ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Ideological Convergences: Hindutva and the Norway Massacre

Anders Breivik, the man who carried out the July 2011 massacre in Norway, counts the sanatana dharma movements in India among his allies in Europe's supposed war against Islam. His manifesto refers to Koenraad Elst, a well-known Belgian critic of Islam who is also a strong votary of Hindutva in India. In addition, many other Indian writers are also quoted by Breivik. This essay looks at the shared world view, agenda and history of this school of Hindutva, and the anti-Islamic European right.


Ideological Convergences: Hindutva and the Norway Massacre

Meera Nanda

Anders Breivik, the man who carried out the July 2011 massacre in Norway, counts the sanatana dharma movements in India among his allies in Europe’s supposed war against Islam. His manifesto refers to Koenraad Elst, a well-known Belgian critic of Islam who is also a strong votary of Hindutva in India. In addition, many other Indian writers are also quoted by Breivik. This essay looks at the shared world view, agenda and history of this school of Hindutva, and the anti-Islamic European right.

Meera Nanda ( is a visiting professor of History of Science at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali for 2011-2012.

n 22 July, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian, set off bombs in the heart of Oslo. He then went on a shooting spree on a nearby island where young members of the Labour Party were holding a summer camp. All told, he killed 77 people that day, many in their teens. He targeted the young people at that summer camp because he saw them as part of a multi-cultural left-wing cabal that was allowing a Muslim takeover of Norway. For him, they were the future “category A traitors” who had to be eliminated so that Europe could be “saved” from Islam.1

Even though Anders Breivik pulled the trigger, the massacre in Norway was by no means the work of Breivik alone. He is a product of years of immersion in a worldwide web of anti- Islamic ideas espoused by cultural nationalists of all stripes. The 1,518page manifesto titled 2083: European Declaration of Independence that he posted on the internet just before he went on his killing spree, is a handbook of anti-Islamic literature from all around the world.2

India figured quite prominently in this manifesto. So far, the India connection has been limited in the media reports to the 100-odd references to India, including Breivik’s ringing defence of sanatana dharma movements as allies of his war on Islam. The irony of a Muslim craftsman from Banaras embroidering the sword-through-the-skull badge for his army of “Knights Templars” modelled after 12th century Christian crusaders has also evoked much commentary.3

But there is a lot more to the India connection than meets the eye.

The ’New’ Hindu Right

It is not a coincidence that nearly all the references to India in the Norway manifesto come from writers associated with Voice of India, a Delhi-based publishing house. Since it was founded in 1981, Voice of India (VOI) has been deriding Islam (and Christianity as well) as demonic and violent “political ideologies” not d eserving the respect – and constitutional protections – reserved for religions. In recent years, VOI has emerged as the hub where the sanatana dharma movements make common cause with I slam-bashers, anti-Christian pagans, New Age seekers, deepecologists/eco-feminists and other disaffected right-wingers from Europe and the United States (US).4 The Norway manifesto reveals how totally enmeshed it has become in the worldwide network of “anti-Jihadi” groups.

VOI represents a significant hardening of the ideology of Hindu nationalism which is important for the secular left to understand.

Economic & Political Weekly

december 31, 2011 vol xlvi no 53

When it comes to explaining Hindutva’s European entanglements, the Indian commentators and historians tend to start and end with M S Golwalker, the Nazi-loving “supreme guide” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) from 1940-73. True to form, to explain the massacre in Norway, many Indian commentators have gone right back to We, Our Nationhood Defined, Golwalker’s notorious book that was published nearly a century ago in 1939. The infamous passage in which Golwalker praises Adolf Hitler for “...keeping up the purity of the race and culture, by purging [Germany] of the Semitic races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here…” is being cited as evidence that Hindu nationalists share a vocabulary of hate with E uropean fanatics like Breivik.5 The fact that RSS has formally withdrawn the book from Golwalker’s collected works and (at least formally) disowned any ideological affiliation with this particular book has not been fully appreciated by the critics.6

This fixation on Golwalker, however, overlooks the fact that, like anything else, fascism does not stand still. Right wing nationalisms in Europe and India have moved away from the rhetoric of racial purity to that of “clash of civilisations”. A case has been made by some (Bunzl 2005) that “anti-Semitism was invented in the 19th century to police the ethnically pure nation state”, while “Islamophobia is a formation of the present” whose purpose is to safeguard a supranational Europe’s “Judeo-Christian civilisation from a “fundamentally distinct and supposedly inassimilable culture of Islam”. Breivik and the VOI sources he cites see themselves as warriors in this war of civilisations. They are examples of “designer fascisms” that have learned to substitute biological racism with cultural racism, and to justify the latter in a seemingly liberal concern with saving democracy and secularism from cultures which are “inherently” incompatible with liberal ideals.7

Anders Breivik, for example, is firm in his support for the Jewish people and Israel: He counts being “pro-Israel, anti-racist, antifascist and anti-Nazi” as essential elements of his pan-European “crusader nationalism”. Indeed, he lays out plans on how to wean away young people who are attracted to racist groups and indoctrinate them into opposing “cultural Marxists” and Islamists instead. Even though he says he “fears the extinction of the Nordic genotype”, he is clearly not a classic white supremacist, as he is open to alliances with non-Muslim Asians and Jews. What he insists upon is the right of European people to enforce the “old rules of our culture” on religious minorities (a vast majority of whom are Muslims), feminists, gays and “cultural Marxists” who preach tolerance and equality for these minorities.

In India, too, a newer generation of Hindu nationalist has come of age that rages not against “Semitic races”, but against the “Semitic god” (the common god of the Torah, the Bible and the Koran) and the “monstrous” religions of the Semitic people – Islam, above all, followed some notches below by Christianity (but excluding Judaism which like Hinduism, is an ethic religion, does not proselytise and does not have much of a presence in I ndia). The racial angle, which in India (unlike in Germany) was always more a matter of cultural traditions passed down from hereditary ancestors than a matter of biological markers, has pretty much disappeared from the post-Golwalker Hindu right.

And as in the case of the European new right that Breivik r epresents, the new Hindu right is staunchly pro-Israel: India is now counted among the part of an “unwritten axis” with Israel and the US against “Islamic terrorism” (Prashad 2003). The selfstyled “anti-jihadists” in the US allied with George W Bush’s a dministration and the conservative Heritage Foundation have been pushing for a closer partnership with India.8

It is not race but a clash of civilisations – between dharmic and Abrahamic civilsations – that is central to the post-Golwalker Hindu right. This new Hindu right has been honing its radical critique of “Semitic monotheistic religions” from the perspective of “yogic spirituality”, largely through books published by the Delhi-based publishing house called “Voice of India” (VOI).

‘Intellectual Warriors’

VOI was founded in 1981 by two ardent Hindu revivalists and anti-Communists, Ram Swarup (1920-1993) and his friend, Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003). From the autobiographical account left behind by Goel, it appears that VOI was born out of frustration with what they saw as anti-intellectualism of RSS.9 They wanted to get rid of the borrowed concepts from the west: instead of judging Hinduism from the vantage point of monotheism (as was done by reformist movements like Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj), they wanted to reverse the gaze and “process and evaluate the heritage of these (monotheistic) creeds in terms of Hindu categories of thought…to evaluate other religions on the pristine premises of Sanatana dharma… ” (Goel 2000:9).

VOI’s goal is to produce baudhik kshatriyas or “intellectual warriors” who will defend the Hindu society against the triple “threat” of Islam, Christianity/westernisation and Marxism. The signature theme of VOI thinkers is that they blame all these three on the “defective” nature of the “Semitic” or Abrahamic god which makes monotheistic religions “inherently” intolerant, i ncurably violent and crassly materialistic, or “non-spiritual”. In contrast, Hindus are celebrated as the keepers of the “universal Aryan spirituality” in which god is not separate from the material world, and therefore, can be accessed in the human heart through yogic meditation.

According to VOI, it is built into the DNA of monotheistic religions to be intolerant, violent and materialistic. From this they conclude that it is not Muslims or Christians who are to be “blamed”, but rather, in Goel’s words, “criminal theologies masquerading as religions”. In other words, to the extent that Muslims take their religion seriously, they cannot help being violent and intolerant, or, that a “good Muslim” would make a bad Indian or a bad citizen of any multicultural society. This sentiment lies behind the mantra of VOI “the problem is not Muslims but Islam itself”. (Christianity and Judaism, the other two Abrahamic religions, are treated with kid gloves, relatively speaking. Even though the activities of Christian churches in India are condemned, Christianity itself is praised for having “evolved” by r ediscovering its pagan Greco-Roman roots and thereby becoming a “sister civilisation” of Hindus. Judaism is passed up in s ilence, as it does not have much of a presence in India.)10

Thus, VOI has taken it upon itself to add a theological dimension to Savarkar and Golwalker’s political ideology of Hindutva.

december 31, 2011 vol xlvi no 53


If, for Golwalker and company, the “problem” with Muslims was that they were not “Indianised” and loyal enough, for Ram Swarup, Sita Ram Goel and company, the “problem” with Muslims is the theology of the Koran itself.

The problem is that seeing the “other” through a theological lens renders their vices – and our virtues – eternal, god-given and inherent to the faith itself, and other than renouncing the faith, there is no hope for change. A primary focus on theology takes religions out of the stream of history, and into the realm of the timeless truths revealed once and for all by god or (in the Hindu case) “seen” by seers and sages. This eternalisation and essentialisation of faith traditions, as we see below, is what has allowed the convergence between Hindutva and the Islamophobes in the western world.

A note of explanation regarding the use of the word “Islamophobia” in this essay is called for. Influential secularists like S alman Rushdie (along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen and others), Kenan Malik, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have argued that the term Islamophobia should be retired as it is often used to silence the critics of Islam, including Muslims fighting for reform of their own communities, by accusing them of racism.11 They insist, correctly, that criticism of Islam (as of any other religion or any other ideology) is perfectly legitimate, while prejudice against Muslims is not. While one must fight against persecution of Muslim people everywhere, open societies must not clamp down on criticism of Islam itself.

This objection is sound in principle. But in practice, it is not that easy to separate prejudice against Muslim people from prejudice against Islam itself as somehow singularly evil and backward as compared to other religions. While criticism is legitimate, there are modes of criticism that can – and do – verge upon hatred and incite hatred. The Runnymede Trust report that d efined the word in 1997 laid out eight such criteria, widely accepted by social scientists, which turn the criticism of Islam from an “open to a ‘closed’ variety”.12 When Islam – or any religion, for that matter – is treated as a set of fixed dogmas, monolithic, incapable of change, and inherently oppressive to women and non-Muslims, the line between criticism of religious belief and racism is easily blurred: for how can you not be prejudiced against people who hold such beliefs?

So the term Islamophobia, understood as a particular kind of essentialist, ahistorical criticism of the theological beliefs of Islam, will be used in this essay to describe what is happening in Europe and India when it comes to Islam and Muslims. In fact, it will be argued that with VOI, Hindutva has become genuinely Islamophobic.

Western Friends of VOI

Evidence for the global reach of the VOI-school of Hindutva can be found in the Norway manifesto. Breivik proclaims grandly that his army of Knights Templar “support the Sanatana [sic] Dharma movements and Indian nationalists in general”. He b elieves that “the Sanatana Dharma movements are suffering persecution from the Indian cultural Marxists as are their European cousins”. These cultural Marxists, apparently, are holocaust deniers, or “negationists”, i e, they want to hide the “genocide” of Hindus at the hands of Muslims throughout Indian history. All

Economic & Political Weekly

december 31, 2011 vol xlvi no 53

the “authorities” that Breivik cites to argue in support of Hindu nationalist case come from the VOI lineage. Case in Point: The manifesto makes two references to a Belgian writer, Koenraad Elst. The first time Elst is mentioned is as the authority behind the highly contested claim that Muslims e nslaved Hindus and drove them to their death in the Hindu Kush mountain ranges. (This reference comes in an article by Srinandan Vyas that is reproduced in the manifesto.) The second reference to Elst appears in the “recommendations to the West” regarding how to make the life of Muslim minorities in Europe so difficult that they will either give up Islam or leave. Elst is quoted here to suggest that although Islam is in decline, it can still take over Europe before it collapses. (Here Elst is quoted in an article by Fjordman, the anonymous Norwegian blogger well known for his anti-Islamic views, and hugely admired by Breivik.)13

It so happens that Koenraad Elst has one foot firmly in the E uropean new right and the other foot in the Hindu new right spawned by the VOI-school. In the European context, Elst uses VOI-inspired arguments to put Islam down. In the Indian context, he brings his familiarity with Christianity (he is a Catholic) and his knowledge of the history of Nazism and other nationalist movements in Europe to bolster VOI’s war on the theology of monotheism.

In Europe, Elst is considered a “leading Orientalist” (as Fjordman calls him in the manifesto). He writes frequently for The Brussels Journal, a European nationalist, anti-Islamic blog that has a history of fomenting anti-Islamic ideas and that was cited repeatedly by Breivik in his manifesto. Elst has also worked with think-tanks and publications which are suspected of links with Belgium’s far right, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant party, Vlaam Belang.14 In his writings on The Brussels Journal, Elst has used arguments from Vivekananda, Swarup and Goel to persuade his readers that the best way to criticise the prophet is to show that the divine revelations of Prophet Mohammad were “born of deluded consciousness” unaided by true spirituality which is available only to yogis. What Elst proclaims as the “most fundamental critique of Islam” is a direct product of the theology of Hindutva developed by the founders of VOI.15 (This “yogic” critique of Islam is not cited by Breivik.)

In India, Elst is the darling of the Hindu right. He is held in great regard as the “intellectual heir” of Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel who practically took him under their wing when he was researching the Ayodhya conflict in the late 1980s. His book, Ram Janmabhoomi vs Babri Masjid: A Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict was published by VOI and released by L K Advani. VOI has published at least eight more of his books, and he is counted among VOI’s best-selling authors. He is the pioneer of the idea that Indian historians have conspired to negate or deny the alleged holocaust of Hindus by Muslims in India. No wonder his books (Negationism in India and Ayodhya and After) are cited as the real authority behind the essay on Hindu Kush reproduced by Breivik in his manifesto.

Apart from Elst, all the other Indian sources Breivik cites are affiliated with VOI. The late historian K S Lal is cited four times to make the case for Hindu holocaust from years 1000-1525 ce in which 80 million Hindus were supposedly killed by Muslims.

(One wonders why, if Muslims were so keen on annihilating the Hindus, did they remain a minority, never exceeding 25% of the total population of the Indian subcontinent throughout the Mughal empire when they were at the peak of their power, from around 1200 AD to 1857?).16 Sita Ram Goel himself makes an a ppearance in the manifesto in the context of Islamic oppression of Hindu dhimmis. N S Rajaram, VOI’s acclaimed “historian” is cited to make the ridiculous claim that “the wounds inflicted by centuries of Islamic rule on a large segment of the Indian intelligentsia and the political class have been so debilitating that they continue to live in a state of constant fear”! Rajaram posts quite regularly on Jihad Watch, one of the most notorious anti-Islamic websites and a major resource for the Norway manifesto. R ajaram is a part of a coterie of amateurs, mostly living in the US, who have taken it upon themselves to write revisionist histories of ancient India claiming to show India as the cradle of Aryan civilisation with many great scientific achievements.17

VOI has quite a few other European and American fellow travellers apart from Elst. Among the more notable is David Frawley (aka Vamadev Shastri), an American convert to Hinduism, who teaches Ayurveda and Vedic astrology in the US. Like Elst, Frawley follows Ram Swarup and Goel in decrying Islam and Christianity as inherently intolerant and fit only for “lower” intellects. Like Elst again, Frawley tops the VOI bestseller list. Francois Gautier, a follower of Sri Aurobindo, and more recently of Sri Sri Ravishankar, is another VOI author who had a long career with the French newspaper La Figaro, which has been described as the mouthpiece of the French new right. Gautier is the brain behind the idea of creating a museum showcasing the Hindu “holocaust” at the hands of Muslims. A collection of his “Ferengi’s Columns” has been published by VOI. VOI has also published Daniel Pipes, a well-known American critic of Islam, who also finds many mentions in Breivik’s manifesto. Well-known classics of anti-Islamic literature including William Muir’s The Life of Mohamet and David Margoliouth’s Mohammed and the Rise of Islam dating back to the 19th century have also been reprinted under the VOI imprint.

In addition to nurturing radical critics of Islam and Christianity, the founding fathers of VOI also tried to encourage the revival of pre-Christian and pre-Islamic pagan religions on the assumption that these ancient Indo-European religions shared the polytheism and ritualism of Hinduism. Ram Swarup personally mentored neopagans from many parts of Europe including Lithuania, Russia, Britain, Ireland, Iceland and Belgium (including Elst himself, who at one time harboured pagan sympathies). VOI’s overtures to neopagans have not been terribly fruitful, as the nationalism favoured by “indigenous Europeans”, who want to bring back pre-Christian gods of “blood-and-soil” has been overtaken by an openly anti-Islamic “Crusader nationalism” exemplified by Breivik.18

The Common Enemies: The ‘Cultural Marxists’

Now that Breivik’s manifesto has revealed the names of anti-Islamic authors, bloggers, websites and groups that shaped his thinking, the great washing of hands has begun. Just about everyone named by Breivik has issued stern statements distancing themselves from his violent deeds. Elst posted a statement stating that “the Brussels Journal never ever carried calls to counter Islam by means of bombs or shoot-outs, whether of Muslims or non-Muslims. It carried criticism of Islam, but that is a perfectly legitimate exercise”.19 In India, the response of the Hindu right has varied from total denial of any connection, to decrying the violence but supporting the reasons why he did it, to utter shock (as expressed by Praveen Togadia of Vishwa Hindu Parishad) that anyone would be so “absurd” to even think of “linking European right-wing thinking with the most ancient Hindu cultural ideology”. (The parallels with denials of linking Hinduism with acts of terrorism committed by Hindutvawadis are striking.)

Decrying the violence is necessary but not sufficient, because the agenda of the Islamophobic right is much larger than spilling blood in the streets. As he makes it clear over and over again, Breivik’s primary objective was to “create a platform to consolidate anti-Marxist forces before Europe is overwhelmed demographically by Muslims”. In other words, his first priority was to take down the “cultural Marxists”, or multiculturalists, who are supposedly “appeasing” Muslims. (Going by the hysteria over the Muslims, one could never guess that Muslims make up barely 2% of 4.5 million citizens of Norway!)

This must surely sound familiar to Indian ears where the Hindu right has turned even those policies that do nothing more than safeguard the constitutional rights of Muslims as citizens of India as “appeasing” them. Indeed, Breivik advises his Hindu n ationalist brothers to first go after the so-called appeasers, the “cultural Marxist government” and its left-wing sympathisers – the “category A and B traitors”, respectively – and only later r esort to the “counterproductive” street attack on Muslims. So the “appeasement” of Muslims is the problem that Hindus and the European right share. But in India (as we see in the next s ection), the Marxists are not the only enemies: The Hindu right also targets the founding mantra of Indian secularism, namely, “Sarva dharma sama bhava” (“equal regard for all religions”).

What do Breivik and his comrades have against the so-called “cultural Marxists”? The problem with cultural Marxists, Breivik says, is that they are egalitarian and want to create “a society not merely of equal opportunity, but of equal condition”. Channelling his “favourite author”, Fjordman, Breivik blames these cultural egalitarians for creating state policies that ensure that “all groups of people should have an equal share of everything”. This is c reating a culture in which all minorities (“Muslims, feminist women, homosexuals”) are treated as “victims” deserving state assistance, and all ethnic Christian European men are treated as “evil”. Cultural Marxists in European governments, he says, “lay penalties on the native European men who disagree with them and give privileges to the “victim” groups they favour”.

Blaming multiculturalism for social ills of Europe has become quite fashionable in the mainstream of European political discourse. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and France President Nicholas Sarkozy have all declared multiculturalism to be a failure in their societies. Many otherwise respectable commentators (e g, editors of the Jerusalem Post) have treated discontent with multiculturalism to be a “legitimate concern” which should not be delegitimised after the Norway attacks. Koenraad Elst expresses the sentiment of the

december 31, 2011 vol xlvi no 53


right when he declares that the multiculturalist left has “never had a better friend than the lone Norwegian terrorist” because he has given them a second wind even as they were losing political support in the mainstream of Europe.20

Targeting multiculturalism as turning Europe into “Eurabia”, encouraging “Islamic terrorism” and/or cultural backwardness is more a reflection of the prejudices of those who make such claims than of the complex cultural history of Europe, which for most part, has been stridently monocultural. Contrary to the notion that European states embraced multiculturalism to encourage different communities to “live happily side by side and be happy living with each other” (to quote Angela Merkel), the official policy of European states has been guided more by the hope that the Muslim “guest workers” would pack up and leave. If in the beginning, countries like France and Germany favoured school instruction in Arabic or Turkish, it was not out of multicultural correctness but because these immigrants were expected to go back to Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and wherever else they had come from.

When it became clear that the immigrants were here to stay, most western European countries extended no special favours for Muslims than those that were already a part of their national policies for accommodating the existing religious minorities of Catholics and Jews. As John Bowen, the author of Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State and Public Space reminds us, most Muslim communities have “adapted to the national opportunity structures…Like Catholics and Jews before them, Muslims build religious schools and associations – usually with external financial aid – and get involved in elections… Muslims are adapting like everyone else and are divided like everyone else” (Bowen 2010). If in the United Kingdom (uk), Muslims are getting state funds for schools, so are Catholics and Anglicans who, B owen (2011) correctly reminds us, only admit students who r egularly attend a Catholic or an Anglican church. Hindus, too, run their own state funded school in UK where all the students are Hindus who eat vegetarian food, do yoga, sing bhajans in praise of Lord Krishna and read the Bhagvat Gita as a part of the curriculum.21 If in France registered Islamic religious societies get free lease of state-owned land and state-backed loans to build mosques it is no different from the support the state extends to churches and synagogues as a well-established practice of French secularism (Bowden 2007, ch 3). There is no “appeasement” of I slam, only a fulfilment of Muslim migrants’ legal rights as citizens.

The hysteria over multiculturalist mollycoddling is combined with an assumption that unlike other minorities, Muslims either do not want to, or are incapable of, adapting to the post-Christian cultural values of Europe. As long as they are good Muslims, the argument goes, they cannot be good Europeans (or Americans or Indians, etc). This is sheer prejudice. Muslims in Europe are not a monolithic block: as any other minority, some are more religious and traditional than others, some better equipped than others to confront the biases and make use of the opportunities. Polls after polls have shown that overall Muslim communities in Europe are more likely to vote and show a higher level of trust in the government than the general public.

What is more, as Marieme Helie Lucas, an Algerian sociologist living in France, has affirmed in her many writings, “the most

Economic & Political Weekly

december 31, 2011 vol xlvi no 53

determined and outspoken defenders of secularism (in France) today are citizens of Muslim descent, among them numerous women”.22 Lucas points out a fact that often gets lost, namely, that women of Muslim origin in France took an active part in supporting the French ban on headscarves in schools and the recent ban on burquas in public. Nearly half of the Muslim community was in favour of these bans – hardly a picture of unchanging Muslims incurably attached to their traditions and religious doctrines.

The Islamophobic mainstream notwithstanding, the reality is more complex as revealed in a political crisis in France. As Olivier Roy, one of the most well-regarded scholar of Islam in France r eminds us, in September 2004, in the middle of war on Iraq, a radical Islamist group took two French reporters hostage. The hostage-takers demanded that the French government annuls the law that banned headscarves in schools. The Muslims of France massively rejected this demand and stood with the French government against giving in to the hostage takers. As Roy asks, “what more could be asked for?” (2007: 97).

The right wing has created a bogey of multiculturalism. It is much easier to blame the “outsiders” and their religion than face up to the real crisis that western economies are facing as a result of outsourcing and liberalisation.

War on Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava

Resolute opposition to the ideal of multiculturalism – a society where more than one cultures and religions can co-exist as equals – is what unites the European Islamophobes with their VOI counterparts in India. Things are, however, relatively more complicated in India where religious pluralism expressed by the G andhian dictum of sarva dharma sama bhava (“equal regard for all religions”), has been understood as the foundational assumption of modern Indian secularism.

The traditional Hindu right centred on the RSS and its parivar, has long paid rather hypocritical and self-serving lip service to this doctrine of equal respect. The new Hindu right represented by VOI has declared an open war on sarva dharma sama bhava. The old Hindutva “merely” went after Muslims but treated Islam itself as a legitimate religion which satisfied the spiritual needs of its adherents, just as Hinduism did for the Hindus. The new Hindutva aspires not merely to subdue Muslims, but to “free” or “deprogramme” their minds from the evil doctrines of Islam. In this, VOI’s project overlaps almost entirely with that of “anti-Jihadists” in the west who have taken it upon themselves to, as Breivik puts it (through Fjordsman again), “go on an anti-Sharia defensive” which will involve “educating” non-Muslims and Muslims about the “real” teachings of Islam.

The Sangh parivar (what we have called the “old” Hindu nationalism in this essay) is perhaps unique among right-leaning religious nationalist movements in the world for officially embracing a doctrine of religious pluralism and tolerance, namely, sarva dharma sama bhava. In practice, the Sangh has managed to turn the doctrine on its head, using it as a tool of chauvinism and anti-minoritism. Right from the founding of the republic, Hindu traditionalists managed to reinterpret Indian secularism

– which in reality was a defiant break from Hindu caste rules in matters of temple entry and access to religious learning – as an affirmation of ancient Hindu dharma which taught that there were many paths to truth and many routes to spiritual salvation. This interpretation, which Mani Shankar Aiyar (2004:244) has correctly called a “communal heresy”, which says that equal treatment of all religions is not constitutional law, but only an expression of Hindu ethos, has allowed the Hindu right to claim that Hinduism itself is the best guarantor of secularism in India. By presenting Hinduism as inherently and eternally secular, this “heresy” also protects Hinduism from any further reform or r ational criticism. What is more, the Hindu right has been able to oppose any and all concessions to religious minorities as contrary to the equal treatment of all religions and therefore “pseudosecularist”. One can safely say that the Gandhian mantra of multiculturalism and pluralism has, perversely, served the interests of Hindu nationalists quite well.

If there is one thing that distinguishes the VOI school from the Sangh parivar it is its resolute rejection of sarva dharma sama bhava doctrine. The militants of VOI are adamantly opposed to the idea that all religions deserve equal respect. Even paying lipservice to this ideal, as RSS and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have always done, appears like an unbearable betrayal of the Hindu cause to them – and they lambast the RSS for this in no uncertain term, calling it a “paper tiger”, and a “big dinosaur with a small brain”, etc (Goel 1997). Hinduism, they assert, is not any ordinary religion, but rather contains the very essence of religion itself: it is sanatana dharma, eternal cosmic truth. To equate Hindu dharma, this supposed “mother of all religions”, with violent “creeds” like Islam amounts to equating dharma with adharma, the ways of the devas (gods) with the ways of the asuras (demons), the “higher” and “purer” spirituality with “darker” and baser human interests. The contemptuous and insulting tone is clear from the following statements of Sita Ram Goel:

A serious mistake that Hindu society has committed is to keep on repeating the slogan of sarva dharma sama bhava with regard to Islam and Christianity... To entertain sama bhava (equal regard) towards Islam and Christianity, by giving them the status of dharma is, to extend invitation to doom…. A study of the scriptures, traditions and history of Islam and Christianity makes it more than evident that these ideologies are not worthy of being called dharma in any sense of the word. Contrary to this, they are brimful of imperialistic ambition. By accepting them as dharma, it becomes impossible to resist their imperialistic expansion (1999:28).

Another VOI author, Abhas Chatterjee, associates Islam with “spiritual degradation” and “demonic traits” and declares that an equal respect for Islam would be tantamount to “blasphemy”:

Islam is out and out adharma….Sanatana Dharma makes ample distinctions between dharma and adharma, between spiritual elevation and spiritual degradation. Following a path of adharma of tƗmsik vrittis (traits of darkness) or asuri vrittis (demonic traits) can only lead a person away from the God of Sanatana Dharma. If anything can be considered a blasphemy in Hindu spirituality, it is to equate dharma and adharma (Chatterjee in Goel 1997: 59, 66).

Apart from sheer contempt for Abrahamic faiths, there are p olitical reasons for why the militants want to bury the rhetoric of “equal respect”. If all religions are of equal worth, then why oppose religious conversions? If all paths to god are equally good, why should not people have the right and the freedom to choose one path to god over another? This undercuts their rabid opposition to religious conversions – unless, of course, it is conversion to Hinduism. Moreover, the question “why, if all religions are equally good, prefer Hinduism and not any other religion?” is b eginning to exercise Hindus living outside India who worry that their children will leave the Hindu fold. The non-resident Hindus are looking for a firmer definition of Hinduism that they can teach their children. An even bigger issue that vexes the new right is that if Hinduism is seen as just one more religion, at par with Islam or Christianity, then Hindus can stake no special claim on India. In their book, Hinduism is not just a religion, but rather the national culture of India that all Indians, regardless of their religious faith, must respect and adopt.

The Timidity of the Sangh

The VOI writers do not stop at lambasting the old guard, but go on to ask: Why has the Sangh parivar bought into this whole business of “equality of religions”? Why has it not been “fanatical enough”?

Sangh parivar is not fanatical enough, they assert, because it has not been intellectual enough. RSS and BJP are accused of “merely” reducing India’s Muslim and Christian “problem” to the foreign origin of their faiths and their holy lands which lie in Saudi Arabia and Palestine and not in India. As Koenraad Elst put it, the old Sangh parivar “reduces an ideological confrontation between religions to a purely political confrontation between n ations”, but does not take the next step of debunking the truth claims of their theological doctrines (2001:292) which he routinely labels “false” and “monstrous”.23 What is needed, the new right insists, is an open denunciation of the theological dogmas of Islam, Christianity and indeed, of Marxism and all modern doctrines of liberalism from a distinctively Hindu world view. Only then will modern Hindus be able to “decolonise their minds” of all alien ways of thinking. Only then, presumably, will Hinduism come into its own as a civilisational force around the world.

What Hindus need, and what the Sangh parivar has failed to provide, are “intellectual (baudhik) kshatriyas”, or an intellectual warrior caste, that will openly declare war on monotheistic “creeds” for the express purpose of “world conquest” of Hindu dharma. The term “intellectual kshatriya”, which has become a staple among the new militants, was introduced by David Frawley, a superstar of VOI. Frawley may have coined the term, but the idea that Hindu society needs to be defended against “ideological aggression” from Islam, Christianity and Marxism has been around for much longer, propagated most assiduously by Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup.

The Frawley-Goel-Ram Swarup camp lays out a plan of action for Hindu intellectual warriors. First and foremost, they have to give up thinking in the conceptual categories of their “enemies,” namely, all monotheist creeds, including the secularised ones like Marxists and Nehruvian secularists. (They see Marxism and liberalism as merely secularised version of monotheism.) On the contrary, Hindus are asked to turn the tables and put monotheism under a critical scrutiny from a Hindu perspective. The Hindus are exhorted to

…process and evaluate the heritage of these creeds and ideologies in terms of Hindu categories of thought… Hindus have to reawaken to the sublime spirituality of their own Sanatan dharma and base their

december 31, 2011 vol xlvi no 53


evaluation of the other religions and cultures on its pristine premises (Goel 2000: 14). The second duty of intellectual warriors is to “cure” Muslims of the “disease” of Islam by “exposing” the falsehood of Islamic theology from the vantage point of “yogic spirituality”. To get a flavour of the violent passions that energise this crowd, consider the following statement by Abhas Chatterjee:

Islam is an anti-culture. It is an enemy culture, a parasite culture... In fact, Islam is the culprit, the Muslims its victims. Islam holds the Muslims prisoners to a life of hatred, bigotry, intellectual slavery and unspirituality… Islam is the disease, Muslim is the diseased. Islam is the drug, Muslim is the addict (Chatterjee in Goel 1997:51).

To add insult to injury, the Hindutva Islamophobes insist they are doing a favour to Muslims, and to the world at large, by denouncing Islam from a distinctively Hindu or yogic spirituality perspective. They will be “rescuing” and “liberating” Muslims from the “prison house” of Islam and they will be offering the whole world a unique gift of yoga and spirituality which will supposedly heal the modern world. Again the sheer hatefulness of the rhetoric is worth noticing:

Muslims of Bharatvarsha would start returning to the Hindu fold only when they realise how obnoxious a doctrine Islam is, how false and fraudulent, how degrading and dehumanising, how unethical and superficial. History has bestowed a role on Hindu nation to help Muslims discover that Islam is not a religion at all but a political doctrine propounded to serve Muhammad’s imperial, political and occasionally carnal interest… that Islam is a prison house that deprives them of their freedom of thought, powers of reasoning and qualms of conscience… When, and only when, Muslims find out the reality of Muhammad and his creed, they would start walking out of Islam and feed proud to join their ancestral culture (Chatterjee in Goel 1997: 64-5).

So rather than “appease” Muslims by pretending to “respect” their religion, Hindus need to come out swinging and denounce

Islam itself.


1 A much shorter, popular version of this theme first appeared in my essay, “Spiritual Bedfellows: The Norway Massacre and the Indian Connection”, Open, 6 August 2011.

2 Breivik’s manifesto can be found at http://www. All of Breivik’s quotes are from this manifesto.

3 See Praveen Swami, “Norwegian Mass Killer’s Manifesto Hails Hindutva”, The Hindu, 26 July 2011 and Vinay Kumar, “ Norway Killer Sourced Crusader Badge from Varanasi”, The Hindu, 26 July 2011.

4 More details of Voice of India can be found in Nanda (2009).

5 See for example, Saba Naqvi, “From Oslo to Nagpur: Right-wingers across the World Seem to Share a Vocabulary of Persecution and Hate”, Outlook, 8 August 2011.

6 See Jyotirmaya Sharma (2007) for details on withdrawal of We, or Our Nationhood Defined from the collected works of Golwalker. Sharma, however, accepts RSS’ claims at face values that the book was not even written by Golwalker, but by the elder brother of V D Savarkar, Ganesh Damodar Savarkar. Shamsul Islam (2006) contradicts this claim and shows that Ganesh Damodar was the author of an entirely different book, titled Rashtra Meemansa for which Golwalker wrote an introduction. This is not to deny that even without this notorious book, Golwalker’s “terrifying

Economic & Political Weekly december 31, 2011

The Twain Meet

This vehement and hateful attack on Islam is what unites Hindu Islamophobes with their European comrades.

The best representative of this union is none other than K oenraad Elst. He has celebrated the “theological turn” introduced by Ram Swarup, Sita Ram Goel and Arun Shourie as a “revolutionary breakthrough” in which “Hindu thought has come into its own after centuries of either being of a provincial and unconvincing quality, or being in the shadow of the ideologies occupying the seat of political hegemony, chiefly Islam and a string of European imports, now united under the umbrella of ‘secularism’” (2001:2).

Elst himself has been a staunch champion of VOI’s project of “curing” Muslims of Islam. In an interview with Ramesh Rao, one of his many admirers among the NRI community in the US, Elst supports the VOI line that “Muslims have to be talked out of I slam”. He went on to assert that “We should help Muslims in freeing themselves from Islam…Every Muslim is a Sita who must be released from Ravana’s prison”.24

This is exactly the agenda of the Norway killer – to “educate” the Norwegian society, including the Muslim immigrants – that “Islam is not a religion but a political ideology”. This is the “non-violent” component of the “crusade” against Islam in Europe: to create an environment so hostile that practice of Islam becomes difficult and that Muslims have no choice to either leave or to give up their faith.

Indeed, if there was any doubt about the shared ground b etween the VOI and European Islamophobes, Elst gives the same advice – in almost the same words – to the Norway killer as he does to his Indian admirers. The solution to the “Islam problem” is not to use violence, “but to liberate the Muslims from the mental prisonhouse of Islam… there is no reason to let our Muslim fellowmen as prisoners of the deluded belief system imposed by Mohammed”.

This war against the teachings of Islam is the real story behind the “India connection” to the Norway massacre.

vision”, as Sharma calls it, shared many features of fascist thinking, including his ultra-nationalism, illiberalism and Hindu supremacy.

7 Richard Wolin (2004) uses the term “designer fascism” to describe the ideology of the French new right.

8 See Robert Spencer, “India: Our Partner against Jihad”, spencer-india-our-partner-against-jihad.html

9 Sita Ram Goel has left many interesting details in his autobiography How I Became a Hindu, which throw light on the origins and goals of VOI. Goel and Swarup traversed a political and intellectual journey that took them from their north Indian, middle-class, Delhi University milieu to first Gandhian socialism, followed by atheism and socialism (Swarup) and communism (Goel). By the 1950s, however, Ram Swarup had succeeded in arguing his friend out of communism and both of them became ardent anti-communists. Ram Swarup worked for Democratic Research Service, an anticommunist think-tank founded by Sardar Patel with financial support from the Birla industrial house. He later joined his friend Sita Ram who had started a society for the defence of freedom in Asia, which had many RSS sympathisers.

In his memoir, Goel writes of his search for a “positive frame of reference” against Communism. He found it in nationalism, with the idea of nation standing in for Hinduism. By early 1970s, Ram Swarup was already a committed Hindu nationalist. Both of them gave up party politics and took

vol xlvi no 53

on the meta-political project of confronting the cultural foundations of Nehruvian secularism with a distinctive Hindu world view. While they continued to work with RSS, they were dissatisfied with the Sangh’s unwillingness to develop a “fullblooded Hindu ideology” and have it confront the “enemies” of India, namely, Islam, Christianity and Marxism. While they continued to write for The Organiser, the RSS newspaper, their relationship with the Sangh parivar remained fraught with tension since RSS thought they went too far in their tirades against Islam and Christianity.

10 Girilal Jain (1994) for post-Renaissance Christianity as a “sister civilisation”.

11 For Salman Rushdie et al, see “Full Text: Writers’ Statement on Cartoons” at uk/2/hi/europe/4764730.stm; for Kenan Malik, see “The Islamophobia Myth” at http://www. html,; For Christopher Hitchens, “Facing the Islamic menace,” 17_1_urbanities-steyn.html, and Sam Harris on why Islam is different from other faiths, in “What Obama got wrong about the mosque”, at http:// ground-zero-mosque.html

12 The Runnymede Trust identified eight components of Islamophobia which are widely accepted, including by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. The eight components are reproduced here from Islamophobia Watch at: http://www.islamophobia-watch.

com/islamophobia-a-definition: (1) Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change. (2) Islam is seen as separate and “other”. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them. (3) Islam is seen as inferior to the west. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist. (4) Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a “clash of civilisations”. (5) Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage. (6) Criticisms made of the west by Islam are rejected out of hand. (7) Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society. (8) Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

13 “Fjordman” turned out to be Peder Jensen, a 36-year-old from Alesund, Norway. He revealed his identity after he was questioned by the police in connection with Breivik’s violence. See “Unmasked: The Far-Right Blogger Idolised by Breivik”

14 According to the biographical details provided by Elst himself, he is a Dutch-speaking (Flemish) Catholic by birth. After a youthful fling with New Age, he seems to have developed an interest in neopaganism and landed in India where he stayed from 198892 working on his doctoral thesis on Hindu revivalism, for which he was awarded a PhD from Catholic University, Leuven. That is when he wrote his first book on Ayodhya that brought him in close contact with Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup. It is not clear when his interest in the French New Right, Nouvelle Droite and its think tank, GERCE began – he only mentions an “initial sympathy in early 1990”. But public records show that his association went beyond mere “sympathy”: from 1992 to 1995, he served as the co-editor of TeKoS, the Belgian New Right journal. TeKoS is well-known as a sister organisation of GERCE and loosely associated with the Flemish extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant party Vlaam Belang. Indeed, the editor-in-chief of TeKoS, Luc Pauwels, was one of the founding members of Vlaam Belang.

15 See, Elst “Lessons To Be Learned: How to Criticise the Prophet”, at http://www. Brusselsjournal. com/node806, and Elst, “Wahi: The Supernatural Basis of Islam” at

16 From Mani Shankar Aiyar (2004:46).

17 Rajaram’s doctoring of Harappan seals in order to support the Hindu nationalist pet theory of Aryans being indigenous to India was exposed by Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer (2000).

18 For more details on how Hinduism was sold to deep ecologists and neopagans from the west, see Nanda (2005).

19 Elst, “If Only Anders Breivik Had Read the Brussels Journal” at http://koenraadelst.blogspot. com/2011/07/if-only-anders-beirvik-had-read. html

20 For Jerusalem Post editorial, see http://www. 230788. For Elst, see “If Only Anders Breivik Had Read the Brussels Journal” at http://koenraadelst.

21 See “Inside Britain’s First Hindu State-funded Faith School”, The Independent, 21 June 2009 at education-news/inside-britains-first-hindu-statefunded-faith-school-1711566.html

22 Marieme Helie Lucas, “Secularsim vs Communalism: Learning from the Ban on Full Face Covering in France”, 15 April 2011, Secularism Is a Women’s Issue (

23 As if Islam is the only religion with false theological beliefs! Can anyone with a fair mind say that Hinduism lacks its fair share of falsehoods and mindboggling superstitions? All religions are indeed equal, in that they are all equally false and equally in need for rational critique and secularisation.

24 The interview is available at http://koenraadelst.


Aiyar, Mani Shankar (2004): Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist (New Delhi: Penguin-Viking).

Bowen, John R (2011): “Europeans against Multiculturalism: Political Attacks Misread History, Target Muslims and May Win Votes”, Boston Review, July/August.

Bowen, John R (2010): “Nothing to Fear: Misreading Muslim Immigration to Europe”, Boston Review, 1 February.

– (2007): Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State and Public Space (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).

Bunzl, Matti (2005): “Between Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Some thoughts on the New Europe”, American Ethnologist, Vol 32(4): 499-508.

Elst, Koenraad (2001): Decolonising the Hindu Mind: Ideological Development of Hindu Revivalism (New Delhi: Rupa).

Goel, Sita Ram (1982): How I Became a Hindu (New Delhi: Voice of India).

  • ed., (1997): Time for Stock-taking: Whither Sangh Parivar (New Delhi: Voice of India).
  • (1999): India’s Secularism: New Name for National Subversion (New Delhi: Voice of India).
  • (2000): Defence of Hindu Society (New Delhi: Voice of India). Islam, Shamsul (2006): Golwalker’s We, or Our Nationhood Defined: A Critique (New Delhi: Pharos). Jain, Girilal (1994): The Hindu Phenomenon (Delhi: UBSPD).
  • Nanda, Meera (2009): “Hindu Triumphalism and Clash of Civilisations”, Economic & Political Weekly, 11 July.
  • (2005): The Wrongs of the Religious Right (New Delhi: Three Essays Collective). Prashad, Vijay (2003): Namaste Sharon (New Delhi: Leftword). Roy, Olivier (2007): Secularism Confronts Islam (New York: Columbia University Press). Sharma, Jyotirmaya (2007): Terrifying Vision: M S Golwalker, RSS and India (New Delhi: Viking). Witzel, Michael and Steve Farmer (2000): “Horseplay in Harappa”, Frontline, 30 September-13 October.
  • Wolin, Richard (2004): Seductions of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism, from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).


    May 21, 2011

    A Case for Reframing the Cash Transfer Debate in India – Sudha Narayanan Mexico’s Targeted and Conditional Transfers: Between Oportunidades and Rights – Pablo Yanes Brazil’s Bolsa Família: A Review – Fabio Veras Soares Conditional Cash Transfers as a Tool of Social Policy – Francesca Bastagli Cash Transfers as the Silver Bullet for Poverty Reduction: A Sceptical Note – Jayati Ghosh PDS Forever? – Ashok Kotwal, Milind Murugkar, Bharat Ramaswami Impact of Biometric Identification-Based Transfers – Arka Roy Chaudhuri, E Somanathan The Shift to Cash Transfers: Running Better But on the Wrong Road? – Devesh Kapur

    For copies write to: Circulation Manager,

    Economic and Political Weekly,

    320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013. email:

    december 31, 2011 vol xlvi no 53

    Dear Reader,

    To continue reading, become a subscriber.

    Explore our attractive subscription offers.

    Click here


    To gain instant access to this article (download).

    Pay INR 200.00

    (Readers in India)

    Pay $ 12.00

    (Readers outside India)

    Back to Top