Eknath Ranade, senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member and founder of the Vivekananda Kendra, once spoke about ideology being “thicker than blood”. In India’s wracked social and political climate, his words are a foreboding indication of things to come.

“A missionary organisation is not just a group of people coming together,” he said. “They have a cause, a mission that creates a bond, an affinity among constituents…There is a blood-relationship between brothers. Blood is thicker than water, they say. But ideology is thicker than blood…”

As the 2024 general election nears, citizens are being treated to images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi showcasing his government’s gifts to the middle class: sleek new trains, world-class highways, a new parliament building, statues of saints and ideologues and so on.

Then there is the hype around Modi’s G-20 leadership and his role in US President Joe Biden’s Democracy Summit. Modi’s statesman-like sound-bites on one side, and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s well-timed jibes against the West on the other are being greeted with delight by the Hindu middle-classes.

Never mind all the calls by saffron-clad supporters for the mass killings of Muslims, extra-judicial killings by the police, the country’s sliding democracy indicators, massive youth unemployment and the lack of a coherent economic policy – other than what works for Modi’s oligarch friends.

For much of the urban Hindu middle-class, Modi is a divine gift, who cohabits with their idea of modern India and their digital dreams. A man who can connect with them on almost any topic – as long as there are no questions to be answered.

But the rest of the world is beginning to take serious note that their messiah stands atop the Hindu Rashtra project, methodically built for over nine decades by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh – an organisation in which he spent many youthful years absorbing its caustic ideology that is “thicker than blood”.

No matter how many makeovers he is given by advertisement agencies, largely for the benefit of the West, he cannot hide his umbilical cord with the Sangh.

The foundation

The Hindu Rashtra project stands on a foundation inspired by Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar, the founder of the Hindu Mahasabha. It was built by the founder of the Sangh, Dr KB Hedgewar, and strengthened for decades to come by the organisation’s longest-serving leader, MS Golwalkar. Together, they ensured that it was a potent mix of patriotism and disdain for Islam and Christianity, with the dream of unifying all Hindus.

The path they chose towards that dream was to implicate Muslims and Christians as major impediments to Hindu unity. Social service, or seva, was added to the mix much later, primarily to counter the work of missionaries in rural education and health.

It is to the credit of the trio that their foundational principles have not only endured to this day, but are now being pursued at a level of sophistication and daring that they could not have foreseen.

MS Golwalkar, KB Hedgewar and VD Savarkar. Credit: Sudhirn, CC BY-SA 3.0, in Public domain, and The Publitics, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Self-victimisation, street violence

The central pillars of the Hindu Rashtra project are of “self-victimisation” and its inevitable twin, “street violence” against perceived adversaries.

Hedgewar repeatedly sought to provoke Hindus by referring to their “pitiable state” and the urgent need for them to be more assertive. He even posited that violence was acceptable “if it is done in the spirit of detachment”, whatever that meant. Golwalkar attacked Christians and Muslims much more aggressively, and declared that only a “resurgent Hindu Rashtra” could guarantee their well-being – a code phrase for second-class citizenship.

It is a testimony to how central these pillars are to the task of indoctrinating children that Sangh publications choose to highlight examples of personal violence by both the leaders: for example, a young Hedgewar beating up a stranger in his neighborhood to “send a message” to his community, or rushing up to the stage to attack a speaker he did not like, or how a young Golwalkar once shattered a table top glass in his hostel with his bare hands to show off his valour to approving friends.

The term “Hinduphobia” goes back to the mid-19th century to legitimately describe the attitude of colonial rulers towards Hindus and Hinduism. But the term was picked up in the 1990s by Hindu nationalist idealogue, Ram Swarup, in an entirely different context: to portray Hindus as victims of a secular polity run mostly by Hindus.

More recently, “Hinduphobia” has become a weapon of choice for Hindu nationalists in the diaspora to portray Hindus as victims and to attack their adversaries. To justify their fear-mongering, they are now labelling anyone who criticises the Modi regime or caste discrimination as “Hinduphobic.”

History shows that self-victimisation leads, sooner or later, to violence by the rank and file against their perceived tormentors. This is happening at an alarming scale in India, while authorities mostly look the other way.

The April 15 public murder of a Muslim politician-turned-gangster and his brother, while in police custody, speaks to the level of brazenness that the authorities are willing to go. If there was any doubt about the state’s complicity, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath declared afterwards, “Those who were a threat to UP before, now UP is a threat to them.”

Christian organisations protest attacks in Mumbai in April. Credit: PTI.

The blame game

As someone who has been at the receiving end of Modi supporters for many years, their formulaic and unimaginative trolling never ceases to astound. Rationalising violence based on historical grievances or attributing all the ills of today to the past Congress rule, are two of their favorite themes – essentially pillar three, blame history, and pillar four, blame Congress.

Justifying violence against today’s Muslim citizens to avenge real or perceived suffering of Hindus hundreds of years back is senseless. But the unfortunate reality is that the “It’s our turn” argument has wide resonance among even otherwise peaceful Hindus, due to the relentless and unchallenged propaganda machinery of Hindu nationalists.

Anti-minority hate that used to be mostly verbal has escalated into street violence at the slightest pretext. It does not seem to occur to most approving supporters that a similar line of argument could apply to justify acts of violence against dominant castes for caste oppression over thousands of years.

The ultimate tragedy is that the prime minister of a country with the second-largest Muslim community has done absolutely nothing to speak up against the violence. Quite the contrary, he has been resorting to Islamophobic taunts and dog whistles, showing a reckless disregard for the future of all Indians.

Speaking with a forked tongue

It is hard these days to find any line of argument by Hindu nationalists in which Pakistan and Bangladesh are not invoked: “What about Hindu genocide in Bangladesh?” What about attacks on Hindus in Pakistan?” and so on.

The disturbing implication of such “whataboutry” – pillar five – is that Modi’s massive project of “othering” India’s minorities is justifiable on the basis of what is happening to religious minorities in neighboring countries.

But human rights is not a zero sum game. It is everyone’s duty to speak out against the human rights violations of all minority communities in South Asia. Those who condemn anti-minority violence against Hindus in India’s neighborhood but fail to speak out against daily violence against Muslims and Christians in India are being duplicitous and are doing a great disservice to the future of South Asia.

The Hindu Rashtra project has had a long tradition of “double speak” – which is pillar six. The current head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is particularly adept at it. One day, he might say that everyone living in India is a Hindu and on another day he may sound a warning about the dangers of escalating Muslim growth rate, a fictitious claim, and call for new population control measures.

Furthering such doublespeak based on fraudulent data, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on April 10 argued that the higher growth rate of Muslims demonstrates that there is no discrimination against Muslims in India.

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah is also an expert in doublespeak, promising one day that Muslims have nothing to worry about from the new citizenship laws – the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and proposed National Register of Citizens – and threatening another day that Muslims who cannot prove their long-term residence in India will be thrown into the Bay of Bengal.

A mob gathers near Delhi's Jahangirpuri during Hanuman Jayanti in April. Credit: PTI.

The cover

The home minister also famously said that his party’s social media cell is capable of making any news, real or fake, go viral. True to his words, his army of social media professionals has taken disinformation and misinformation to new lows, particularly targeting political adversaries and activists opposing the Modi regime.

American-based social media giants have become willing participants in providing cover to the Hindu Rashtra project by selectively censoring Modi’s opponents and refusing to take down incitement to hate by his colleagues.

The US government is also aiding and abetting the Hindu Rashtra project by showcasing Modi at its Democracy Summit and by refusing to act on the findings of its own agencies about the escalating anti-minority violence in India. This ignoble chapter of the Biden legacy will be recognised one day as the “great betrayal”: the world’s oldest democracy actively collaborating with Hindu nationalists to destroy the world’s largest democracy.

The future is bleak

As long as the Hindu Rashtra project stands on the six pillars of exclusions and hate, Indian democracy is highly likely to be destroyed completely if Modi’s party returns to power in 2024.

It is of utmost urgency that everyone who cares for democracy recognises the imminent danger and resists Modi’s autocratic majoritarian rule. The need of the day is not for bulldozers to destroy people’s homes, but for the bulldozers of true patriots to demolish the six pillars of hate.

Raju Rajagopal is Co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, USA. He can be reached at raju@hindusforhumanrights.org