Yale University professor and renowned scholar on fascism Dr Jason Stanley said that India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi mimics the Nazi playbook.
“Modi’s far-right supporters and other Hindu supremacists celebrate their connections with Nazis. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) explicitly says, ‘We want to do to Muslims what the Nazis did to Jews,” Dr Stanley said.
RSS is a Hindu militant organization and progenitor of Hindutva/Hindu supremacist ideology. BJP is its political wing.
Dr Stanley’s remarks came at the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) event held on Sunday in Woodbridge, New Jersey, commemorating the 21st anniversary of the Gujarat pogrom.
The pogrom took place during the reign of the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was then the chief minister of Gujarat.
The state had witnessed widespread communal riots which started on February 28, 2002, a day after the Godhra train burning incident that claimed 59 lives.
The pogrom that it triggered killed at least 1,044 people, on record. Giving details, the Central government informed the Rajya Sabha in May 2005 that 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in the post-Godhra riots.
The event also featured a panel discussion on ‘Hindu Far-Right in India and the US’ where Dr Stanley argued that BJP’s recent Citizenship Amendment Act could be used to strip Muslims of Indian citizenship, just as the Nuremberg laws were used by Nazis to strip German Jews of citizenship.
“Modi’s visions of a pure Hindu past also mirror the idealized Aryan past envisioned by Adolf Hitler. I don’t need to uncover connections between Modi and prior fascist regimes. They are clear and explicit. Both RSS and BJP were central examples in my 2018 book ‘How Fascism Works,” Dr Stanley said.
Imran Dawood, a British Muslim man who was stabbed and left for dead during the Gujarat pogrom, echoed Stanley’s condemnation of Modi’s policies. Two of Dawood’s uncles and a family friend were burned alive during the riots.
“This trauma will always be with me, but I won’t be defined by it. Going forward, we must denigrate the hateful ideology that allowed the pogrom to happen. We must oppose the BJP’s ongoing, destructive bulldozer policies. Bulldozers must be used constructively for humanity, not to destroy humanity,” Dawood said.
The IAMC slammed the Modi regime over regularly sending bulldozers to illegally demolish Muslim homes which they stated have since become an international symbol for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Islamophobic policies.
Dawood’s condemnation of bulldozer policies resonated with the local Muslim community, which just last year witnessed a bulldozer decorated with pictures of Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister, a Hindu monk, Yogi Adityanath paraded through Edison, New Jersey on Indian Independence Day.
Imran Dawood’s uncle, Yusuf Dawood, recounted how excited his nephew had been to finally vacation in India, to taste its food, see the Taj Mahal, and learn about the land his parents loved — only to find himself brutally stabbed and saddled with the shattering loss of two uncles and a friend.
“The police lied to us and told us our relatives were missing. They knew they were dead. Our vision of India was changed from one moment to the next,” Yusuf said. “We must not let Hindu supremacists’ vision of hatred destroy our own values.” He also recounted how the police in Gujarat had failed to gather signatures to witness statements, effectively nullifying scores of eyewitness accounts.
Aakashi Bhatt, daughter of jailed whistleblower and former senior police officer Sanjiv Bhatt, recounted how the current regime had sentenced her father to life in prison for speaking out against PM Modi’s complicity in the pogrom.
“Justice has been systematically delayed and intentionally denied,” Bhatt said. “We live in Modi’s India now, where rapists and murderers walk free, but an honest officer must live in prison. In Modi’s India, a fair day in court is not afforded to the honest and upright. The Indian judiciary has been systematically dismantled to assure that Modi cannot face trial and whistleblowers go to jail.”
Bhatt also pointed to the example of Haren Pandya, who was murdered shortly after speaking out about Modi’s complicity, and RB Sreekumar, who was also arrested for whistleblowing.
Renowned activist and Executive Director of Polis Project Suchitra Vijayan, who is also the author of the award-winning book “Midnight’s Borders,” further characterized Modi and the BJP’s vision of India. “Modi’s Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] is based on an exclusionary idea of what it means to be Hindu. A Hindu is not a Muslim, is not a Christian. Hindu Supremacy is foundational to the BJP and RSS,” said Vijayan.
She explained how failures by previous governments to deal with communal violence in India cleared the ground for present Hindu supremacist violence. “What we saw in Gujarat was a continuation of previous attacks. But we must remember that what happened in Gujarat never ended. It goes on every day in India. Statistics prove attacks against Muslims continue to grow under Modi’s rule,” she said.
Azad Essa, a journalist at Middle East Eye and author of “Hostile Homelands,” a recent book on Modi’s international religious nationalist influences, explained how Hindu supremacists exported their agenda to the United States.
“We have to remember that numerous high-profile RSS members were banned from India in the 1970s. Then its members came to the US and started spreading their ideology here. So we see the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, and later the Hindu America Foundation continuing to influence American politicians with a covert Hindu supremacist agenda,” Essa said.
He noted how these US-based Hindu supremacist organizations weaponize the term Hinduphobia to denigrate anyone critical of Modi’s policies.
The event closed with a lively discussion between the audience and panellists. Panellists recounted the victories of the civil rights movement, one of the only mobilizations in the world to successfully challenge an ethnic supremacist regime without resorting to mass violence.
Members of the African-American community shared their support for the event and called for the defeat of the Hindutva movement in India, the US, and elsewhere.