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Hindu Community In America Has Become Polarised After Rise Of Modi

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Justice Markandey Katju writes about Ro Khanna, a member of the US House of Representatives, who has taken a risk for his political career by asking the Hindu community in California, most of whom are ardent BJP supporters, to reject Hindutva.

Rohit Khanna, known as Ro Khanna, is an American citizen of Indian origin, and a member of the United States House of Representatives, elected from California.

There are a large number of persons of Indian origin living in the United States, who number a little over 3 million. The vast majority of people of Indian origin in the United States are Hindus, with a population of about 2.25 million.

Of late, after the rise of Narendra Modi and the coming of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power in India in 2014, most of the people in US of Indian origin have become ardent BJP supporters, and many have even joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ‘shakhas’ in America. For instance, in California, the Hindu non-resident Indians (NRIs), have been largely polarised.

While most of them are very proficient in their technical jobs, their understanding of political realities in India is very low. Being Hindus, they have a nostalgia for the country of their origin, and since many of them wish to retain their Indian identity, they naturally become admirers of the BJP, which they regard as a party representing Hindus in India.

What these Hindu NRIs do not know is that the BJP is a party dominated by an organisation called the RSS which is rabidly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian. Top leaders in the BJP like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah had been RSS members for several decades. 

India is a country of great diversity, with numerous religions, castes, languages, ethnic and regional groups etc. So, to remain united, the only policy which can work in India and hold it together and take it forward is the policy of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar; suleh-e-kul or universal toleration of all religions. Emperor Akbar had also established an Ibadatkhana, where people of different faiths would come together to have peaceful discussions.

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The BJP ideology of spreading religious hatred and polarising the society can only lead to the fragmentation of the nation and to perpetual civil strife. It is therefore directly contrary to the very nature and identity of India as a country of great diversity. The BJP can thus be considered an anti-Indian party.

The Ibadatkhana in Fatehpur Sikri

Considering the fact that the Hindu community in California, where Ro Khanna hails from, has been largely polarised in recent years through BJP and RSS propaganda, it was therefore an act of great courage on part of Ro to have gone against the sentiments of his constituency members when he tweeted, “It is the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians. That is the vision of India my grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar fought for.”

Many Hindus and Hindu organisations in America like the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) have criticised Ro for his brave stand, but I regard it as an act of statesmanship. 

Ro’s critics say that Hindutva is only a way of life, as held by the Indian Supreme Court. I have myself been an Indian Supreme Court judge, and can say with personal knowledge that most Supreme Court judges, not all, are highly communal and are BJP supporters. So, the Supreme Court verdict has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Hindutva today really means oppression of minorities in India, particularly Muslims, marginalising them and denying them any space in public discourse. It also means perverting history, science, ‘saffronisation’ of all institutions and prostitutionising, if I may use the term, of the Indian media.

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Ro’s critics also say that Modi’s policy is of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas, aur ab sabka vishwas‘ (Everyone’s support, everyone’s development and now everyone’s trust) as he has himself proclaimed, but everyone knows this is empty hypocritical rhetoric.

The difference between an ordinary politician and a statesman is that a politician only has an eye on immediate benefits, while a statesman has a long term and broader vision. Ro Khanna’s courageous stand may lose him many NRI voters in the next elections, but in the long run, he will get many more, and be vindicated.

Ro Khanna reminds me of the great American senators mentioned in former American president John Kennedy’s book, ‘Profiles in Courage’, who did not swim with the tide nor succumb to pressures of their constituents or their party, but did what was right and acted on principle. Notable case among them  is of Sam Houston, who opposed secession during the American Civil War even though he was a southerner. Ro also reminds me of Winston Churchill who, in his wilderness years, constantly warned the British people and politicians of the rising Nazi danger in Germany.

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