US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in June. Photo: AFP / Nicholas Kamm

This is the first part of a two-part series

As an Indian-American who was born in India but spent her entire life in the United States, it’s fair to say I’ve been far removed (by about 11,700 km) from the ever-increasingly disturbing realities of race, caste, and religious identity politics in India.

What I am intimately familiar with, however, is the deep scars woven into the fabric of American institutions and culture by the mantle of white supremacy. Through this vantage point, it’s easier for me to draw salient parallels between two deeply oppressive ideologies that are currently enjoying a great resurgence  –  but these parallels go much further back in history than what’s immediately observable today.

I feel it imperative to speak my piece on this as a Hindu by origin – I’ve been appalled at the complicity of my fellow Indian peers, who decry racist American policies while remaining conveniently silent on the rising fascism back home. The following passages are my account of some of the disturbing intersections between Hindu nationalism and white supremacy.

Nationalism via uniformity

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), often termed “the world’s largest NGO,” is considered the parent organization of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist political party: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The RSS sought to dispel British colonial rule in India, but also to combat Muslim separatists, soon extending their militancy towards Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and lower-caste communities. During WWII, the RSS drew inspiration from fascist movements in Europe  –  notably admiring Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for their ideologies on strengthening nationalism through racial purity .

In 1939, RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar wrote: “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. 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.”  Golwalkar was not alone.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, another ideologue who helped shape Hindutva wrote, “If we Hindus in India grow stronger, in time these Muslim friends of the League type will have to play the part of German-Jews instead.”

While references to early far-right European influences are not explicitly found in the RSS’ official “Vision & Mission” today, the statement repeatedly calls for the protection, preservation, and dominance of Hindu culture through the “re-organization” of society. This philosophy, formally known as “Hindutva”, espouses similar ideas as Italy’s Fascist Party (PNF) and Germany’s Nazi Party of instituting ultra-nationalism through forging adherence to a single, pure Hindu society.

An official RSS statement echoes this. The “Sangh is unique in according primacy to the inculcation of patriotism in all citizens and in all life’s activities. […] Erosion of the nation’s integrity in the name of secularism, economic and moral bankruptcy, incessant conversions from the Hindu fold through money-power, ever-increasing trends of secession, thought-patterns and education dissonant with the native character of the people, and State-sponsored denigration of anything that goes by the name of Hindu or Hindutva: these pervasive tendencies provide ample proof of the soundness of the philosophical foundation of the Sangh as conceived by Dr Hedgewar and its continued relevance for the survival and health of the Hindu society and of the nation as a whole.”

Compare this to Adolf Hitler’s visions of the ideal relationship between the State and race, it’s not hard to see an ideological likeness .

“Thus the highest purpose of the folkish State is the care for the preservation of those racial primal elements which, supplying culture, create the beauty and dignity of a higher humanity. We, as Aryans, are therefore able to imagine a State only to be the living organism of a nationality which not only safeguards the preservation of that nationality but which, by a further training of its spiritual and ideal abilities, leads it to the highest freedom,”  Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf in 1925.

Fear-mongering

Hindu nationalism and white supremacist movements today are unified through the belief that concepts such as secularism and cross-border migration have allowed for the displacement of the dominant, “pure” groups within society’s social hierarchical order. This is often referred to as “The Great Replacement” theory (colloquially: “White Genocide”): the fear that the influx of minority migrant populations in Western countries will replace white people due to higher rates of reproduction.

One of the more recent infamous manifestations of Great Replacement was evidenced by the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where neo-Nazis wielded tiki-torches and shouted “Jews will not replace us.”

US-based white supremacist groups have heralded prominent conservative news hosts like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham for bringing the “replacement” ideology to the mainstream masses  –  the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist online forum calling Carlson “their greatest ally.”

Perhaps indeed the greatest ally who received the official endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, America’s most notorious white supremacist group, sits in the Oval Office of the United States today . Hindu nationalist groups such as Hindu Sena and Republican Hindu Coalition also endorsed Trump during the 2016 US Presidential Election, touting his pledge for instituting a Muslim ban and fight against “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Substituting “white” with “Hindu” in white nationalist rhetoric, one can find the same underlying displacement fears reverberated in both ideologies. Hindu nationalist groups often deem Muslim migrants in particular as “infiltrators” who threaten the preservation of a Hindu nation, just as Trump used “invaders” to describe migrants and asylum seekers at the US southern border.

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