why Hindu nationalism and Zionism are ideological cousins

The results of the parliamentary elections in India are in. The country's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has won enough seats to keep control for the third time in a row. But his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has suffered severe setbacks and is now preparing for coalition talks after failing to win an absolute majority for the primary time in ten years.

The BJP is predicated on Hindutva, a Hindu nationalist ideology developed within the early twentieth century. Politics of Hindutva insist that the country's national identity be built around those that consider only India's geography sacred. Muslims and Christians, whose holy sites lie within the Middle East, are due to this fact considered second-class residents.

Modi put Hindutva on the forefront of his election campaign. He accused The largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress, based its manifesto on the ideology of Muslim Leaguethe party that sought the partition of India in 1947. And he used demographic fears concerning the barely higher birth rates of Muslims as a weapon to claim that the opposition is planning to redistribute wealth to “intruders” who “have more children”.

But Hindutva doesn’t stop at India’s borders. Hindu nationalists have used the continued conflict in Gaza to denigrate other Muslims all over the world. BJP troll farms have Spreading disinformation and anti-Palestinian hate on the Internet, and Hindu nationalist groups in India have Pro-Israel marches.

Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu face each other on a stage in front of Indian and Israeli flags.
Modi speaks to the press with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel, in 2021.

Where does this strange solidarity between Hindutva and Zionists come from? One origin lies with the primary Hindu nationalists, who modeled their Hindu state on Zionism.

The founding father of Hindutva, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, supported majoritarian nationalism and the eradication of all disintegrating forces. These included Muslims who supported electoral quotas for his or her community and left-leaning internationalists.

As a result, he even approved the Nazis’ anti-Semitic laws in two speeches 1938, because, as he saw it, “a nation is formed by a majority that lives in it.” But Savarkar himself was not an anti-Semite. He spoke positively the tiny Jewish-Indian minority because he considered them too insignificant to endanger Hindu unity.

In fact, Savarkar hailed Zionism because the perfection of ethno-nationalist thought. The way Zionism seamlessly combined ethnic attachment to a motherland and non secular attachment to a holy land was exactly what Savarkar wanted for the Hindus. This dual attachment was, in his eyes, way more powerful than the European model of “blood and soil” nationalism without holy sites.

Today, Hindu nationalists proceed this legacy and still view Zionism as a very attractive political ideology. In the eyes of Hindu nationalists, some Zionists were engaged in a project to reclaim their sacred land from a Muslim population whose religious roots within the region weren’t as ancient as their very own.

Similarly, the Hindutva followers saw a Muslim population that, although numerically superior, had significant cultural power. This power got here through the Mughal Dynasty which ruled large parts of India from 1526 until the establishment of British rule within the nineteenth century.

This idea was further spread by Savarkar's ideological successor Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar. 1947 wrote that Zionism was the “attempt to rehabilitate Palestine with its ancient Jewish population … to restore the destroyed edifice and revive the practically dead Hebrew national life.”

Delegitimization of Muslim residents

Just because the Palestinians needed to make way for many who laid claim to ancient holy sites, so too in Golwalkar view“non-Hindu people from Hindusthan” needed to be “completely subordinated to the Hindu nation.” Part of this process today is the redefinition of citizenship.

In 2018, Israel passed a law that renamed the country as a “nation-state of the Jewish people” and delegitimized its non-Jewish residents. Similarly, India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 made it easier for immigrants from several religious groups, but not Muslims, to acquire citizenship.

Combined with rhetoric that links thousands and thousands of Indian Muslims to illegal immigration, human rights groups argue that this law might be used to deprive many Muslims of their Indian citizenship.

Hindu nationalists have also launched a culture war to consolidate “Hindu civilization” and eliminate symbols of Islam, consistent with the Israeli right’s desire to rebuild Solomon’s Temple on Jerusalem’s holy Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex now stands.

1969 a Zionist extremist the south wing burned of al-Aqsa. And in 1980 the fundamentalist group Jewish Underground planned to explode the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine at the middle of the complex.

A golden-domed mosque on a hill in Jerusalem.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque complex on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

An identical project, during which mosques were demolished and temples inbuilt their place, was recommended by Savarkar and Golwalkar. Hindu nationalist organizations focused their attention on the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodha because it was the mythical birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

BJP co-founder Lal Krishna Advani led a nationwide campaign in 1990 to construct a brand new temple – a project that India’s Supreme Court had banned for a long time. But the zeal the campaign unleashed led to a Hindu nationalist mob demolition Babri Masjid Mosque in 1992. And after a brand new ruling by the Supreme Court of India in 2019 granted permission, a temple was built on the location of the destroyed mosque and inaugurated by Modi with great ceremony in January 2024.

A number of months later, in May 2024, Israeli Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said explained proclaimed from the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque that there would never be a Palestinian state. While he did so, his entourage prayed illegally on the disputed site of the Temple Mount.

While Hindu prayers are being performed at the location of the destroyed Babri Mosque, other mosques in India are actually under threat. Hindu nationalists are petitioning the courts handy over land managed by Islamic trusts to the Hindu majority population.

Modi is now starting his third term in office and should be attempting to make India an exclusive holy land for Hindus – but against a more powerful opposition than before.

image credit : theconversation.com