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.”
 


Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal
Updated 3 sec ago
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Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal
  • Pichit Chuenban says his resignation would allow the country ‘to move ahead and not impact the administrative work of the prime minister that needs continuity’
BANGKOK: A Thai minister at the center of a pending legal complaint seeking the dismissal of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin resigned on Tuesday, in an effort to insulate the premier from possible repercussions.
A group of 40 senators lodged a complaint to the Constitutional Court last week against Pichit Chuenban, 65, saying his appointment last month as minister to the prime minister’s office breached the constitution, as he has a criminal record.
The court was due on Thursday to decide whether or not to accept the case, which could lead to Srettha’s suspension.
“Even though I have been vetted and honestly believe that I am qualified by law, this matter is linked to the prime minister,” Pichit said in his resignation letter, shared with media by Srettha’s office.
He said his resignation would allow the country “to move ahead and not impact the administrative work of the prime minister that needs continuity.”
It was not immediately clear whether the resignation would have any impact on the complaint submitted to the court.
Pichit was jailed for six months in 2008 for contempt of court after an alleged attempt to bribe court officials with 2 million baht ($55,000) hidden in a paper grocery bag.
His law license was suspended for five years by the Lawyers Council of Thailand after the incident. The government has said it carefully vetted Pichit’s qualifications and was confident it could defend his appointment before the court.
Pichit becomes the third minister to quit Srettha’s cabinet, after his foreign minister and deputy finance minister resigned following a cabinet reshuffle last month.
The senators, whose term has ended, are currently lawmakers in a caretaker capacity pending the selection of a new chamber. They have accused Pichit of lacking integrity and ethical standards to hold a ministerial post.
Government critics say Pichit was appointed due to his close relationship with a client, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned to Thailand last year after 15 years in exile. Thaksin, an ally of Srettha, still wields considerable political influence, despite officially being retired.
The government has insisted Pichit was appointed due to his capabilities.

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey
Updated 2 min 14 sec ago
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Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey
  • President gets 7%, predecessor 2% support because of Gaza ‘genocide’
  • Much higher backing for third-party candidates Jill Stein, Cornell West

CHICAGO: A national survey of Arab Americans released on Monday shows that most respondents overwhelmingly reject the reelection of both President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump.

Conducted by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Truth Project on May 17 and 18, the survey shows support for Biden at 7 percent and Trump at 2 percent.

Arab and Muslim voters played a significant role in helping Biden defeat Trump in several key swing states in the November 2020 presidential election.

After taking office in January 2021, Biden responded by unveiling “A Plan for Partnership” with the Arab-American community that was to help strengthen ties with his administration.

But Biden’s unequivocal backing of Israel, including helping to approve more than $40 billion in military aid for the country’s alleged genocide in Gaza — which has taken more than 35,000 Palestinian lives — has all but erased that support and his edge over Trump in key swing states, according to the survey organizers.

“Since the start of the genocide many have speculated about who Arab Americans would vote for — Biden or Trump. The answer is neither, with third-party candidates getting substantial support,” ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said in a statement to Arab News.

Third-party candidates Dr. Jill Stein and Dr. Cornell West received much higher support among Arab Americans.

Stein, who is Jewish and with the Green Party, received 25 percent support while West, who is African American, received 20 percent.

Not mentioned in the survey was leading third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. His views have varied from calling for peace and recognition of Palestine to rejecting accusations that Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute genocide. Kennedy has declined repeated requests from Arab News for interviews.

Five national polls released in March and April from Quinnipiac University, Fox News, Marquette Law School, NBC News and Marist College showed Kennedy with 13 percent support for his independent presidential bid. Stein and West received only 3 percent each in the national polls.

As the presidential election approaches, “it is evident that Arab-American and allied voters are supporting candidates that are listening to our concerns and demands,” ADC said.

In its survey, 19 percent of Arab Americans said they were “undecided” and 3 percent said they would not vote in November.

ADC said support for Stein and West is based on the two running on an anti-genocide platform.

Stein has been a “strong and vocal supporter of Palestine” throughout her career, ADC noted, adding that West has also adopted this stance.

Arab, Muslim and other voters have shown significant opposition to Biden’s reelection in more than 30 state primaries, including five key swing states where he won by slim margins over Trump.

The primary election campaigns have been led by the #AbandonBiden movement, which told Arab News that it is considering hosting its own “Presidential Convention” in the autumn to galvanize Arab, Muslim and “progressive” voters to consider alternatives to Biden.

The ADC / Truth Project survey is based on outreach to 36,139 Arab Americans and “allied voters” who were asked one question: “Who are you voting for in November?”

Over the two days, 2,196 (6 percent) responded. ADC said this was “a high level of enthusiasm” in the presidential election race.

The Truth Project is a social welfare body committed to uniting a diverse coalition of Americans and organizations who support justice and equality in Palestine.

ADC has a large national grassroots membership base, and was founded in the 1980s to fight for civil and Arab-American rights.


North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon

North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon
Updated 10 min 47 sec ago
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North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon

North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon
  • Former South Korean president Moon Jae-in was instrumental in brokering two high-profile summit meetings between Kim Jong Un and then-US president Donald Trump
SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to give up his nuclear arsenal if America guaranteed his regime would survive, former South Korean president Moon Jae-in said in a recently released memoir.
Moon, who led South Korea for five years from 2017, was instrumental in brokering two high-profile summit meetings between Kim and then-United States president Donald Trump, aimed at securing Pyongyang’s denuclearization in return for sanctions relief.
But after the second summit collapsed in 2019, diplomatic outreach was abandoned, with relations between the two Koreas now at one of their worst points in years, as Kim doubles down on weapons production and draws closer to ally Moscow.
In the memoir released Friday, titled “From the Periphery to the Center,” former president Moon outlined in great detail his interactions with the North Korean leader.
“Kim said he would forsake nuclear weapons if there was a guarantee of regime survival,” Moon said in the book, adding that he felt the young North Korean leader was “very honest.”
According to Moon, Kim’s reasoning was: “I have a daughter and I do not wish her generation to live with nuclear weapons... Why would we continue to live in difficulty, under sanctions, with nuclear weapons if our security can be guaranteed?“
But the North Korean leader was “well aware of mistrust from the international community and the (belief from the) US that the North had been lying” about its commitments to denuclearization, Moon said.
Kim specifically asked him how the North could manage to “make Washington believe in our sincerity” to disarm.
In five years since the Hanoi summit, Pyongyang has declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear weapons power, accelerated weapons development, branded Seoul its “principal enemy” and threatened war over “even 0.001 mm” of territorial infringement.
It has also moved closer to Moscow, purportedly supplying it with arms in exchange for space technologies, something which would violate rafts of United Nations sanctions on both countries.
Despite how things have played out, Moon said in his memoir that he still believed Kim was sincere in his plans to denuclearize, but that it was strongly contingent on “corresponding measures” from the US.
Kim and Trump failed to strike a deal because Washington demanded complete denuclearization before it would consider providing sanctions relief, Moon wrote.
“In retrospect, I regret that (South Korea) did not mediate more effectively by listening to the North’s demands and relaying them to Washington if deemed reasonable,” he said.
“Though there are negative views about Trump, he was a very good fit for me as a counterpart in alliance diplomacy,” he said.
“While there are assessments that he is rude and harsh, I liked him for his honesty. A person who has a smiling face but acts differently and thus can’t be read is more difficult to deal with,” he added.
Trump was both apologetic and regretful that the Hanoi summit ended without a deal, Moon wrote.
Trump was “willing to accept (the North Koreans’ terms) but then-Security Adviser John Bolton fervently opposed it,” Moon wrote.
When Trump asked then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a second opinion, he agreed with Bolton, leaving Trump no option but to walk away, Moon wrote.
It is impossible to take Kim’s words at face value now, Hong Min a senior analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said.
What was clear “is that Kim tried to change the status quo by expressing his intention to denuclearize,” he said.
The only way to know if Kim was serious, would have been to strike a deal in Hanoi and “gauge how far the North would go toward denuclearization,” he added.
Moon was succeeded by conservative Yoon Suk Yeol, who has taken a significantly more hawkish stance on North Korea.
Yoon has not commented on the memoir but his minister for unification Kim Yung-ho said on Monday that taking Kim’s words at face value could have lead to a security-related “miscalculation.”
“While ignoring North Korea’s (nuclear) capability, if we only focus on the North’s intentions, this could result in a miscalculation of the security situation,” he said, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space

Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space
Updated 43 min 28 sec ago
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Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space

Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space

MOSCOW: Russia on Tuesday said the United States was seeking to place weapons in space, the latest accusation in an ongoing row, that came a day after Washington vetoed a Russian non-proliferation motion at the United Nations.
“They have once again demonstrated that their true priorities in the area of outer space are aimed not at keeping space free from weapons of any kind, but at placing weapons in space and turning it into an arena for military confrontation,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.


India shuts schools as temperatures soar

India shuts schools as temperatures soar
Updated 21 May 2024
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India shuts schools as temperatures soar

India shuts schools as temperatures soar
  • India’s weather bureau has warned of “severe heat wave conditions” this week
  • Sweltering heat has dipped voter turnout in India, where world’s largest election is underway

New Delhi: Indian authorities in the capital have ordered schools shut early for the summer holiday, after temperatures hit 47.4 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) with Delhi gripped by a “severe heatwave.”

Delhi city officials asked schools to shut with “immediate effect” due to the blistering heat, according to a government order quoted by the Hindustan Times Tuesday, cutting short the term by a few days.

India’s weather bureau has warned of “severe heatwave conditions” this week, with the mercury reaching the sizzling peak of 47.4 degrees Celsius in Delhi’s Najafgarh suburb on Monday, the hottest temperature countrywide.

Authorities in other states — including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan — have also ordered schools close, Indian Today reported.

India is no stranger to searing summer temperatures.

But years of scientific research have found climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.

The Indian Meteorological Department warned of the impact of the heat on the health especially for infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases.

In May 2022, parts of Delhi hit 49.2 degrees Celsius (120.5 Fahrenheit), Indian media reported at the time.

The next round of voting in India’s six-week-long election takes place on Saturday, including in Delhi.

Turnout in voting has dipped, with analysts suggesting the hotter-than-average weather is a factor — as well as the widespread expectation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will easily win a third term.

India’s election commission has formed a task force to review the impact of heatwaves and humidity before each round of voting.

At the same time, India’s southern states including Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been lashed by heavy rains over the past few days.

Severe storms also hit parts of the country last week, including in the financial capital Mumbai, where strong winds flattened a giant billboard that killed 16 people and left dozens more trapped.