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The Rise of Neo-Hinduism in India

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The EU DisinfoLab, an NGO working on investigations related to disinformation campaigns targeting EU member states has released a 90 page long report, which provides details of an international network consisting of 265 fake media outlets, multiple dubious think tanks and NGOs supported and funded by pro-Indian entities and working to undermine Pakistan’s interests and its image at the global level. The investigations labelled as the “Indian Chronicles” has uncovered massive Indian sponsored operation that targeted international institutions and served the Indian interests by resurrecting dead media, think tanks, NGOs and even dead people by using their names and identities to give legitimacy to the fake stories that were subsequently circulated through mainstream Indian media outlets.

India’s efforts to shape international opinion in its favour and use every possible mean to discredit its adversaries is a result of growing conservative and nationalist ideology of Hindutva, which is based on centralized and intolerant Hinduism, or could be described as the rise of neo-Hinduism. This ideology promoted by organizations called Sangh Parivar comprising of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), teaches religious extremism and advocates for a Hindu nation which is devoid of other religions.     

India, under the increasing grip of Hindutva feels more emboldened to promote their interests by investing in these disinformation operations and intervening in election campaigns of other countries, to extract a favourable outcome from the elected leadership that is endorsed by India. PM Modi’s support for Trump’s re-election during a rally in Houston in Sep 2020, which was attended by 50,000 members of the Indian diaspora, was seen as one such blatant interference in the US presidential elections. The BJP supporters have also been accused of influencing the elections in UK, where India has a large diaspora that was mobilized against the Labour party and its candidates for maintaining anti-India stance and taking a principled position on Kashmir issue. 

India’s obsession to discredit Pakistan at the international level by using dubious sources of funding, is a well-known fact but most countries remain reluctant to take object to India’s illicit acts due to political sensitivities and avoid angering India. More recently, 44 Indian banks were identified for Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) by the US and reported to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). It is however unlikely that the international financial institutions like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) would take any punitive measures like it uses against Pakistan, mainly for political reasons on the behest of India and its major western allies.

India is also using its economic clout to influence public opinion in various capitals through its strong and vibrant diaspora who remain willing to promote and protect the Hindutva cause in key western capitals and also amongst some of the major Arab countries. Almost all major international think tanks have scholars with Indian origin who regularly provide input on South Asia from the Indian perspective. Several well reputed universities have dedicated India Institutes or the South Asian study centres headed either by Indian academics or western scholars with leaning towards India.

These entities are used as a base to sponsor commissioned studies and book projects with attractive funding and travel perks privileges. Interestingly, some of the institutes located at reputable international universities are often engaged by the foreign governments to give lectures and run courses on South Asia for their diplomats and government officials working at regional desks or are designated for diplomatic assignments in the region. As the EU DisinfoLab report has also revealed several scholars and lawmakers are often willing to lend their names to the articles in return for monetary benefits or support by the Indian diaspora. These articles are then published at dubious sources and later given wide circulation by the mainstream Indian media.

According to the recent EU report, there are several fake think tanks operating in various capitals such as London, Washington, Brussels, and Geneva. These are funded by entities that support and promote Indian interests, which leaves little doubt about the origin of their funding. The same platforms are usually made accessible to several anti-Pakistan elements who use it to malign Pakistan, and to others who are hired to spread disinformation from these platforms in return for monetary benefits. These entities are working under the full knowledge of western governments, but these are unlikely to make serious efforts that could prevent these illicit activities.

India’s anti-Pakistan obsession is deep seated and is unlikely to subside in the foreseeable future, especially under the current wave of militant nationalism supported by the BJP leadership. The next generation of politicians who are slated to take over the party are more radical and vocal in their hatred and blame everything on Pakistan. Some Indian ministers have also accused Pakistan for inciting the farmers who are protesting against India’s new discriminatory laws. The new breed of RSS inspired leadership is making its impression on national politics, which has encouraged some of the western diplomats posted in Delhi to visit RSS headquarters and seek their blessings.

The growing tide of militant nationalism in India hasn’t spared the military which had always taken pride in its secular traditions and remaining apolitical. The current Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat, who was handpicked by Modi for this new post in January this year, is proving himself to be more loyal to his political masters than his parent institution.

In a significant departure from the military tradition and show solidarity with the RSS, Gen Rawat did not attend annual Navy day and instead opted to attend a college function, which was presided over by BJP’s vocal and anti-Muslim Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath. Yogi, who is also the founder of Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organization that faces allegations and police charges for its involvement in communal riots, is slated to become India’s next Prime Minister when Modi decides to leave the office. Sensing the new direction that India has taken the senior military leadership considers it useful to maintain good relations with the BJP for their promotions and post-retirement benefits, which according to Lt Gen H S Panag, definitely needs a course correction and the senior leadership must “set an example for the rank and file, which is being seduced by neo-nationalism.”

India with the world’s second largest army, once radicalized by the RSS ideology could become a serious danger for India’s own existence as well as for the region. The growing turmoil within India owing to its own suppressive policies against the Muslims and Sikhs indicate that India is becoming more restless domestically as a result of failed policies and blaming every ill on its neighbours. Instead of wasting money and resources on creating false narratives about itself and its neighbours, India needs to seriously review its current approach which is creating more distrust and does not bode well for the regional stability.