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South Asia

Former Prime Minister Singh Warns of Rising Extremism Under Modi

Opposition politicians have been sounding the alarm about the rise of Hindu extremism in India since Modi came to power.

Then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh salutes soldiers at India's Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2008. (Image Credit: Government of India)
Then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh salutes soldiers at India's Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2008. (Image Credit: Government of India)

Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned on Tuesday against the worsening trend of intolerance, religious polarization, and anti-minority violence under the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

Singh, who served as prime minister under the Indian National Congress-led government from 2004 to 2014, made these remarks while paying tribute to India’s former prime minister and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi on his 75th birth anniversary.

Taking a swipe at the Hindu nationalist BJP, Singh—a Sikh by religion and Punjabi by ethnicity—said that these trends represent threats to the Indian constitutional and religious harmony. The former prime minister said, “Vested interests, both external and internal, are inciting and exploiting communal passions and violence to divide India.”

This isn’t the first time an Indian politician is criticizing the far-right policies of the BJP.  In July, Rahul Gandhi, the former president of the center-left opposition party Indian National Congress and son of Rajiv Gandhi, vowed to keep fighting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which serves as the ideological leader of the Hindu extremist network known as the Sangh Parivar, of which the BJP is the political front.

“Whoever is raising his voice in the country against the Modi government, against the BJP-RSS combine is being targeted through court cases. But my fight will continue,” said Gandhi, after being hit by a defamation lawsuit by the RSS.

In June, newly-elected parliamentarian Mahua Moitra warned that India was becoming a fascist and authoritarian state under the BJP.

More recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has compared both the BJP and RSS to Germany’s Nazi Party:

Founded in 1925, the RSS was inspired by European fascism and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Its first leader, Keshav Hedgewar, was an upper-caste Hindu. Nine decades later, upper-caste Hindus continue to dominate the group. The group promotes the ideology of Hindutva or “Hinduness”—a term coined by Veer Savarkar in 1923.

The BJP is the political wing of RSS and was formed in 1980 after many RSS members felt the need of that direct involvement in electoral politics was necessary to further its Hindu nationalist agenda. The party took part in elections for the first time in 1984.

But hate and violence have been integral to the modus operandi of the BJP and RSS. In 1992, senior BJP leaders led a campaign to build a Hindu temple on the site of the 16th century Babri Mosque, physically destroying the mosque with their own hands.

In 2002, members of the BJP actively participated in anti-Muslim pogroms in the state of Gujarat, which Human Rights Watch called a “systematic attempt to wipe out an entire culture,” Human Rights Watch and several other independent observers have repeatedly noted a rise in crimes against minorities with the BJP in power.

The BJP government has also recently stripped the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir of its nominal autonomy and statehood while imposing a curfew and a near-complete communication blackout in the valley.

In addition to Muslims, other groups may be targeted by the BJP. This month, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat called for ending the quota system for “backward caste and scheduled tribes.” The Congress leaders called these remarks unacceptable while accusing the BJP and RSS of having an “anti-Dalit” mindset.

Dalits took to the streets of New Delhi today to protest the demolition of a temple. But there was little, if any, news coverage by Indian television channels, which are dominated by upper-caste Hindus.

Urooj Tarar covers South Asia and pivot states for Globely News. She previously worked for the English-language edition of Daily Pakistan.

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