INDIA’S Hindu right is desperately seeking a role in the American elections even if it’s a walk-on appearance in a crowd scene. It asks if its right-wing friends from Israel can tip the balance in a keen American contest, why can’t the Hindu right be at least a cheerleader. After being rapped on the knuckles by Barack Obama a few times — following the cordial talks with Prime Minister Modi in Delhi, for example — the Hindu right wants a less censorious incumbent in the White House. Public prayers and weird voodoo rituals have been invoked to boost the chances of Donald Trump.
The two have much in common. Mr Trump claims to speak for core American values, passing off contrived fear for nationalist fervour. In India, the Hindu right has laid claim to defining — rather, it has been allowed by a somnolent opposition to prescribe — what is nationalist and what isn’t. Someone’s stand on the Kashmiri uprising is the signal for praise or rebuke. They both hate Muslims. And, as Mr Trump’s aversion of Latinos expands his arena of nurtured prejudices the Hindu right targets the tribal communities of the northeast.
Hindtuva goons, raised on political patronage, periodically bludgeon Manipuri and other people from the northeast in Delhi and elsewhere. Mr Trump’s veiled fear of African Americans mutates in India into physical assaults on students and visitors of dark complexion. As with Muslims and Dalits, African residents find it difficult to rent a house in Delhi.
Mr Trump and the Hindu right have a common ancestor too: Adolf Hitler. As such, they are joined at the hip in their biases. About Muslims, Trump says: “They’re not coming to this country if I’m president. And if Obama has brought some to this country they are leaving, they’re going, they’re gone.”
Trump and the Hindu right have a common ancestor: Adolf Hitler. As such, they are joined at the hip in their biases.
As his wife plagiarised from Michelle Obama’s speech, Trump borrowed without attribution from Guru Golwakar’s book We or Our Nationhood Defined. The early pioneer of the Hindu right wrote: “The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture ... In a word, they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizens’ rights.”
There was a notable difference though. Golwalkar’s reference to non-Hindu people included Indian Christians. This should not deter any alliance of two utterly right-wing demagogues. After all, Golwakar’s praise of Germany’s treatment of Jews didn’t deter his followers from bonding with right-wing leaders in Israel.
“To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races — the Jews,” Golwalkar wrote with approval. “Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by. Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to take on these despoilers. The Race Spirit has been awakening.”
When the going is good, help comes from surprising directions even to right-wing charlatans. Remember that Maulana Maududi of the Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan had come to Golwalkar’s rescue, adlibbing him on how the minorities in India should be treated. “I should have no objection even if the Muslims of India are treated in that form of government as Shudras and Mlechhas and Manu’s laws are applied to them, depriving them of all share in the government and the rights of a citizen,” the Jamaat chief told Justice Munir during the investigations into the anti-Ahmadi riots in Punjab.
This may not be the only reason, of course, why Hindutva governments, with their avowedly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian bias find admirers among India’s Muslims, including the occasional minister in the government.
Likewise, there are Muslim supporters of Donald Trump. Time magazine quotes a recent poll of 2,000 Muslim voters in six states by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. They found Trump in third place, after Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with 11 per cent saying they would support him.
“Trump has called for barring Muslims from entering the United States, argued for surveillance of mosques and suggested he’d be open to creating a registry of American Muslims,” Time observed before Trump’s formal anointment. “Still, the Republican frontrunner has some fans among the American Muslim community, which is made up of 3.3 million people, representing roughly 1pc of the US population.”
There may be one significant difference, however, between the rightward surge in the US and the consolidating hold of the Hindu right in India, and that difference reflects in the unequally split media. Whereas even the most conservative TV channels in the United States will find themselves ill at ease with Mr Trump’s racist harangues, in India open foul-mouthing of the government’s critics is widely condoned. Take the story of popular TV anchor Barkha Dutt who doesn’t see eye to eye with Hindutva nationalists. Or consider Aamir Khan’s quandary after the movie actor expressed his unease over growing social intolerance under the Modi government.
A minister close to Modi called Khan an anti-national for the future under Hindutva. Such people must be taught a lesson, the minister thundered the other day, echoing the mobs when they beat up teachers and journalists defending Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University against official muzzling. Ironically, Khan has produced the country’s most popular TV serial on nation building. It’s called Satyamev Jayate — (truth shall triumph).
Barkha Dutt’s raging row with right-wing nationalism is sadly an unequal fight. She nurtures a self-declared love of the Indian army and capitalism, two quantities that describe the country’s burgeoning middle class. And yet, a Hindu nationalist anchor of a rival channel has demanded her arrest for her humanitarian perspective on Kashmir. Barkha’s fight needs to be joined today. Later may be too late.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2016