” she said.

As an architect, she has been inspired by many different people — her professors at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Muzharul Islam, an architect and urban planner who is considered the grand master of modernism in South Asia.

“There’s a lot that I learned from him,” Tabassum said. “He always talked about how we have a small country and a huge population, how the entire country needs to be planned in a proper manner in terms of land use, in terms of housing, food production, and all the other things that a country requires, and every single space should be properly planned and designed — which we are still yet to do.”

In 2020, she established a new non-profit branch of her practice — the Foundation for Architecture Community Equity — dedicated to providing a home and humane living environment to Bangladesh’s low-income, landless, or climate-affected communities.

One of its flagship initiatives is Khudi Bari, which translates to “little house” in Bengali. Under the project, over 50 such bamboo-frame houses have already been built for the coastal communities where seawater regularly claims the land, and for flood-prone communities in the north, where swelling rivers cause catastrophic flooding during the monsoon season.

Marina Tabassum, center, and her colleagues from the Foundation for Architecture and Community Equity stand next to the frame of a house for low-income Bangladeshi communities affected by climate change. (FACE)

The cheap and light houses are made from materials that are widely available in the regions and are designed to be easily dismantled and moved when needed.

“Architecture is not a product, architecture has expanded and has always had that expanded idea of creating a proper environment, a good environment. And in order to create a good environment, you cannot just focus on a building, but you have to create, starting from planning to landscape to building (according) to people’s living conditions, economics,” Tabassum said.

“It’s about changing the mindset in many ways … The changes I would like to see (are) more about rootedness, more about sourcing locally, building responsibly, including people.”