Organisations affiliated to India’s ruling BJP are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to mainstream a controversial political ideology that draws its strength from dehumanising and vilifying Muslims.
Fascism has arrived in the United States, but from an unlikely source – a growing segment of the Indian migrant community, specifically those who have become radicalised by the far-right, ultranationalist political ideology of Hindutva.
It’s a scourge that had gone largely undetected until the Indian Business Association (IBA) organised an India Independence Day rally in Edison, New Jersey, which featured a bulldozer adorned with the posters of leading Hindu nationalist figures, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The bulldozer not only symbolises the unlawful demolition of Muslim homes and businesses, but also the newest weapon in the Indian government’s quest for Hindu supremacy. This so-called “bulldozer justice” has been described as a tool of genocide, and now it’s being feted by Hindu nationalist forces on American streets.
Attendees at the rally in Edison also witnessed Indian expatriates chanting, “Jai Sri Ram”, a pious veneration of Lord Rama which has been weaponised by Hindu nationalists to intimidate and threaten India’s religious minorities, as the bulldozer rolled through the streets. “Jai Sri Ram” are typically the last words a Muslim hears before being assaulted and even lynched.
We are witnessing the infiltration of the Hindutva ideology among the Indian diaspora in the US, an ideology that borrows its hateful and genocidal beliefs from European fascist movements of the 20th century, including the Nazi Party. But this infiltration of the country’s political and civic spaces is happening totally undetected.
One can only imagine the public outcry, from all levels of American society, that would follow a rally held by Nazis, who chanted, “Heil Hitler,” while marching to the goose step, but not a single national-level political leader has condemned the celebration of Muslim persecution and dispossession by Hindutva radicalised Indian migrants in Edison.
In fact, the rally was attended by state- and national-level political leaders, including New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Democratic Congressperson Frank Pallone, despite the rally constituting an overt celebration of religion-based persecution in India, and despite the US government recently expressing concern over the rise in human rights abuses against religious minorities by government functionaries in India.
Moreover, the ugly scenes witnessed in New Jersey cannot be dismissed as the actions of a fringe minority, but rather a reflection of the same kind of hateful and discriminatory policies espoused and enacted by the far-right, Hindu nationalist government in Delhi, given the event was supported by Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) – the foreign agent of India’s ruling party – with the motormouth BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra appointed grand marshal of the parade.
It’s self-evidently obvious that both the event’s organisers and supporters intended to send an unmistakable and chilling message to Indian-American Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities: that you are not safe from persecution even here in the US.
The Hindutva project pursues exclusion because its adherents in government aim to transform India’s secular and multicultural identity into one of absent non-Hindu minorities, and no tool is being left off the table to achieve this aim, including the bulldozer.
Hindu nationalists are legislating discriminatory laws, while encouraging violence in the streets to fulfill this objective in both India and abroad, as illustrated by an attack committed by Hindu nationalists against Indian American protesters in Anaheim, California, who were raising awareness about the persecution of Muslims and Dalits in India on August 15.
“We were shoved and called ‘stupid Muslims’ and ‘terrorists,’ and asked questions like, ‘Are you Pakistani?’,” said one of the protesters.
The Indian American Muslim Council called the attack “unprecedented”, while warning that the rise of Hindutva in the US is no longer a problem law enforcement can afford to ignore.
Last year, the Hindu right-wing groups in the US fiercely opposed an academic conference on Hindutva. American journalists, human rights activists and academics, who participated in the first ever major online conference on Hindutva in the US –– were targeted with rape and death threats, while universities, including Harvard and Stanford, were subjected to nearly one million emails and thousands of spam messages.
This email campaign was driven by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), an innocuous and misleading name for an organisation that promotes and encourages Hindutva, the political ideology, not Hinduism, the religion.
Controversy was sparked by HAF in California several years ago, when it partnered with the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), a US-based affiliate of the far-right, paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to pressure the state’s education department into adopting Hindu nationalist talking points for school textbooks, including the characterisation of Muslims as external invaders.
This aggressive outreach and lobbying is backed with tens of millions of dollars, as evident in a recent report, which found that seven US-based Hindutva groups have spent more than $158 million on various projects in the US during the past two decades, including influencing members of Congress to support the policies of India’s far-right Bharatiya Janata Party.
These groups have also recruited and funded several national- and state-level lawmakers in recent times, including former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), congressman Raja Krishnamurthy (D-IL), Michigan state representative Padma Kuppa, and former Texas state representative Sri Kulkani.
Notably, these recent events in the US take place in the same year marking the 20th anniversary of India’s Gujarat pogrom, in which more than 2,000 Muslims were hacked, burnt, and shot to death by radicalised Hindu nationalists, who took their cues from the state’s Hindu nationalist government, led then by current Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But for the past two decades, Modi and his supporters have not only distorted his role in inciting the genocide, but also downplayed and denied the violence that took place during a three-day orgy of rape and murder.
Today, however, Hindu nationalists openly celebrate the Gujarat Genocide, even showering public praise on the 11 convicts who were given early release from their life sentences, after gang raping a pregnant Muslim woman twenty years ago, a move that’s not only meant to erase and deny their genocidal crimes, but also triumphantalise them. The early release of her attackers is also aimed to make the rape and murder of Muslims a source of national pride.
In this sense, Hindu nationalist forces are taking their cues from Serb nationalist forces in Bosnia Herzegovina, today, where denials of the Srebrenica genocide are being replaced with the celebration of those who mass murdered more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslims in 1995.
In India today, we are witnessing an orchestrated effort to make Modi a national hero for his undeniable role in the Gujarat Genocide, and to exclude Muslims from legitimate victimhood, an effort now playing out on American streets in full view of the American public.
Fascism has come to America, but not in an easily recognisable form. The country’s political and civic leaders must respond to this new and emerging threat to democracy, plurality and the wellbeing of millions of Indian American migrants.
Hindutva draws its ideological DNA from Nazism, and must be confronted, accordingly.
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