HINDU extremism in India is not a new phenomenon; India’s founding father, Mahatma Gandhi, himself was shot dead by a fanatic, Nathuram Godse, in 1948 for his perceived soft corner for Muslims. However, while in the early days after Independence Hindutva and its devotees remained on the fringes of Indian society, as the state espoused Nehruvian socialism and secularism, today the Sangh Parivar — the umbrella term used for all proponents of a Hindu rashtra or state — have captured state power. Indeed, all groups operating under this ideological umbrella have become more strident and aggressive, which has spelt trouble for India’s minorities and more progressive citizens. The recent listing of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the CIA World Factbook as “militant religious outfits” is a reflection of Hindutva’s relentless march in India. Interestingly, while the two aforementioned groups have been classified under the banner of militancy, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — their mother organisation — has been termed a “nationalist” outfit.
Although Hindutva bared its fangs in its first mass display of power during the Babri Masjid’s demolition in 1992, since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 the Hindutva brigade has been given a shot in the arm. Many high-ranking officials in the Indian state machinery, starting from the prime minister, are swayamsevaks, while some notoriously communal characters are in positions of power, such as Yogi Adityanath, the serving chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The latter is known for his frequent anti-Muslim rants. Having such individuals in the corridors of power has had a trickle-down effect on the masses. The result has been lynching of Muslims over suspicions of eating or transporting beef, cracking down on ‘love jihad’ and a general tilt of Indian society towards the right. Of course, the rightward march is not a phenomenon limited to India; across the world hard-right movements are gaining power and finding their way into legislatures. We in Pakistan have also had our share of fanaticism. In India’s case, the rapid saffronisation threatens the secular and democratic ethos India has cultivated over the decades. It is clear from the writings and utterances of Sangh Parivar ideologues that theirs is a fascist ideology that accepts no pluralism or diversity. If this is the path India wants to avoid, it needs to isolate hatemongers and assure its religious and caste minorities that they, too, are equal Indian citizens.
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2018