Thread that binds Hindutva and Zionism

Why and how Israel and Zionism became Hindutva’s most favoured templates

BJP supporters hold demonstration in New Delhi to show solidarity with Israel, 15 October 2023. (Photo Getty Images)
BJP supporters hold demonstration in New Delhi to show solidarity with Israel, 15 October 2023. (Photo Getty Images)

Shubham Sharma

Hindutva and Zionism have politicised Hinduism and Judaism to such an extent that any opposition to the former is immediately dubbed Hinduphobia and anti-Semitism, respectively. Which hasn’t deterred some Jewish luminaries from running that risk.

Albert Einstein, for one, opposed Zionism and declined the offer to become the President of Israel. The linguist Noam Chomsky has been a lifelong opponent of Zionism. Primo Levi, chemist, author and holocaust survivor, too was an ardent opponent of Zionism and so was Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

A corresponding list of great Indians who opposed Hindutva and the idea of a Hindu Rashtra includes all those who sacrificed their lives, and were incarcerated by the British. This naturally excludes the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha and their acolytes who preferred the path of least resistance.

The RSS launched its first (political) monthly, Rashtradharma, in late August 1947 when there was no fear of either the British gag or the British whip.

Throughout the period of anti-colonial struggle, the forces of Hindutva remained at the margins. They knew very well that the cost of being a nationalist was heavy. However, it is during this period that they sharpened their ideological teeth. V.D. Savarkar, K.B. Hedgewar, M.S. Golwalkar and B.S. Moonje came up with the idea that the slumbering Hindu nation must be awakened and served the blood of the religious minorities (Muslims and Christians).

The forces of Hindutva envisioned the nation-state with a homogeneous ethnic or religious community at its core, as opposed to the pluralistic, multi-religious, multi-cultural welfare state envisaged by the leaders of the independence struggle. This urge led them to the doors of fascism—the most finished form of totalitarianism in the 20th century.

In 1931, Moonje travelled to Italy to meet Benito Mussolini. He keenly observed how young Italian boys were recruited to attend weekly meetings that included participating in physical exercises and paramilitary drills, influencing what would later become the RSS’s modus operandi.

Moonje recorded in his diary, ‘The (fascist) institutions and the conception of the whole organisation has appealed to me the most… the idea of fascism vividly brings out the conception of unity amongst people… India and particularly Hindu India needs some institution for the military regeneration of the Hindus. Our institution of the RSS under Dr Hedgewar is of this kind’.

Within three years of his return from Europe, Moonje began work on the Bhonsle Military School as well as the Central Hindu Military Education Society, whose goal included the ‘military regeneration of the Hindus… to [make] Hindu youths fit for undertaking the entire responsibility for the defence of the motherland’.

In response to Mussolini’s question on the possibility of a round table conference between British and Indian leadership, Moonje responded, “If the British would honestly desire to give us an equal status with other dominions of the Empire, we shall have no objection to remain(ing) peacefully and loyally within the Empire… ”. The pro-imperial attitude of the Hindu right is clearly visible.

By 1938, Nazi Germany became the chief point of reference for the Hindu Mahasabha, then under the Presidentship of V.D. Savarkar. On 1 August 1938, Savarkar addressed a 20,000-strong rally in Poona wherein he declared: ‘‘Germany has every right to resort to Nazism and Italy to Fascism and events have justified that those ‘isms’ and forms of governments were imperative and beneficial to them under the conditions that obtained there.”

When the Congress, especially Jawaharlal Nehru, raised concerns about the impending horror in Germany, Savarkar remarked: ‘‘Who are we to dictate to Germany, Japan or Russia or Italy to choose a particular form of policy of government...? Surely Hitler knows better than Pandit Nehru does what suits Germany best… Pandit Nehru might claim to express the Congress section in India at the most. But it should be made clear to the German, Italian, or Japanese public that Hindu Sanghatanists in India cherish no ill-will towards Germany or Italy or Japan or any other country in the world simply because they had chosen a form of government or constitutional policy.”

When the Nazi regime unleashed their coordinated anti-Jewish pogrom, widely known as Kristallnacht or the ‘Night of Broken Glass’, pro-Hindu Mahasabha journals published articles in favour of German anti-Semitism.

While the Indian National Congress promised a safe refuge for German Jews in India, Savarkar justified the Nazis by saying, “Nationality did not depend so much on a common geographical area as on unity of thought, religion, language and culture. For this reason, the Germans and the Jews could not be regarded as a nation… the Indian Muslims are on the whole more inclined to identify themselves and their interests with Muslims outside India than Hindus who live next door, like Jews in Germany.”

Despite all the documented evidence of Hindutva’s formidable pro-fascist and pro-Nazi anchorage, the question of why and how Israel and Zionism became the most favoured templates for Hindutva remains. The answer lies in the fact that in Zionism and the creation of Israel, Hindutva found a new template of politics that included the successful politicisation of religion, a pro-imperial worldview, an idea of nationhood based purely on blood and ethnicity, and a formula to deal with ‘hostile Muslims’.

In the USA, the veritable synthesis between Hindutva and Zionism came to full fruition. The United States India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) was founded in 2002 by Indian-American Republicans with the help of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

In September 2002, Indian prime minister and long-standing leader of the Hindu right, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, met with B’nai B’rith International, the AJC, the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs and the AIPAC. Pleasantries were exchanged on “the blossoming of relations between India and Israel”.

From 2014, that is ever since the Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power, the marriage between Zionism and Hindutva has birthed many ugly events. India has become Israel’s number one weapons trade buyer, accounting for 42 per cent of Israel’s arms exports.

India—one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement that opposed colonialism and apartheid, and distinguished itself as being the first non-Arab state to recognise the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)—decided to abstain when the UN General Assembly passed the ceasefire resolution in October.

India also abstained from the crucial resolution that dealt with the investigation of Israeli operations for human rights violations. At the popular level, the forces of Hindutva are milking the Israeli offensive on the Palestinians as ‘just lessons taught to the Muslims’.

These are dark times. The Zionist Jews have clasped in friendship the very hands that had once clapped in approval of their inhuman orchestrated slaughter in Hitler’s concentration camps.

(Shubham Sharma is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut, USA)

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