Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power

Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power
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Gujarat state's then chief minister Narendra Modi, third left, with former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, second right, and leaders of Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), salute during the concluding ceremony of the eight-day RSS convention in Ahmedabad, India, on Jan. 1, 2006.(AP photo/File)
Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power
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In this Feb. 23, 2014 file photo, Indian Muslims shower flower petals as volunteers of Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS), march on the concluding day of their three-day meeting in Bhopal, India. For the RSS, Indian civilization is inseparable from Hinduism. (AP Photo/Rajeev Gupta, File)
Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power
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Youth and children participate in Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)'s shakha in Ahmedabad, India, on April 8, 2024. Shakhas, or local units, induct boys by combining religious education with self-defense skills and games. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power

Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power
  • While Mahatma Gandhi preached Hindu-Muslim unity a few decades earlier, the RSS advocated for transforming India into a Hindu nation
  • RSS, which stands for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is paramilitary, right-wing group founded nearly a century ago
  • Modi joined the political wing of the RSS in the late 1960s in their home state, Gujarat, when he was a teenager

AHMEDABAD, India: Hindu nationalism, once a fringe ideology in India, is now mainstream. Nobody has done more to advance this cause than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of India’s most beloved and polarizing political leaders.

And no entity has had more influence on his political philosophy and ambitions than a paramilitary, right-wing group founded nearly a century ago and known as the RSS.
“We never imagined that we would get power in such a way,” said Ambalal Koshti, 76, who says he first brought Modi into the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the late 1960s in their home state, Gujarat.
Modi was a teenager. Like other young men — and even boys — who joined, he would learn to march in formation, fight, meditate and protect their Hindu homeland.
A few decades earlier, while Mahatma Gandhi preached Hindu-Muslim unity, the RSS advocated for transforming India — by force, if necessary — into a Hindu nation. (A former RSS worker would fire three bullets into Gandhi’s chest in 1948, killing him months after India gained independence.)
Modi’s spiritual and political upbringing from the RSS is the driving force, experts say, in everything he’s done as prime minister over the past 10 years, a period that has seen India become a global power and the world’s fifth-largest economy.
At the same time, his rule has seen brazen attacks against minorities — particularly Muslims — from hate speech to lynchings. India’s democracy, critics say, is faltering as the press, political opponents and courts face growing threats. And Modi has increasingly blurred the line between religion and state.
At 73, Modi is campaigning for a third term in a general election, which starts Friday. He and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are expected to win. He’s challenged by a broad but divided alliance of regional parties.
Supporters and critics agree on one thing: Modi has achieved staying power by making Hindu nationalism acceptable — desirable, even — to a nation of 1.4 billion that for decades prided itself on pluralism and secularism. With that comes an immense vote bank: 80 percent of Indians are Hindu.
“He is 100 percent an ideological product of the RSS,“in said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who wrote a Modi biography. “He has delivered their goals.”
 




In this Feb. 23, 2014 file photo, Indian Muslims shower flower petals as volunteers of Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS), march on the concluding day of their three-day meeting in Bhopal, India. For the RSS, Indian civilization is inseparable from Hinduism. (AP Photo/Rajeev Gupta, File)

Uniting Hindus
Between deep breaths under the night sky in western India a few weeks ago, a group of boys recited an RSS prayer in Sanskrit: “All Hindus are the children of Mother India ... we have taken a vow to be equals and a promise to save our religion.”
More than 65 years ago, Modi was one of them. Born in 1950 to a lower-caste family, his first exposure to the RSS was through shakhas — local units — that induct boys by combining religious education with self-defense skills and games.
By the 1970s, Modi was a full-time campaigner, canvassing neighborhoods on bicycle to raise RSS support.
“At that time, Hindus were scared to come together,” Koshti said. “We were trying to unite them.”
The RSS — formed in 1925, with the stated intent to strengthen the Hindu community — was hardly mainstream. It was tainted by links to Gandhi’s assassination and accused of stoking hatred against Muslims as periodic riots roiled India.
For the group, Indian civilization is inseparable from Hinduism, while critics say its philosophy is rooted in Hindu supremacy.
Today, the RSS has spawned a network of affiliated groups, from student and farmer unions to nonprofits and vigilante organizations often accused of violence. Their power — and legitimacy — ultimately comes from the BJP, which emerged from the RSS.
“Until Modi, the BJP had never won a majority on their own in India’s Parliament,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, an expert on Modi and the Hindu right. “For the RSS, it is unprecedented.”
Scaling his politics
Modi got his first big political break in 2001, becoming chief minister of home state Gujarat. A few months in, anti-Muslim riots ripped through the region, killing at least 1,000 people.
There were suspicions that Modi quietly supported the riots, but he denied the allegations and India’s top court absolved him over lack of evidence.
Instead of crushing his political career, the riots boosted it.
Modi doubled down on Hindu nationalism, Jaffrelot said, capitalizing on religious tensions for political gain. Gujarat’s reputation suffered from the riots, so he turned to big businesses to build factories, create jobs and spur development.
“This created a political economy — he built close relations with capitalists who in turn backed him,” Jaffrelot said.
Modi became increasingly authoritarian, Jaffrelot described, consolidating power over police and courts and bypassing the media to connect directly with voters.
The “Gujarat Model,” as Modi coined it, portended what he would do as a prime minister.
“He gave Hindu nationalism a populist flavor,” Jaffrelot said. “Modi invented it in Gujarat, and today he has scaled it across the country.”
A few decades earlier,
In June, Modi aims not just to win a third time — he’s set a target of receiving two-thirds of the vote. And he’s touted big plans.
“I’m working every moment to make India a developed nation by 2047,” Modi said at a rally. He also wants to abolish poverty and make the economy the world’s third-largest.
If Modi wins, he’ll be the second Indian leader, after Jawaharlal Nehru, to retain power for a third term.
With approval ratings over 70 percent, Modi’s popularity has eclipsed that of his party. Supporters see him as a strongman leader, unafraid to take on India’s enemies, from Pakistan to the liberal elite. He’s backed by the rich, whose wealth has surged under him. For the poor, a slew of free programs, from food to housing, deflect the pain of high unemployment and inflation. Western leaders and companies line up to court him, turning to India as a counterweight against China.
He’s meticulously built his reputation. In a nod to his Hinduism, he practices yoga in front of TV crews and the UN, extols the virtues of a vegetarian diet, and preaches about reclaiming India’s glory. He refers to himself in the third person.
P.K. Laheri, a former senior bureaucrat in Gujarat, said Modi “does not risk anything” when it comes to winning — he goes into the election thinking the party won’t miss a single seat.
The common thread of Modi’s rise, analysts say, is that his most consequential policies are ambitions of the RSS.
In 2019, his government revoked the special status of disputed Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority region. His government passed a citizenship law excluding Muslim migrants. In January, Modi delivered on a longstanding demand from the RSS — and millions of Hindus — when he opened a temple on the site of a razed mosque.
The BJP has denied enacting discriminatory policies and says its work benefits all Indians.
Last week, the BJP said it would pass a common legal code for all Indians — another RSS desire — to replace religious personal laws. Muslim leaders and others oppose it.
But Modi’s politics are appealing to those well beyond right-wing nationalists — the issues have resonated deeply with regular Hindus. Unlike those before him, Modi paints a picture of a rising India as a Hindu one.
Satish Ahlani, a school principal, said he’ll vote for Modi. Today, Ahlani said, Gujarat is thriving — as is India.
“Wherever our name hadn’t reached, it is now there,” he said. “Being Hindu is our identity; that is why we want a Hindu country. ... For the progress of the country, Muslims will have to be with us. They should accept this and come along.”
 


Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers
Updated 8 sec ago
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Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers
  • Swiss court dismissed charges of human trafficking against tycoon Prakash Hinduja, wife, son and daughter-in-law 
  • Forbes magazine has put Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion, family set up residence in Switzerland in 1980s

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.
A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.
The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.
Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.


Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy
Updated 7 min 25 sec ago
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Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy
  • Those who died has consumed liquor spiked with methanol in Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Nearly 200 people treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea

NEW DELHI: The death toll has climbed to 54 from consumption of tainted liquor in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, with more than 100 people still in hospital, a government official said on Saturday.
Nearly 200 people have been treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhea, after drinking liquor spiked with methanol in the district of Kallakurichi, about 250 km (150 miles) from Chennai, the state capital.
Law enforcement officials investigating the incident have arrested seven people, said M.S. Prasanth, a senior district official, adding that follow-up action was being taken against liquor sellers and brewers in the district.
Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, often called country liquor, are a regular occurrence in India, where few can afford branded spirits, despite public demands for a crackdown on the vendors.
The state government said it was taking steps to identify those involved in production of methanol, a toxic chemical normally used for industrial purposes.


Trump endorses Ten Commandments in schools, implores evangelical Christians to vote in November

Trump endorses Ten Commandments in schools, implores evangelical Christians to vote in November
Updated 23 June 2024
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Trump endorses Ten Commandments in schools, implores evangelical Christians to vote in November

Trump endorses Ten Commandments in schools, implores evangelical Christians to vote in November
  • “Has anyone read the ‘Thou shalt not steal’? ... It’s just incredible,” said Trump, who was convicted of a felony last month
  • According to AP VoteCast, about 8 in 10 white evangelical Christian voters supported Trump in 2020

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump told a group of evangelicals they “cannot afford to sit on the sidelines” of the 2024 election, imploring them at one point to “go and vote, Christians, please!“
Trump also endorsed displaying the Ten Commandments in schools and elsewhere while speaking to a group of politically influential evangelical Christians in Washington on Saturday. He drew cheers as he invoked a new law signed in Louisiana this week requiring the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every public school classroom.
“Has anyone read the ‘Thou shalt not steal’? I mean, has anybody read this incredible stuff? It’s just incredible,” Trump said at the gathering of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. “They don’t want it to go up. It’s a crazy world.’’
Trump a day earlier posted an endorsement of the new law on his social media network, saying: “I LOVE THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, PRIVATE SCHOOLS, AND MANY OTHER PLACES, FOR THAT MATTER. READ IT — HOW CAN WE, AS A NATION, GO WRONG???”
The former president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee backed the move as he seeks to galvanize his supporters on the religious right, which has fiercely backed him after initially being suspicious of the twice-divorced New York City tabloid celebrity when he first ran for president in 2016.
That support has continued despite his conviction in the first of four criminal cases he faces, in which a jury last month found him guilty of falsifying business records for what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election. Daniels claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier, which he denies.
Trump’s stated opposition to signing a nationwide ban on abortion and his reluctance to detail some of his views on the issue are at odds with many members of the evangelical movement, a key part of Trump’s base that’s expected to help him turn out voters in his November rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.
But while many members of the movement would like to see him do more to restrict abortion, they cheer him as the greatest champion for the cause because of his role in appointing US Supreme Court justices who overturned national abortion rights in 2022.
Trump highlighted that Saturday, saying, “We did something that was amazing,” but the issue would be left to people to decide in the states.
“Every voter has to go with your heart and do what’s right, but we also have to get elected,” he said.
While he still takes credit for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, Trump has also warned abortion can be tricky politically for Republicans. For months, he deferred questions about his position on a national ban.
Last year, when Trump addressed the Faith & Freedom Coalition, he said there was “a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life” but didn’t offer any details beyond that.
In April of this year, Trump said he believed the issue should now be left to the states. He later stated in an interview that he would not sign a nationwide ban on abortion if it was passed by Congress. He has still declined to detail his position on women’s access to the abortion pill mifepristone.
About two-thirds of Americans say abortion should generally be legal, according to polling last year by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Attendees at the evangelical gathering on Saturday said that while they’d like to see a national abortion ban, Trump isn’t losing any of their deep support.
“I would prefer if he would sign a national ban,” said Jerri Dickinson, a 78-year-old retired social worker and Faith & Freedom member from New Jersey. “I understand though, that as in accordance with the Constitution, that decision should be left up to the states.”
Dickinson said she can’t stand the abortion law in her state, which does not set limits on the procedure based on gestational age. But she said outside of preferring a national ban, leaving the issue to the state “is the best alternative.”
According to AP VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of the electorate, about 8 in 10 white evangelical Christian voters supported Trump in 2020, and nearly 4 in 10 Trump voters identified as white evangelical Christians. White evangelical Christians made up about 20 percent of the overall electorate that year.
Beyond just offering their own support in the general election, the Faith & Freedom Coalition plans to help get out the vote for Trump and other Republicans, aiming to use volunteers and paid workers to knock on millions of doors in battleground states.
Trump also rallied voters in Philadelphia on Saturday with a speech heavily focused on violent crime, telling supporters at an arena that he would grant police officers immunity from prosecution.
“Under Crooked Joe, the City of Brotherly Love is being ravaged by bloodshed and crime,” he said. “We will surge federal law enforcement resources to the places that need them most.”
Statistics from the Philadelphia city controller say there were 410 homicides in 2023, a 20 percent drop compared to 2022.
Tyler Cecconi, 25, of Richmond, Virginia, said he was glad that Trump is stepping out of his comfort zone and going to places that may not be red. At the venue, a digital banner read “Philadelphia is Trump Country.”
“He’s showing the people that regardless if you vote for him or not, or if it’s a blue county or a red county, it doesn’t matter to him,” Cecconi said. “A president is for everybody in this country.”
The GOP Senate candidate of Pennsylvania, Dave McCormick, attended the rally and appeared on stage to talk to voters about the economy and immigration.
“This economy is not working for most Pennsylvanians, and it’s not working for most Americans,” McCormick said.
At both events, Trump returned several times to the subject of the US-Mexico border and when describing migrants crossing it as “tough,” he said that he told his friend Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, to enlist them in a new version of the sport.
“’Why don’t you set up a migrant league and have your regular league of fighters. And then you have the champion of your league, these are the greatest fighters in the world, fighting the champion of the migrants,’” Trump described saying to White. “I think the migrant guy might win, that’s how tough they are. He didn’t like that idea too much.”
Biden’s campaign responded to Trump’s remarks by saying it was “fitting” that Trump, convicted of a felony, spent time at a religious conference making threats about immigration and “bragging about ripping away Americans’ freedoms.”
“Trump’s incoherent, unhinged tirade showed voters in his own words that he is a threat to our freedoms and is too dangerous to be let anywhere near the White House again,” campaign spokesperson Sarafina Chitika said in a statement.
 


Ukraine launches tens of drones on Russian territory, Russian officials say

Ukraine launches tens of drones on Russian territory, Russian officials say
Updated 23 June 2024
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Ukraine launches tens of drones on Russian territory, Russian officials say

Ukraine launches tens of drones on Russian territory, Russian officials say
  • According to preliminary information, there were no casualties or destruction in either region, the governors said

KYIV: Ukraine launched tens of drones overnight targeting several Russian regions but with no reported damage, Russian officials said on Sunday.
At least 23 drones were destroyed over Russia’s western region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine, the governor of the region, Alexander Bogomaz, said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia’s air defense systems also destroyed drones over the Smolensk region, Vasily Anokhin, governor of the region in Russia’s west, said on Telegram. It was not immediately clear how many drones were downed.
According to preliminary information, there were no casualties or destruction in either region, the governors said.
An air raid alert was announced for the Lipetsk region several hundred kilometers south of Moscow, the region’s governor said on Telegram.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate comment from Ukraine.
Kyiv has often said its strikes inside Russia territory are meant to undermine Moscow’s war effort and are in response to Russia’s relentless air attacks on Ukraine’s energy, military and transport infrastructure.

 


UK minister compares election betting scandal to Partygate

UK minister compares election betting scandal to Partygate
Updated 23 June 2024
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UK minister compares election betting scandal to Partygate

UK minister compares election betting scandal to Partygate
  • Political bets are allowed in the UK, including on the date of elections, but using insider knowledge to do so is against the law

LONDON: A senior British minister compared the latest scandal involving Tory candidates accused of betting on the election date to Partygate, a series of Covid-era parties that brought down Boris Johnson.
Housing minister Michael Gove compared the betting allegations to the Partygate scandal in an interview with the Times newspaper on Saturday.
“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us... That’s the most potentially damaging thing,” said Gove, who is standing down this election after 14 years as an MP.
“That was damaging at the time of Partygate and is damaging here,” he added.
Prime minister Johnson was forced from office in 2022 following public anger at the revelations of parties held in Downing Street when the rest of the country was under lockdown during the pandemic.
Now another senior Conservative Party figure has been caught up in the latest scandal.
The party’s chief data officer, Nick Mason, has taken a leave of absence, following claims he placed bets on the timing of the election, the PA news agency reported Saturday.
Mason is being investigated by betting regulators, accused of placing dozens of bets on the election date according to the Times. He is the fourth Tory figure to be implicated in the affair.
The party’s campaign director stepped aside following reports on Thursday that he and his wife, a Tory candidate in the July 4 election, were under investigation by the Gambling Commission.
The scandal broke a week earlier, when Tory candidate and Sunak’s ministerial aide Craig Williams said he was being probed for staking a bet on the snap election date before it was called.
On Wednesday, London police said one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s security detail had been arrested for allegedly placing a bet on the date.
Sunak has said he is “incredibly angry” over the revelations.
“If anyone is found to have broken the rules, not only should they face the full consequences of the law, I will make sure that they are booted out of the Conservative Party,” he said earlier this week.
Political bets are allowed in the UK, including on the date of elections, but using insider knowledge to do so is against the law.
The inquiries heap further misery on Sunak, whose party has trailed Labour by about 20 points in the polls for nearly two years, making it odds-on to be dumped out of office after 14 years.
Gove said that those involved in the betting scandal were “sucking the oxygen out of the campaign.”
Comparing it to Partygate again, he added: “A few individuals end up creating an incredibly damaging atmosphere for the party.
“So it’s both bad in itself, but also destructive to the efforts of all of those good people who are currently fighting hard for the Conservative vote.”