US President Donald Trump listens to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Community Summit on September 22, 2019, at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Photo: AFP

This is the second part of a two-part series. You can read the first part here.

As the politics of Hindutva rises in India, the rejection of secularism, protected by the Indian Constitution, is under threat. This also goes further back in Hindu nationalist history. While the RSS and ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi both called for India’s independence from British rule, Gandhi was a proponent of secularism and sought to unify Hindus and Muslims against the colonization  –  which the RSS opposed. A prominent RSS and Hindu Mahasabha member, Nathuram Godse, openly dissented Gandhi’s acquiescence to Muslim interests, assassinating him in 1948.

Policies rooted in bigotry

Shared replacement theories have manifested in policy implementations by today’s far-right governments, commonly with respect to immigration, but also including citizen registry, minority disenfranchisement, and settler colonialism. Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz have imposed hardline immigration policies to close the Balkan route used by migrants and refugees to enter Central and Western European countries.

The genesis of Brexit, promulgated by far-right leader Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), was a backlash to EU-imposed open immigration policies. Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro withdraw from the UN’s Global Compact on Migration. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly stated that Arab citizens are not ‘real’ Israelis and has vowed to annex the West Bank.

India’s federal home minister Amit Shah has repeatedly stated that the new citizenship law is part of a larger process to weed out “illegal immigrants”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has implemented several policies that codify the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda. Modi’s government vows to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across India to effectively ethnically cleanse Muslim populations, claiming that such groups are illegal infiltrators.

The NRC was created to ascertain who is a “true” Indian citizen and who is a Bangladeshi migrant residing in the eastern state of Assam. As of now, 1.9 million unlisted persons in the NRC registry have been deemed “stateless”; the government has been building detention facilities to house newly stateless persons until they can provide evidence of citizenship. While the BJP fashions this as an issue of illegal immigration, the RSS seems to betray the government’s true modus operandi  –  “Continuous efforts have been there to make Assam a Muslim majority province.”

The recent declassification of now “stateless” persons and citizen registry evokes historical comparisons to Jewish registration and enforcement of Jews wearing the Star of David badge during Nazi rule, and Japanese internment camps during WWII after Pearl Harbor. Such haunting parallels can be drawn today as well. “Howdy, Modi!”, a Modi-led event in Houston, Texas to symbolize strong US-India bilateral relations was recently attended by ~50,000 Indians.

The disturbing irony of the event was thousands of Indian immigrants cheering on Modi and Trump while Central American migrants were being held in border detention facilities in the very same state under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. Inhumane living conditions coupled with the indefinite containment of persons without trial have led to such facilities being called concentration camps  –  naturally evoking comparisons to Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. On registration, Trump has expressed openness to the creation of a “Muslim database”.

Modi government’s recent abrogation of Article 370 of India’s constitution, which granted Kashmir special autonomy powers, has been cited as a long-held Hindu nationalist dream. Firsthand reports have cited imposed communication blackouts, arrests of journalists, politicians, and protestors, and increased military personnel presence. The abrogation sparks comparisons between occupied Kashmir and Palestine, as fears loom of a Hindu settler colonial project that ultimately displaces Kashmiri Muslims, similar to Israel’s settlements in the West Bank which has led to the erasure of Palestinian communities. The UN Security Council has deemed Israel’s settlements as a violation of international law and human rights time will tell how it views India’s fascist move.

Preservation of heritage and culture

Both movements have a shared fascination in preserving religious and racial relics and symbols. Hindu hardliners have long campaigned for the construction of a temple devoted to Hindu Lord Ram in Ayodhya, which they believe is Ram’s birthplace. The age-old controversy, on which the Indian Supreme Court has just ruled, is that the temple is proposed to be built at the same site where Mughal dynastic rulers had built Babri Masjid  –  destroyed by right-wing Hindu mobs in 1992. In the US, moderate conservatives to neo-Nazi groups lament the removal of Confederate statues which symbolize the Confederacy’s defense of slavery during the Civil War. Germany has taken a harsh stance on freedom of speech compared to the US, banning open displays of Nazi symbols and the formation of National Socialist parties.

Since Modi’s ascent into power, “cow vigilantism” has been on the rise, which has resulted in Muslims and Dalits being killed over the protection of cows, sacred in Hinduism. There has been significant Brahmin-initiated violence against lower-caste individuals. Sectarian communal riots since Modi took power can be compared to the rise in hate crimes associated with Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-POC, anti-Muslim rhetoric. White and Hindu nationalists, generally regarded as fringe groups in society, feel increasingly emboldened in this new era of far-right populism. With the belief that leaders like Modi and Trump hold the same ideology as they do, they have become fearless in carrying out its manifesto.

History has proven time and time again just how uncreative she indeed is, often repeating herself. While these ideologies share a scary past and present, their future can be sufficiently quelled through the steadfast dissent by all persons standing for basic freedoms, equality, and justice for all human beings.

Each of us has sat in history classes, aghast at the horrors our textbooks told us of slavery, genocide, apartheid, and war…in bewilderment of such wickedness of mankind. Surely some of us asked ourselves what the innocent bystanders of the time did to stop it. It is imperative that global voices push back against the rising Hindu nationalism and white supremacy here and now, so that the future students of history won’t have to read about why virulent ideologies thrived once again.

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