In India, Hindu Nationalists Feel Their Moment Has Arrived : Parallels The rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised the spirits of Hindu nationalists. But it also appears to be increasing tensions between Hindus and the Muslim minority.

In India, Hindu Nationalists Feel Their Moment Has Arrived

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Here's a sign of how deeply ingrained religious violence is in India. The new prime minister called for a moratorium on it. He didn't actually call for the violence to stop forever, just a 10-year pause.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi's own election earlier this year coincided with a rise in religious tension. He's the leader of a Hindu nationalist party. Much of India's violence over the years has come against minority Muslims.

INSKEEP: But now some politicians have seized on the case of a Hindu who allegedly was attacked. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: What may have happened inside a small madrassa last month in this impoverished mixed Muslim-Hindu village of Sarawa has roiled religious sensitivities. A 20-year-old Hindu woman who taught English at the Muslim school was hospitalized last month. Her father told police that leaders of the madrassa raped his daughter and forcibly converted her to Islam. Key suspects have been arrested. Police say inconsistent statements have impeded the investigation but not the political polarization. Hindu nationalists from Narendra Modi’s BJP Party have seized on the case. District party leader Sanjay Prajapati says the special community - meaning Muslim - has harmed his Hindu community, India's largest.

SANJAY PRAJAPATI: (Through translator) They aim to convert our daughters to Islam because they feel they can increase their population, he says. And if we continue to be tortured by them we'll soon be their slaves. To force conversion is more than a crime it is a sin, Prajapati says. And we have a duty to stop it.

MCCARTHY: Police stopped the BJP rally as a threat to public order. Muslim leaders say the madrassa has been maligned. But Prajapati says, Narendra Modi's recent victory has inspired the campaigners who have found their voice after years on the fringe.

PRAJAPATI: (Through translator) There is fresh energy and the honorable Modi-ji is the source. Prajapati goes on to say, the Muslim community is under fear. There is not a single Muslim parliamentarian from the state of Uttar Pradesh, he says, adding the congratulations for that belong to Modi.

MCCARTHY: Modi's BJP Party is the political branch of a family of Hindu nationalist groups which includes the RSS. Formed in the 1920s to fight British rule, the RSS is regarded as the ideological fount of Hindu nationalism. Modi is a lifelong member. Author and journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay says the RSS swears by cultural nationalism.

NILANJAN MUKHOPADHYAY: Cultural nationalism that means that it is steeped in the Hindu-ness, which is distinct from Hindu the religion.

MCCARTHY: The RSS says Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life. Termed Hindutva - a compendium of Hindu values, virtues, customs and history - that the RSS says binds India in a shared heritage. This month RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, declared every Indian subordinate to it.

MOHAN BHAGWAT: (Through translator) The entire world knows that the people who live in India are Hindus, he says - just as the Germans have Germany, the English have England and the Americans have America - all the people of this this country are Hindus, he says.

MCCARTHY: Champat Rai is a leader of the VHP, another group that subscribes to the tenants of Hindutva. Rai says, religious minorities in India all have deep, Hindu roots.

CHAMPAT RAI: (Through translator) All Muslims and Christians living in India today - at some point their forefathers were Hindus. Muslims invaded India and used the sword to convert, Rai says. So you can go to a church or mosque, but respect Indian festivals, values and India as the motherland, he says.

MCCARTHY: Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, whose book is titled "Narendra Modi, The Man, The Times," says the RSS and Modi have nursed the idea of India as a wounded civilization in need of restoring.

MUKHOPADHYAY: Restoring lost dignity and pride of Hindus, secret revenge and taking back India to its days of glory - India being a golden bird at one point but being looted and plundered by Muslim ruler and invaders who came to India.

MCCARTHY: In rebalancing the historical imbalance, Modi himself has been accused of marginalizing Muslims. He was also accused of standing by during Hindu-Muslim riots that killed mostly Muslims in his state in 2002. The allegation - never proven - still stirs anxiety among some of India's 176 million Muslims. Mukhopadhyay says, Hindu nationalist aim to create a Hindu Rashtra, or state, and have used strong-arm tactics before.

MUKHOPADHYAY: They definitely have been instances in the past where the RSS and its leaders have been very intolerant towards people practicing other religions, targeting people from religious communities in tribes and in other forms of violent action.

MCCARTHY: The RSS has been banned three times, once after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. A former RSS member fired the shots that killed him six months after Indian independence in 1947. The RSS was later cleared. The RSS is a disciplined force that can be spotted in dawn drills like these that shaped a young Modi. In suburban Delhi 25 RSS disciples dressed in khaki shorts stretch, salute their flag and sing patriotic songs. The purpose - defend India again dangers and in natural disasters. RSS volunteer Rishabh Toshniwal says, with some 40,000 branches the group exists to serve and bears no animus toward the Muslim community.

RISHABH TOSHNIWAL: Hinduism is the most tolerant religion in the world. Hindu never attacked any other part of the world. Muslims have done it, sometimes Christians economically have done it, but Hindu hasn't. So nobody has to worry about Modi.

MCCARTHY: But political scientist Zoya Hassan says, Hindu nationalist, like the RSS, foment division. There's no evidence, she says, to show any sizable conversion of Hindus to Christianity or Islam. A former member of the National Commission for Minorities, Hassan says the RSS challenges anyone who dares see India as anything but a Hindu state.

ZOYA HASSAN: This is really an attempt to establish dominance, the dominance of Hinduism and Hinduization of society.

MCCARTHY: Modi has said that conflict between religious communities is sewing social strife, hurting India's development. Biographer Mukhopadhyay says, Modi is no religious zealot. And if need be will distance himself from the very organization that helped him take power.

MUKHOPADHYAY: We will utilize religion to acquire political power, but if it comes to making a choice between acquiring political power or launching or leading a religious crusade he would opt for political power. There will be a tug-of-war between the RSS and Modi.

MCCARTHY: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to govern for all of India. But Hindu nationalists, newly empowered, are on the ground asserting their ideology. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

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