Hindu Radicalism in India is not a new phenomenon; it can be traced back to 1925 when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was formed to promote Hindu Nationalism and dominance of Hindutva ideology in the Indian continent. The influence of Hindutva followers continued to rise after the partition of British India. In the last decade, Hindutva forces have become dominant in India. BJP, the current ruling party in India, is playing a leading role to promote the agenda of Akhand Bharat, which is the ultimate objective of this Hindutva ideology. Under the rule of BJP, Hindu Radicalism is exponentially rising in India and the discriminatory policies of the ruling party are marginalizing the minorities especially the Indian Muslims. Besides, India’s unilateral & brutal actions in IIOJK have significantly increased over time. Simultaneously, India considers itself as a dominant actor and aspires to be a regional hegemon; therefore, the regime is pursuing aggressive policies against its neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan. The combination of Hindu Radicalism and Indian Hegemonic Designs is threatening the regional and global peace. The special report highlights the formidable rise of Hindu Radicalism in India and analyses India’s hegemonic designs in the region. In addition, it also evaluates the threats to regional peace and eventually to global peace, emerging due to Hindu Radicalism and Indian hegemonic designs.
Under the guardianship of BJP regime, the followers of Hindutva ideology, who are working to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra or to reclaim “India for Hindus”, have increased their presence manifold in various departments of the government. In pole position, the government bodies have started a campaign to reinterpret their history through a fundamental Hindu lens and erasing the vestiges of Muslims or British rules, such as rewriting the historical accounts and renaming cities, streets and public places related to the Muslim culture and heritage. Since 2014, there has been a significant rise in cases of mob lynching Muslims and lower-caste people in India.
Moreover, the landslide victory of BJP in 2019 elections has further strengthened the Hindu radicals to pursue their agenda against minorities in India. Since 2019, the policies adopted by the BJP led government are marginalizing the minorities of the country, especially the Indian Muslims. The ratification of Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) or Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the BJP regime in India on 11 December 2019 are the prime examples of the constitutional marginalization of minorities. According to this bill, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Christians, who have arrived before 31 December 2014 from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, will be given Indian citizenship. As per the law, Muslims will be not be given citizenship. This controversial bill resulted in nationwide protests in India especially in Assam and the capital of India, New Delhi. The situation further aggravated by construction of Ram Temple at the place of Babri Mosque and mob lynching Indian Muslims due to cow vigilantism, reflecting the rise of Hindu radicalism and religious intolerance in India.
The hegemonic designs of India in the South Asian region became evident from its coercive control over the smaller states in the region, considering itself a dominant and major actor of the region. The country has been strong-arming regional economies and terrorizing the smaller nations of South Asia. Along with its regional hegemonic designs, India also aspires to become a dominant power in the Indian Ocean Rim and has been using its asymmetrical power vis-à-vis other South Asian states to achieve its political, military and economic goals.
BJP and Congress both have been actively executing the coercive policies to achieve Indian hegemonic goals in the region but the BJP led governments have been more vocal and aggressive in the pursuit of these objectives. The powerful rise of Hindu radicalism and hegemonic designs of India are threatening the peace and stability at the regional and global level.
The Formidable Rise of Hindu Radicalism
Since the last 90 years, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been actively working to radicalize Hindu community on false ground. Before the creation of RSS, in 1923 Vinayak Damodar Savarkar wrote a book called as Essentials of Hindutva, which acts as the ideological foundation of current right-wing Hindu radical group RSS and divergent from the Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence doctrine. Soon after, in 1925, K.B Hedgewar founded the RSS in Nagpur India and its members adhere to the ideology of Hindutva, which states that India should be made a pure Hindu Nation and all the Indians are seen as Hindus irrespective of their religion. This ideology transformed Hindu identity from a cultural and ethnic group into a nation wishful of dominating all other identities residing in the pluralistic sub-continent.
Before the partition in 1947, the British colonialists ruled the sub-continent for a century. The independence movement against British rule gave rise to the Secular Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism. Secular nationalism was a struggle for independence for all identities living in the sub-continent and despite their religious, ethnic and cultural differences; they collectively struggle for their political and economic independence from British rule. The Hindu Nationalism was contrary to the secular struggle, which was later promoted and inculcated by the RSS and in modern-day India, it is the root cause of radicalism.
Over the course of last four decades, congress remained a completely dominant political party in India and the BJP barely managed to have few seats in Lok Sabha, showing the partiality and inclination of Indian populous towards pluralism. A decade ago, nobody could imagine the domination of Hindu nationalism, especially the BJP, in the Indian state-of-affairs as a mainstream political party. With its radicalizing agenda and creating a dichotomy, the BJP continued to increase its foothold in the political domain through RSS and saffron outfits, which has been engaged in the social engineering and furthering the caste-based polarization in India.
The RSS has been radicalizing Hindus for over ninety years through Hindutva ideology, which is being used to unite the people of India on the bases of religion and deeming the sub-continent as the “holy land”. The followers of Hindutva recognize all identities living in India as Hindus except Muslims and Christians, who are seen as invaders and occupiers even though they are part of the region for centuries. The ideology suggests that these Muslim and Christian natives should be forced to convert their religion into Hinduism or expelled from the country. To make it happen, the leaders of RSS mainly Savarkar and Golwalkar were of the view that the Hindus should unite and struggle to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra.
The prominent experts of Hindutva such as Veer, Noorani, Brass, Jaffrelot and Afzal relate this extremist ideology with Brahmanism. They view this Hindutva movement as a struggle, which is being led by upper-caste Hindus. As the British had introduced a new modernized system based on democracy in the Indian subcontinent, the elite class of Brahmins introduced this idea to stay relevant in the new political system.
The influence and activities of RSS continued to increase even after the independence of India and since 2014, this ideology has become a powerful and mainstream ideology in India under the guardianship of BJP and Modi who himself have remained an active member of RSS and advocate of Hindutva order and ideology.
The RSS was against the cooperation of Gandhi with the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. When Gandhi and his aides succeeded in fomenting the Indian liberation movement and declaring it as a modern democratic state, the voices of RSS fell silent for a short period at the national level but they continued to work even after the inception of India. Soon, after India’s independence, an RSS member Nathuram Godse hit the world’s media outlets as he assassinated Mr Gandhi in 1948. Nathuram Godse was inspired by the ideology of Hindutva. In 1948, he said, “My shots were fired at the person who has brought rack and ruin and destruction to millions of Hindus in India.”
The current ruling party of India, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was later established in 1980 as the political frontage of RSS and other far-right Hindutva groups. The top leadership of BJP were picked from the RSS full-time workers, including the current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, current Home Minister Amit Shah and few other ministers. The building of Ram Temple at the place of Babri Masjid was given paramount importance early years of BJP politics despite myriad socio-economic problems prevailing in the country and it was due to the radicalizing nature of this issue. The correlation between the BJP rise to power and increase in radicalism and religious intolerance is also evident from the increase in the attacks on Indian minorities especially the Muslims of India. The Hindu radicals motivated by Hindutva ideology were behind the rise of forced religion conversions, killings and mob lynching of Indian minorities. According to estimates, Hindu Nationalists in Gujarat killed more than 2000 Muslims in 2002 only and Narendra Modi, incumbent Indian Premier was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time. Analysts argue that he was either involved in these killings or unwilling to stop this massacre.
After its triumph in 2014 general elections, BJP has brought a tectonic shift in the Indian politics and ever since Hindutva has become a dominant ideology in the mainstream politics of India. This owes to the far-right nationalist wing RSS and its huge workforce extended across the country. There are also drastic changes being witnessed by India at societal as well as government level and it is evident from the following report published by a network of an investigative journalist called India Spend. The report has presented a detailed account of mob attacks and killings by the Hindu radicals, concluding that 97% of mob attacks and 84% of killings are reported after the formation of the government of BJP under Narendra Modi. Moreover, the BJP regime has also introduced controversial policies and bills, which are marginalizing the minorities in India especially the Indian Muslims and Sikhs, such as CAA or CAB and a recent Farm Bill in 2020.
Indian Hegemonic Designs
After its independence, India remained non-aligned for a few decades but sided with the USSR for its material gains. This shows the country’s desire to be a dominant and hegemonic power in the region and it remained manifested in its foreign policy towards its neighbouring countries as well. Other factors that shaped the Indian strategic and hegemonic thinking towards the region is the common perception of Indian political leadership considering the country as a successor of British India. Moreover, the Indians claim that they are the inheritors of centuries-old civilization and consider it as an important pillar of their national unity and power.
India, being the largest and most populous state in South Asia, and due to its economic and military might, believed that it has the right to dictate other states in the region. The textbook definition of hegemony is the privileged exercise of power in complete disregard to the interests of other states. The prime example of this course of action is India’s coercive policies in the region against Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Since its inception, India has been following the hegemonic agenda in the region. In the pursuit of this goal, Congress and BJP, both have shown the same urge. However, the BJP has been more aggressive and vocal for achieving the status of being a big power and dictator in the region. Since 2014, when BJP came into power and Narendra Modi assumed the office of Prime Minister in India, there has been a significant change in Indian foreign policy and a rise in Indian aggression in the region.
The bellicosity of incumbent Indian regime is obvious from its blatant violation of international law by trespassing Pakistan’s sovereignty, hoax surgical strikes in Pakistan and sabotaging activities especially the SAARC to obliterate the opportunity to enhance regional economic cooperation. Similarly, the country has been backing the terror groups to destabilize the regional economies like its intervention through proxies in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and spreading false information about neighbours through a network of fake news outlets debunked by EU Disinfo Lab.
India’s Coercive Policies towards its Neighbours
Nepal: Since 1947, the relations between India and Nepal have witnessed several vicissitudes mainly due to Indian aggressive behaviour towards Nepal. India has been interfering in internal affairs of Nepal for over several decades, such as in the 1950s, the Indian government forced the Rana regime to allow Indian backed Nepali Congress into the political system of Nepal. Furthermore, Indian backed forces succeeded in Nepal to form the government but the government saw its end in 1960 and a new system was introduced in Nepal that was a party-less system under the king, which continued to dominate for next thirty years. In 1989, the Indian government blocked transits for Nepal due to which Nepal went through a crisis of fuel and life essential items. Nepal signed an agreement of friendship with China in 1956 and is currently purchasing arms from it, and the country aslso signed a trade agreement with Pakistan in 1962, which aggravates India. A recent case of India’s coercion was when Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2015; India responded it with a trade blocked. In response to this unofficial blockade, the Prime Minister of Nepal visited China and signed the agreements related to transit and trade. India wants to have strong say in the internal affairs of Nepal, as it is the biggest power in South Asia, so it is natural for India to dictate the smaller states.
Bangladesh: Awami League, the current ruling party of Bangladesh is considered as Pro Indian party of Bangladesh but still, whenever India felt that their interests are put aside, the Indian government responded punitively. Bangladesh has water issues, border dispute and maritime dispute with India. Bangladesh has also often raised objections on the Indian trade and tariff policies against Bangladesh. The controversial construction of Farakka barrage by India led to a riparian dispute between neighbours, and tariffs imposed by India on Bangladesh is a sign of Indian hegemony on its neighbours. Similarly, using the soft power, especially the film industry, mainly Bollywood film, Indian exposes the class difference in Bangladesh and portray the developing economy of the region as an underdeveloped and destitute; however, the purpose of this false depiction is to reinforce the Indian cultural hegemony in Bangladesh.
Sri Lanka: India’s notorious involvement in the domestic affairs of Sri Lanka has always been a sticking point in the bilateral relations and foreign policy of both nations. The main reason for this hostility is India’s sponsorship to Tamil ethnicities in Sri Lanka and fueling the civil war in the country to have pro-Indian forces in a dominant position in Colombo. The intelligence agency of India, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was providing monetary support, arms and training to Tamils who were living in Sri Lanka. Moreover, the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) was accused of committing gross human rights violations and therefore these forces were withdrawn in 1990 due to pressure from the people & the government of Sri Lanka and the international actors. The ties between these countries are still facing several constraints due to Chinese increasing influence in Sri Lanka along with Pakistan’s fraternal relations with Sri Lanka. In addition, hegemonic ambition remains an important factor in India’s relations with Sri Lanka.
Pakistan: India’s evil designs for its neighbour is evident from the country’s belligerent and pestering policy towards Pakistan because Pakistan categorically rejected Indian illegal claims on Kashmir, drew the attention of the international community towards India’s blatant violation of human rights and its hegemonic designs and deterred it through its military and diplomatic muscle. Pakistan was always perceived as a major obstacle by India to achieve its hegemonic objectives in the region owing to Pakistan’s strong ties with dominant powers of the world. Since its beginning, India sought to merge the newfound state of Pakistan into Indian Territory and attempted to do so three times but failed miserably. In the due course, Pakistan mitigated all the challenges except the fall of Dhaka, has been successful in defending its national interests, and becoming a nuclear power, making itself an invincible power in the region. Indian intelligence agency RAW trained Mukti Bahini and provided with material support to fuel the rebel and separatist elements in East Pakistan against Pakistan Army. India continues to support the insurgents and ethnic separatist movements in Pakistan afterwards. The Kashmir issue remains at the core of strained relations between India and Pakistan and became a nuclear flashpoint endangering the peace and stability of the region. Under the BJP government, since 2014, the ceasefire violations on LOC have increased to an extreme level. The Hindutva regime of India furthered the expansionist agenda, such as the misadventures of 26 February 2019, 5 August 2019, and inhuman curfew imposed in the valley. Now, BJP regime is changing the demography of Kashmir through social engineering and incentivizing the Hindu community to migrate in the occupied valley. India is also using non-state actors to undermine the sovereignty of Pakistan and labeling the country as the terrorist sanctuary through a fake international network of news, non-governmental organizations and research institutes. These shreds of evidence of hybrid warfare allude to the Indian evil intentions towards its neighbouring states and country’s nefarious hegemonic designs in the region.
India: A Threat to the Global Peace
India, once a pluralistic society, has now become a religiously and culturally intolerant state after the rise of BJP. After the political frontage of RSS, BJP came to power; there has been a drastic increase in the religious polarization in India and the dominance of Hindu radicals in all the segments of Indian society. Under the BJP government, the followers of Hindutva ideology are rewriting the literature and syllabus of education, renaming the towns and streets, and stigmatizing non-Hindu identities, which is radicalizing and polarizing the young generations of the country. The state-controlled media outlets have supported this nefarious agenda by toeing the line of the radical government and disguising the marginalization of religious minorities in India. Moreover, this gives free hand to the RSS extremists for the pursuit of their inimical agenda. This regional supremacy agenda of India entails the subjugation of other identities residing in the region and challenging Pakistan, a predominately-Muslim archrival of India and a nuclear deterrent state, India is jeopardizing the regional and global peace.
Indian Hegemonic Posture & Probability of Nuclear War
The underlying principle of Indian animosity and expansionism in the region corresponds to the Hindutva ideology, “India for Hindus” and “Akhand Baharat”. However, Pakistan, a nuclear-armed rival of India and only invincible military power in the region, is perceived as the major impediment by the Indian leadership in erecting the Hindu order and Indian hegemony in the region. Both countries, India and Pakistan have engaged in the full-scale kinetic wars on the territorial dispute of Kashmir and ever since their Nuclearization, the Kashmir issue has become a nuclear flashpoint. India has managed to attack the Kashmiris and conduct skirmishes under the threshold of nuclear war and received a befitting response from Pakistan, but it does not abate the probability of nuclear war and mutually assured destruction. India’s expansionism, violations of bilateral agreements and international norms, demographic engineering in the disputed territory of Kashmir, and its misadventures like February 26 depict the bellicose nature of the incumbent Indian government and country’s hegemonic aspirations. It is to understand that Indian nukes are now in hands of the Hindu radicals who abhor all non-Hindu identities and the recent episodes of aggression and misadventures by these Hindu zealots raise the possibility of a nuclear war in the region, which will have a spillover effect for the global peace.
The tectonic shift in Indian politics with the rise of BJP has raised concerns for the regional and global polities. Under the guardianship of BJP regime, the Hindutva ideology and radicalism is increasing which is empowering the Hindu radicals, undermining the rights of religious minorities residing inside the country like Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, and influencing the foreign policy of India towards its peace-loving neighbours. The formidable rise of Hindu radicals to power is also repressing many sane voices inside the country and region, and spiralling into a humanitarian crisis for the world. There is a significant increase in the extremist and terrorist activities in the region, backed by the Indian state. This authoritative upswing in the Hindu radicalism in India falls in line with the underlying principle “India for Hindus” or “Akhand Baharat” of Hindutva ideology. This depicts the aspirations of India for regional hegemony and have an everlasting impact on the disruption of regional and global peace. India’s belligerence like threatening its neighbours, violating their sovereignty, transgressions of human rights, and military skirmishes entails the prospects of a nuclear escalation. The rise of Hindu radicalism and country’s regional hegemonic aspiration should be cognized as a threat to the peace in the region and beyond.
Collective efforts are required from Indian polities, regional states, and supranational organizations to put halt to the constitutional marginalization of religious minorities and eliminate the threat to the regional and global peace. As Pakistan exposed the nefarious hegemonic designs of India, other regional economies should follow the suite to show the real face of Saffron Terror to the world. Kashmir is an internationally recognized disputed territory and a nuclear flashpoint. In order to make India comply with the international norms, the United Nations Security Council should reprimand India of its belligerency. Similarly, adhering to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine 2005, the global community should take action to prevent the mass atrocities non-Hindu identities in India and especially the victims of saffron terror in Kashmir. Regional powers needs to increase its strength on the ground and at the diplomatic front to balkanize India, which will bring peace in the region.