Rise of virulent nationalism

Updated August 14, 2019


The writer is an author and journalist.
The writer is an author and journalist.

MUSCULAR nationalism, majoritarianism and populism are the most definite manifestations of the fascist ideology that now seems to be on the rise in various parts of the world. Ascendency of authoritarian strongmen is causing the rollback of liberal democratic values. The most dangerous fascist trait is the new virulent nationalism that seeks to assert racist, political and cultural hegemony, thus threatening not only democratic processes within states but also regional security.

Two events in the past weeks in different parts of the world — the US and India — are demonstrative of such increasing fascistic trends. One of these incidents, of the kind described as domestic terrorism motivated by white supremacist ideology, left several Americans dead. The manifesto posted by the young shooter who on Aug 3 slaughtered more than two dozen shoppers, most of them of Hispanic origin, at a mall in El Paso, Texas, talked about the “invasion of immigrants”.

It echoed the rhetoric used by President Trump against non-white immigrants. His re-election campaign too often mentions the ‘invasion’ of illegal immigrants. Trump’s white supremacist ideology has polarised American society as never before.

His tweets and the speeches he gives at public rallies include racist invective and encourage jingoistic hatred. One example of his incitement of racial grievances is his constant attack on four congresswomen of colour for their outspoken criticism of the administration’s racist politics.

The BJP’s politics, rooted in Hindu supremacist groups, has polarised India.

Trump’s remarks that the congresswomen should “go back’ to their countries of origin has become a popular slogan among his supporters. He has stoked right-wing violence and his administration has actively opposed efforts to fight it. Given such a campaign of hatred, the increasing occurrence of racist terrorism in the United States is not surprising.

The rise of neo-Nazism in other Western countries is a symptom of their racist politics and populism. Most worrisome is the prospect of Trumpian populism prevailing in other countries. Over the past years, there has been a notable rise of more virulent nationalism and authoritarian trends. Anti-immigration sentiments have strengthened right-wing extremist nationalism. It has also reared its ugly face in other parts of the world.

The Indian action to annex the occupied territory and attempt to destroy Kashmiri identity is also a part of muscular nationalism under a Hindu majoritarian regime. It is not just a matter of territorial occupation but also a move to turn a religious community into a minority. Driven by RSS ideology, Modi is trying to turn India into a Hindu rashtra and marginalise other religious communities.

Not only is this brute military force an attempt to suppress the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination, it is also cultural subjugation of an entire community. We are witnessing in India today the escalation of a violent Hindu nationalism that is causing instability in the region. What has happened in India-held Kashmir could be a prelude to the strengthening of Modi’s authoritarian rule.

The return of Narendra Modi with a larger mandate on the wave of militant nationalism and populism has further shaken the secular foundations of India which had already been weakened over the years. This trend has been most distressing for India’s minorities. The BJP’s politics, rooted in Hindu supremacist groups, have polarised this heterogeneous country, raising fear and tensions.

Mob violence against Muslims, who make up about 14 per cent of India’s population, and lower-caste Hindus, has risen alarmingly. In many cases, right-wing communal groups that form the nucleus of Modi’s support base have perpetrated the violence. And the bloodshed often goes unpunished.

The ideology behind Hindutva as articulated by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar views Muslims and Christians as outsiders who, according to him, “cannot claim equal membership in the Indian nation”.

The ideology sees non-Hindus as an existential threat to Hindutva. “Their holy land is far off in Arabia or Palestine,” Savarkar wrote in what became the de facto manifesto of the RSS, which was founded in 1925. “Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently, their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin. Their love is divided.”

For nearly a century, there has been a deep ideological battle over the idea of India, pitting an inclusive vision of a pluralistic, multi-faith nation against the Hindu majoritarianism of the RSS, which says Hindus should have primacy in Indian society. The RSS was banned briefly after one of its members assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

Over the years, the RSS has emerged as one of the most powerful political forces in India. It is also a component of the BJP. Modi and some other top leaders of the ruling party come from the ranks of the RSS and are taking forward the ideology of Hindutva and turning India into a Hindu rashtra. A big question is whether the followers of Savarkar have won this ideological battle.

A divided and rudderless opposition will hardly be able to stop the BJP’s communal roller coaster. The wave of aggressive Hindu nationalism has even split the secular parties as was witnessed during the voting in the Indian parliament on revoking Article 370 that provided a semi-autonomous status to occupied Kashmir.

The militant nationalism also affects state institutions, even the judiciary. Hence it is not likely that the Indian Supreme Court would strike down occupied Kashmir’s annexation despite its legality being questioned by many top Indian jurists.

A major cause of concern is that what has been happening in India and the rising wave of militant nationalism elsewhere could also strengthen the right-wing Islamic groups in Pakistan that also espouse the idea of a majoritarian Islamic state and are still active despite the state’s claims of reining them in. The very fact that some of the provisions in our Constitution discriminate against non-Muslims gives the right-wing groups a sense of impunity. Some argue that the provision whereby the state can decide who is a Muslim goes against the spirit of Pakistan as propounded by the founders of this nation. It is also a battle for the soul of Pakistan.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2019