HOW long are the arms of Hindutvavadi fascists? Recently, messages urging British Hindus to vote against the British Labour Party in the general election are being circulated on WhatsApp, raising concerns about the chat app’s role in spreading divisive political content. Sky News has seen more than 20 messages shared on WhatsApp using the app’s ‘forward’ function.
One begins by saying: ‘Pass this to every TRUE Indian’, before going on to claim that ‘there are now no excuses left for any Indian to still be with the Labour Party.’ It is not difficult to understand that by ‘true’ Indian what is meant is a Hindu who is proud of Hindutvavadi supremacist agenda that is promoted by the fascist Sangh Parivar and its supremo — India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.
Activists directly linked to India’s ruling Hindutvavadi supremacist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, are behind those messages. They have vowed to campaign on behalf of the Conservative Party, raising concerns about attempted foreign interference in the next month’s UK general elections.
The campaign has alarmed some Labour Party members of parliament standing for re-election who say the prospect of foreign interference by ‘religious hardliners’ could stir up inter-community tension.
In July, Canadian officials warned of potential election interference from the BJP government in Canada’s forthcoming elections. In a report, the civil servants accused India and China of trying to promote sympathetic candidates and spread misinformation.
Jaskaran Singh, former director at the World Sikh Organisation of Canada said: ‘Top Canadian security experts confirmed what the Sikh community has always known — that India, currently under BJP rule, is using community pressure, media manipulation and other tactics to pressure and malign the Sikh community in the hopes of influencing the outcome of another country’s election results.’
On November 5, Kuldeep Singh Shekhawat, the president of Overseas Friends of BJP UK, told the Times of India that his campaign group was planning to campaign in 48 marginal seats in the United Kingdom to help Conservative candidates. ‘We have a team in each constituency which is going round with the Tory candidate leafleting, speaking to people and persuading them to vote Tory’, said Shekhawat. ‘The teams are organised by the BJP and Friends of India Society International.’
It is extremely unusual for a group explicitly tied to a foreign political party to openly declare its intent to campaign for a specific British political party during an election. But obviously, not so with the empowered pujaris (devotees) of the Hindutvavadi supremacist ideology that want to transform India into a Hindu rashtra (state), much in contrast to the state constitution.
The Overseas Friends of BJP, founded in 1992, also wants to bring politics to Hindu temples in the United Kingdom, thus violating rules set by the Charity Commission. The Charity Commission has intervened in the issue of political activity by Hindu temples before. Just before the 2015 and 2017 general elections, the National Council of Hindu Temples sent out e-mails urging Hindus to vote the Conservative Party. The Charity Commission intervened on both occasions and forced the National Council of Hindu Temples to withdraw its advice.
In October, the National Council of Hindu Temples also sent a letter to Jeremy Corbyn accusing the Labour Party of ‘anti-Indian racism’. It is a false accusation against the Labour Party and its outspoken leader Corbyn. The Labour Party is neither anti-Indian nor pro-Pakistan.
The reason that the Labour Party MPs are targeted this time is simple: it passed an emergency motion in the parliament which was perceived as criticizing India’s conduct over the contested territory of Kashmir. The Overseas Friends of BJP says that it aims to ‘spread a positive message of the BJP government in India’ led by prime minister Narendra Modi, who has attracted recent controversy and international condemnation by stripping the disputed territory of Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status. The residents of Kashmir are now living under severe lockdown, with television channels cut, curfews and hundreds of thousands of troops deployed to the region. The state’s former chief minister Omar Abdullah reportedly remains under house arrest at a nearby guest house while many politicians are behind the prison walls.
Kashmir has obviously become the litmus test by which Modi and his supporters overseas are now trying to distinguish who is pro-India and who is not. In so doing, they have no qualms about twisting facts and trying to buy influence from like-minded politicians that have similar history and/or agenda for promoting division along racial and religious lines.
In the last week of October, a delegation of European Members of Parliament visited the India-administered Kashmir in a carefully coordinated, invitation-only, all expenses paid trip. It was the first visit by any foreign delegation since the ruling BJP revoked the region’s special status in August.
Many outsiders who have been anxiously waiting for any news about daily lives of millions of Kashmiris there would have welcomed such a trip by the MEPs. As it turns out, however, most of the nearly 30 MEPs — known for their rabid and demented Islamophobia — were from far-right, anti-immigration and Eurosceptic (ie, ultra-nationalists) parties, including Marine Le Pen’s French National Rally, Alternative for Germany and the Brexit Party. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which is another organisation known for its abysmal racist views, was also represented.
The MEPs did neither meet Abdullah nor any of the lawmakers there but met local traders and students at a high-end hotel. They met Modi who tweeted: ‘Fruitful interactions with MPs from the European Parliament. We exchanged views on boosting India-EU ties, the need to come together to fight terrorism and other issues. I spoke about steps being taken by the government of India to boost “Ease of Living”.’
As expected from such a charade, the trip ended with a press conference in which the MEPs commended Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s fight against ‘the global menace’ of terrorism.
We are not surprised!
Indian opposition parties, other MEPs and Kashmiri activists were among those who criticised the trip as a publicity stunt, accusing the BJP government of adding insult to injury. British MEP Theresa Griffin cried out foul and tweeted that the group of far-right MEPs that visited Kashmir were not in any way an ‘official’ delegation. They do not speak for the European Parliament. Her views contrasted Modi’s assertion.
‘This was an unofficial visit fostered through non-state interactions’, said Eviane Leidig, an academic at the Center for Research on Extremism in Oslo. ‘This is how Hindutva (the Hindu supremacist ideology) operates in India — through a vast apparatus of different organisations, think-tanks and advocacy groups. This decentralised structure allows the government to distance itself from being actively involved in Hindutva mobilisation efforts and divert attention from its involvement.’
Aadita Chaudhury, the Toronto-based academic who has studied the common roots of Hindutva and white supremacism rather closely, said to Al Jazeera, ‘Ideas are exchanged at these sorts of events. It wasn’t just about showing that things in Kashmir are “normal”.’ ‘It was a visit to show what their policies look like when they are implemented and how you can get around democratic norms to impose, basically, fascism, and still call yourself a democracy.’
The ‘personal’ trip of the MEPs was organized by two think tanks — the Delhi-based International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies and the Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank, based in Brussels. The visit was led by self-proclaimed ‘investment business broker’ Madi Sharma, who recently wrote a column titled: ‘Why demolishing Article 370 is both a victory and a challenge for Kashmiri women.’
As is becoming rather clear these days the behind-the-scenes efforts by pro-BJP parties in the western world reveal a small part of a much wider apparatus employed by the Modi government as it pursues a Hindutvavadi supremacist agenda. Modi needs racists and bigots from the likes of Le Pen in France to the likes of Trump in the USA to support his fascist agenda for India. The fascists in Europe also need a successful leader — much like the twice elected Modi — to showcase and provide meanings to their depraved case of justifying racism, bigotry and intolerance.
Supremacists are a threat to our civilisation. They have found common grounds to unite and kindle the flames of intolerance. Published reports suggest that the US Christian ‘fundamentalists’, some linked to Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, have poured at least $50m of ‘dark money’ into Europe over the past decade — boosting the far right. We are told by rights groups that that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Leidig, in Oslo, said to Al Jazeera: ‘European right-wing extremists share in common with Modi’s Hindutva an Islamophobic and anti-Muslim narrative. In Europe, it’s especially prominent with anti-Muslim immigrant rhetoric, whereas in India it’s directed against the Muslim-majority in Pakistan and Bangladesh…. By supporting the Modi government’s actions in Kashmir, it reaffirms a commonality between the European and Indian far right that views Islamic terrorism as a shared global threat. It allows these MEPs to look like they’re strong on defending against Islamic terrorism, which often gets used to promote Islamophobia.’
Anti-Muslim sentiment in India has seen hate crimes rise, with a spate of killings and reports of widespread harassment — abuse which has alarmed the United Nations.
Alexander Reid Ross, a US-based lecturer and author of Against the Fascist Creep, told Al Jazeera, ‘Under Modi, there have been lynching as well as increased institutional oppression.’ ‘That excites and inspires the far right because they want the everyday privilege of being an oppressive power. Beyond just pushing them off the main stage, there’s also something about shutting off people’s internet access and silencing the opposition. The far right see this method of oppressing the Kashmiri population as particularly useful.’
The invited MEPs pledged to support the Indian government’s fight against ‘terrorism’, and to take their findings back to the European Parliament. Not a single word was uttered by those pathetic sycophants condemning gross violations of human rights in Kashmir.
Since the dawn of history, the tactics of every usurper has been to falsify narratives by dehumanizing its victims. Modi is no different. The struggle of ordinary Kashmiris for their legitimate rights is now conveniently dumped as ‘terrorism’ while Modi’s own evil designs and savage measures that rob, rape, ravage and kill are falsely publicized as necessary means towards boosting the ‘Ease of Living’ of Kashmiris. Who is fooled by such oxymoronic narratives?
The long arms of the Hindutvavadi supremacists have surely reached the shores of the Atlantic and are going to muddy its water for a foreseeable future unless these are severed for the greater good of humanity. As is often said but not so often put to practice, one only needs to follow the trail of the saffron money to find the criminals that poison our world with intolerance. Once the source of money is eliminated an evil and bankrupt ideology is bound to crumble on its own.
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.
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