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Hilal English

Hindutva and Nazism: The Immoral Long Arc of Hatred

February 2023

The evil forces of Nazism and Hindutva both emerged side by side. Despite the adverse effects of Nazism for Germany, the Hindutva adherents in India are adamant on a similar course, thus putting global peace and humanity at risk.


Historically, Hindutva ideology can be traced back to 17th century Maratha ruler, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who envisioned Hindavi Swarajya (self-rule of Hindu people) from Indus to the seas. He was seen as leading the resistance against Mughals in India, whose jizya tax on Hindus, except for a brief period during Akbar’s reign, had alienated the majority Hindu population. The levying of jizya by Muslim rulers on the majority Hindu population needs to be seen in its own perspective, but it also begs the question as to how far back in the history can the long arc of immoral justice be bent centuries later to justify exploitation of one section of the society by another.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar developed modern version of that vision and in 1925 formed Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a volunteer organisation, initially to fight against the British rule, but eventually brought to household level by reminding Hindus of their glorious past as the world’s oldest civilisation from the last 5,000 years.
In the years leading to partition in 1947, while some prominent Hindu leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Sarojini Naidu, were perceived as appeasing Muslims to avoid partition of India, Savarkar held on to his vision and fought hard against the creation of Pakistan.
While Hindutva was gaining traction in India, nearly 4000 miles away, a similar ultranationalist movement was emerging in Germany in the form of Nazism. Its roots are generally traced to Germany’s defeat in First World War and imposition of the extremely harsh Treaty of Versailles. The treaty was indeed unpopular and caused wider discontentment, but there were also other contributory factors such as political instability during Weimar Republic for nearly fourteen years from 1919-1933, during which as many as 21 governments fell.


Hindutva, fascist in classical sense, adheres to a concept of homogenised majority and cultural hegemony just as Nazism in Germany was characterised by doctoral power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and the economy.


Economic depression of 1929-1939, which affected every class in Germany had its own impact as Hitler’s promises of better economic management attracted Germans towards Nazism. Apprehensions about Communism, which had begun to take roots in the neighborhood after 1917 Russian Revolution, compelled Germans to make hard choices between Nazism and Communism. 
Anti-Semitic sentiments and cult personality of Hitler also helped the rise of Nazism. Though the Jew population in Germany was only one percent, they dominated politics, business, trade, art and were the most prosperous of the segment of German society. It is said that Hitler loved two things in life: his mother and the German Reich. His mother died due to cancer after unsuccessful treatment by a Jew doctor and as resident of Munich, Hitler witnessed firsthand the part played by Jews in toppling the monarchy in November 1918. Both these events were to leave deep anti-semitic scars on Hitler’s psyche.
It is difficult to ignore similarities between post WW-I model of ultranationalist ideology of Nazism and Savarkar’s Hindutva. The idea of Hindu and German identities based on ethnicity and common ancestry is abhorring. Interestingly, both Nazism and Hindutva ideologies came into existence almost simultaneously but developed independently. Hindutva is not an off-shoot of Nazism since it proceeded the latter by a couple of years, though their trajectories in thought were not markedly different.
The Hindutva ideology, showcased by a comprehensive organisational network of volunteers called RSS, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Hindu Sena, formulated by Savarkar in 1923, all under the umbrella of Sangh Parivar, have since dominated all regions of India. This domination encompasses political, economic, cultural and youth organisations, think tanks and publishing houses. This explains BJP’s victories in elections and positive resonance to the recent events like scrapping of Article 370 and the ongoing excesses against minority populations, especially Muslims. 
Hindutva, fascist in classical sense, adheres to a concept of homogenised majority and cultural hegemony just as Nazism in Germany was characterised by doctoral power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and the economy, which became prominent in early 20th century Germany.
After the assassination of Gandhi, who was considered a national hero, by a radicalised RSS member in 1949, support for Hindutva in the masses had waned. The organisation has been banned in India three times: in 1948, 1975 and 1992, but unfortunately strong forces of hate raise their head every now and then. Globally, this dwindling appetite for Hindutva coincided with the defeat of Germany in WW-II, where another ultranationalistic phenomenon, Nazism was loathed for the destruction of the country. 


The resurgence of Hindutva in present day India has its roots in Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) President, L. K. Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ in 1990 (or Toyota yatra, as it was called by some at the time), which resulted in the destruction of Babri Masjid two years later. 


The resurgence of Hindutva in the present-day India has its roots in Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) President, L. K. Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ in 1990 (or Toyota yatra, as it was called by some at the time), which resulted in the destruction of Babri Mosque two years later. Advani, a practicing lawyer and a staunch Hindu himself, had migrated to India from Pakistan some years after partition. Whether or not his personal bitterness played any part in revival of this ultranationalistic political ideology in India, is now a moot point. 
Advani’s yatra had succeeded in rekindling the latent Mughal era anti-Muslim sentiments of majority Hindu population and eventually put Vajpayee-led BJP-NDA (National Democratic Alliance) in power from 1999-2004. In 2014, Narendra Modi, after remaining Chief Minister of Gujarat for 12 continuous years, became the Prime Minister of India on BJP’s own strength. 
Since coming into power on the plank of extreme right-wing manifesto, he has so far accomplished two out of three Hindutva objectives–abolition of Article 370 and 35-A and construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya on the site of Babri Mosque. Encouraged by largely unsuccessful opposition to his brand of communal politics, Hindus of India have now laid claim to Gyanvapi Mosque in Banaras, which they claim was constructed on a Shiv Temple by a Muslim ruler. 
The third objective of Uniform Civil Code by abolishing Muslim Personal Laws is in the works. The practice of instant triple talaq of Muslim women has been done away with after lengthy legal proceedings, and Citizenship Amendment Act to help settle non-Muslim minorities in India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, is facing stiff opposition.
By playing the religion card, BJP may have reaped short-term dividend of wresting political power from Congress, which appeared entrenched since 1947, but over the long haul, India has hung the uncomfortable Hindutva albatross around its neck as it cannot by any definition lay claim to the world’s largest democracy and yet exclude a huge segment of its denizens from mainstream politics and national life, all in the name of faith and ultranationalism. This development has undoubtedly altered the socio-political fabric of India.
The fascist concept is one of an all embracing state, outside of which no other human or spiritual values have an acceptability. This in essence is the common streak running between Hindutva and Nazism. They are totalitarian and potentiate the whole life of its denizens. They pursue policies of social indoctrination through propaganda in education and media and regulate their contents. 


Since coming into power on the plank of extreme right wing manifesto, he [Modi] has so far accomplished two out of three Hindutva objectives–abolition of Article 370 and 35-A of Jammu and Kashmir’s constitution and construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya on the site of Babri Mosque.


Hitler in his opus magnum, Mein Kampf, laid out his plan for transforming the German society into one based on race. Nazi ideology brought together elements of anti-semitism, racial hygiene and eugenics and combined them with his vision of pan-Germanism and territorial expansion for the German people. Savarkar held the view that only religions born in India are indigenous and fit the definition of ‘India-ness’, which effectively rendered Islam as a foreign religion and Muslims in India as foreigners. This encouraged some to spearhead Shudhi (purification) Movement which pushed for reconversion of Muslims and Christians by force, which continues to date. 
Swastika, as a symbol, played an important part as a connecting element between Hindutva and Nazism. As the story goes, a German antiquarian Heinrich Schliemann, investigating Hisarlik in Turkey, which he believed to be the site of Troy, found Swastika on 6th century German pottery, and theorised that it represented an important and universal prehistoric religious symbol. 
The word means ‘conducive to well being’ or ‘auspicious’. In Europe, until 1930, it did indeed symbolise such emotions, but in the later years, it was anything but this. The first concentration camps for Jews were established in Germany in 1933 by the followers of Nazism and are presently being set up in Assam to intern “foreign” Muslims by the adherents of Hindutva ideology.
Hindus use this symbol to express nationalism and connect themselves with Aryan origin of Vedas, which is contradictory in terms since its population in southern and eastern regions does not relate themselves to the same origin. Its adoption as a symbol of conduciveness to wellbeing or auspiciousness is also an oddity given its discrimination against the followers of different faiths. Apart from Hindu religion, it is also used as a symbol of divinity and spirituality in Buddhism and Jainism. 
Just as Nazism vitiated the socio-political environment and mileu of Europe in the last century, Hindutva is doing the same in India today. Irresponsible use of phrases like ‘Covid Jihad’ vilifies the minority population as responsible for all ills. Modi’s rule has taken this ideology of exclusivity of large chunks of its own people to new heights of absurdity and is now causing grave concern not only to its neighbors, but also to the world at large. 
Civilised populations around the world, in ever increasing numbers, are beginning to realise that Nazism in the past brought no credit to Germany, nor is Hindutva likely to do so in these challenging times. The sooner this toxicity is fought head on, the better it would be for the world at large. 


The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of Pakistan Navy.
E-mail: [email protected]