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Alt-Right and Hindutva

Arunabha Bagchi |


On the occasion of our completing 70 years of Independence, a number of reputed English language newspapers published blogs of famous overseas Indian writers about their thoughts on that event. The comments were uniformly banal, with the common theme of the alarming rise of the Hindutva brigade out to destroy our diversity of culture, religions and languages.

Only the oped article of Pankaj Mishra in The New York Times had a nuance that caught my attention: “But a sober reckoning with the deep malaise in India can be bracing too. For it confirms that the world as we have known it, molded by the beneficiaries of both Western imperialism and anti-imperialist nationalism, is crumbling and that in the East as well as the West, all of us are now called to fresh struggles for freedom, equality and dignity.”

It is this crumbling of the world order that is being occupied at a rapid pace by the Alt-Right in the West and Hindutva in India. Alt-Right, abbreviation for Alternative Right, is the palatable name for White Nationalism; Hindutva is a euphemism for Hindu Nationalism.

In Europe Alt-Right propagates White Nationalism by appealing to the xenophobic nationalism of each nation state, while in the United States it has taken the form of unabashed white (European) nationalism.

It encompasses all fringe groups like neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, but also a splinter group of ultra conservatives targeting the white working class there that lost out in the globalization game.

They spread fears among the ‘European Americans’ that they would become minorities in their own country. Donald Trump and AltRight found each other in this dangerous game. From my boyhood I heard similar fear-mongering among the ultra conservative Hindus that we would become minorities in our own country.

Muslim Personal Law was to blame, according to these Hindus, as it allowed Muslim men to have four wives resulting in an avalanche of Muslim children.

Nehru’s persistence of an idealistic vision of our strength through diversity and his diktat to develop a secular state, in sharp contrast to the policy followed by Pakistan, gave us a moral high ground internationally among the countries slowly getting out of the imperialistic yoke.

But within India the colonial system of governance continued unabated after Independence with only native bureaucrats taking over the oppressive state machine from the Englishmen.

Despite Nehru’s proclaimed belief in socialism, ‘inclusive growth’ remained just a slogan. The middle class, benefiting immensely from economic liberalization from the 1990s formed an alliance of convenience with the very rich. The disgruntled poor and lower middle class Hindus became prey to religious symbolism of the Hindutva brigade.

Hindu nationalism became the rallying cry until BJP came to power in Delhi with absolute majority under the leadership of Narendra Modi.

The similarities between AltRight and Hindutva are striking. Both groups spew hate against anyone questioning their ideas. They troll the social networks and attack viciously those challenging them. Alt-Right is just as hostile to multiculturism in the West as the Hindutva is to secularism in India. Their leaders, Donald Trump and Narendra Modi, are master communicators with mesmerising effects on their audiences. Despite obvious similarities, there are also many differences between Alt-Right and Hindutva. AltRight is for maintaining the control of America by the ‘whites’, and against immigrants including Indians.

Hindutva is against Indian Muslims most of whom are converts and lived in India nearly as long as their Hindu neighbors. American whites from the North and the South fought a long and bloody civil war between them, with the nascent industry in the North trying to release blacks from slavery in the South for providing cheap labour in the factories in the North. The resulting animosity among the whites in the North and the South was finally smoothed over by Ronald Reagan and that unwittingly led to white nationalism today.

There was never any regional conflict among Hindus in modern times despite regional differences. But the caste system among Hindus has always been a tricky problem for the Hindu nationalists. They are now focusing on the great Hindu family by directing the grievances on the minority religions, thereby diverting attention from casteism.

To get the Dalit support, they overtly praise Dr. Ambedkar on all occasions, without ever mentioning his fiery appeal for the “abolition of castes.”

If this policy succeeds the Sangh Parivar’s dream of the Hindu Rashtra will become a reality. The dream of the Alt-Right to make the European Rashtra in the US may be impossible to achieve, as religion and nationalism is a more potent mixture in India than race and nationalism in the US.

After all, America lost many lives to defeat Nazism in Europe.

(The writer is former dean and emeritus professor of applied mathematics, University of Twente, The Netherlands.)