Magazine article The Nation

Through 'Hindu' Eyes

Magazine article The Nation

Through 'Hindu' Eyes

Article excerpt

New Delhi

When India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee addresses a joint session of Congress on September 14 and meets President Clinton at length the next day, it's a safe bet that few US leaders or reporters will be aware of the views Vajpayee represents. In some ways, his hard-right Hindu-sectarian Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party) is not very different from Jorg Haider's deceptively named Freedom Party in Austria, which also rules in a multiparty coalition. Both derive their inspiration from racial/ethnic nativism and from European fascism of the twenties and thirties. Their ideological gurus share the same predilection for a fiercely exclusionist nationalism. On September 9, addressing Hindu-supremacist groups on Staten Island, Vajpayee strongly reaffirmed his allegiance to the BJP's "mother" organization and ideological master, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps)--an all-male, secret society-type brotherhood that, with other groups, provided the ideological inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.

The BJP and Freedom Party are different, of course. The Freedom Party is largely concerned with downplaying Hitler's evil and restricting Third World immigration into today's Austria. The BJP promotes what it calls Hindutva (Hinduness) or "cultural nationalism," i.e., establishing the primacy of India's Hindus within an emerging militarily powerful and hegemonic state, while culturally and politically disfranchising its numerous religious minorities, as well as its poor majority. The two evoke different responses too. The EU responded to the Freedom Party's ascendancy to power by imposing sanctions eight months ago, although it just lifted them. India under the BJP is declared a great democracy with a magnificent future in the Clinton-Vajpayee joint "Vision Statement," issued this past March during Clinton's first visit to India. This statement describes India and the United States as world leaders and shapers of global destiny--in "a natural partnership of shared endeavors."

The Clinton Administration has coddled Vajpayee's right-wing regime despite its May 1998 nuclear tests, its worsening human rights record and the continuing Hindutva attacks on religious minorities, especially the 12 percent who are Muslims and, increasingly, the 2.3 percent who are Christians. (There have been fifty-eight attacks, including lynchings, against Christians since the year began and a total of more than 400 since January 1998.) Washington has lifted more than 90 percent of the sanctions it imposed in the wake of the tests, even though Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott failed to secure a commitment on nuclear restraint in thirteen rounds of talks with Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh. …

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