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(First published on June 20th, 2020)
Unchecked renegade ideologies can prove expensive. Usually called into existence by political expediency to meet some short-term goals, these ideologies are soon abandoned. But unlike computer subroutines, they never truly go away. They keep growing in the background, mutating, multiplying until we meet them again with their full devastating impact. And by then it is too late.

Take the example of Al Qaeda. Who doesn’t know how it came into being? The desire to defeat the USSR in Afghanistan witnessed huge investment in a fanatical, xenophobic, and often perverted ecosystem of religious militantism by the Western and Arab world. With the Soviet withdrawal and collapse this lethal brand was left behind to simmer and the only man (Zia) who could do anything about dismantling the infrastructure was killed in a plane crash with a long list of insiders. No one else either had an insight or moral courage to confront it. It kept simmering and inventing excuses to hate more people. Finally, 9/11 blew the lid off this lethal mix. But who was the worst victim of this deadly phenomenon? Fellow Muslims.

Nazi Germany is another example of a renegade ideology gone wild. In the early years, Hitler was viewed as the right idea to defeat the USSR. A host of European and American businessmen bankrolled his steady rise. The then German establishment also chipped in. But then what happened? Who was the greatest victim? Germans and Europeans. Renegade ideologies flourish in desolate, broken, polarised, anarchic places going through identity crises. The post-WWI Germany was one. The post-Cold War Muslim world was another. But does a third one come to mind?

We can say that India before independence was another. Before I qualify that assessment, let me tell you of an interesting conversation I came across a few years ago to establish some context. In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, when concerns about the rise of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the so-called alt-right were rife, in the free-flowing stream of Twitter a Western friend shared the screenshot of a social media conversation between a neo-Nazi account and an Indian Hindutva fanatic. The Indian fanatic was suggesting to the neo-Nazi that once his/her organisation had conquered the world, their Aryan brothers would help them rule the world. In response, the Nazi thug curtly said that if the Indians learned their lowly place and behaved the organisation would let them live. This brief conversation, in my view, epitomises the challenge facing humanity right now and rightfully left an indelible mark in my mind.

Let us now go to pre-independence India for some answers. In this space for the past seven years, I have regularly written about various RSS ideologues. Even if you did not know much about Indian history and have been paying attention you must be well acquainted with names like Golwalkar, Hedgewar, Savarkar, and Godse. But have you heard of Hitler’s Priestess? It is highly unlikely that you have. It is a book by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke about one Savitri Devi Mukherjee. Before I introduce the subject let us build a bit of suspense. The said Savitri Devi is quite a cultural and philosophical icon in the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and other far-right circles. Her book The Lightening and the Sun was published by the same publishing house National Vanguard Books (later National Alliance) whose owner wrote and published the Turner Diaries. Her works keep appearing across the white nationalist ecosystem and some of the alt-right websites like Crosscurrents curate her work as lovingly as they would of Hitler himself.

Born Maximiani Julia Portas of English-Greek-French origin and a PhD in liberal arts, her quest for a hierarchal society, Europe’s Aryan pagan identity, and fondness for Hitler brought her to India in the early 1930s. She learned Indian languages, converted to Hinduism whose caste system she heartily approved of, and became a preacher. Being a preacher of monism and her rejection of the Judeo-Christianity accorded her a unique pulpit with a decisive influence on the Hindu nationalist and revivalist movements like the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha in an India and Hindu community craving for identity. She considered Hitler to be an avatar of Vishnu. Those who are not acquainted with one of three key Hindu deities, Lord Vishnu’s other avatars include Lords Rama and Krishna. Hitler was sent by the providence whose eventual sacrifice would bring an end to the Kali Yuga (the dark age). While Devi, who spied for the Axis powers in the second great war and eventually tied the knot in a ‘chaste marriage’ to a ‘proper’ upper-caste Hindu and an Indian Nazi Asit Krishna Mukherji to avoid deportation is rightly celebrated by the neo-Nazis, surprisingly in India her name is carefully kept out of the mainstream discourse. Perhaps, because she is a secretive symbol of the RSS’s true ambitions. If you come across her name in cultural phenomena like Viacom series Savitri Devi College and Hospital you should know the Hindutva lot is having a cryptic laugh at your expense. Other books like Krish Manjapra’s Age of Entanglement on interactions between the Indian and German cultures do tell you of Devi’s interactions among many other things.

It is evident why she would be such a huge icon in the neo-Nazi lore and Indian far-right may support her in the vain hope of getting an approval in Nazi circles. But as was revealed by an interesting televised interaction between Dr Fareed Zakaria and the white nationalist ideologue Jared Taylor, the alt-right does not see Indians as Aryans. They laugh at the idea. If you have read the Harry Potter books, the relationship at best is that of Lord Voldemort and Wormtail, whose sole purpose is a betrayal of his own, to sacrifice one of his hand for the rebirth of the dark lord and be the abject subject of scorn whilst he is allowed to live.

Indian diaspora is an enterprising community. It integrates well and the second-generation Indian immigrants are the life and blood of Western societies. But through an infusion of new immigrants with Hindutva indoctrination, elaborate funding through Hindu charities, and an alliance with the alt-right, the RSS and its western Hindutva counterparts are trying to hijack the community through blackmailing and emotional manipulation. Whether they are being used as a sacrificial lamb or for something more sinister this seriously puts the community in harm’s way and makes them the subject of double whammy from their own and the alt-right. The Hindutva network’s funding of far-right Hindu groups in the West and their linkages with the alt-right elements are being thoroughly investigated. While you obsess about Russia’s influence, the alt-right ideologues like Stephen Bannon are working as conduits between the two ideologies. The challenge is both to India and the West. If these investigations do not reach their logical conclusion and quickly, you may not even know what turned your world upside down. Perhaps the Indian diaspora needs to start defending itself against the machinations of this Hindu ISIL and to reach out to the authorities for help, as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2020.

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