When Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid recently described “The Kashmir Files,” a film about the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits (Kashmiri Hindus) from Kashmir in 1990, as “vulgar” and state “propaganda,” all hell broke loose in India. Hindutva supporters unleashed strong criticism against his remarks.
Lapid had been invited by the Indian government to chair the jury at the government-organized International Film Festival of India at Goa, where he made his comments.
It is no secret that the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had publicly backed the film with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailing the film for “showing the truth” about the Pandit exodus from Kashmir, which he said “had been suppressed for years.” It has persistently attempted to portray the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits from the country’s only Muslim-majority state of Kashmir in 1990, as a Hindu “genocide.”
In an earlier article in The Diplomat, I detailed how “The Kashmir Files” was being used as a tool by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, a “family” of Hindu right-wing organizations of which the BJP is a part, to fuel hatred and Islamophobia in the country.
So, when the Israeli director dissed the film, BJP supporters and its troll army reacted swiftly, prompting Israeli diplomats to rush in to apologize profusely. Israel’s ambassador to India, Naor Gilon wrote an open letter to his “Indian brothers and sisters” condemning Lapid’s statements while hastening to dismiss those (trolls) who doubted the Holocaust and the Schindler’s List. Gilon’s letter was aimed at ensuring that the episode did not derail the India-Israel relationship that has grown during the past eight years of Modi-led BJP rule.
Modi’s bonding with Israel’s Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu – India-Israel cooperation has increased manifold in recent years, whether over agriculture, defense deals or surveillance technology – has often been described as the “Bibi-Modi bromance.” Israel has been consistently supporting the Indian government’s stand in insurgency-wracked Jammu and Kashmir, even when Modi took the controversial step of repealing its constitutionally granted autonomy.
It is not surprising that the Hindu nationalist party BJP and Zionist Israel share close ties.
The BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) have long admired the Jewish supremacist policy of Israel where majoritarianism (of the Jews) is enshrined in the constitution. In his book “Hindutva” (1923), RSS ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who is revered by the BJP, called for the creation of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state) and looked forward to the fulfillment of the “Zionist dream” of Palestine becoming a Jewish state. Hindutva proponents have long championed Israel’s exclusionist policies toward Palestinian Muslims, which validate their own anti-Muslim biases. The Israeli model of a military state and a muscular state policy have also appealed to Hindu nationalists.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has often praised Israel. He has held up Israel’s “strong policies” to illustrate how the small nation won six wars. Israel’s controversial policies vis-à-vis Palestinians in the Occupied Territories do not evoke criticism from the votaries of Hindutva.
The Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva supremacist ideas are inspired by Israel’s exclusionist policies. For example, the Modi government’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which gives citizenship rights to Hindus from neighboring countries while denying this right to Muslims echoes Israel’s discriminatory Law of Return, which bestows the right of citizenship to Jews across the globe.
Israel extended robust support to India’s CAA law in the face of international criticism.
Interestingly, Israeli Consul General Kobi Shoshani was the chief guest at the RSS’ prestigious annual Vijayadashami celebration last year, where Bhagwat in his speech expressed grave concern over “the rising population of Muslims in the country.” (In an earlier article, I have drawn attention to the fallacy of the Hindutva claim by pointing out the sharply declining Muslim fertility rate in India.)
Hindutva hardliner Subramanian Swamy, who is also a member of the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, has been effusive in his praise of the close bonds between Zionism and Hindutva. He has repeatedly advocated the need for a strong Indian state, especially since India, like Israel, is surrounded by hostile neighbors.
Ever since the BJP came to power in 2014 and Modi, under whose rule as Gujarat’s chief minister anti-Muslim riots happened in 2002, Hindutva has been the ideological compass for state policy.
BJP leaders and senior ministers frequently drum up hate against Muslims, who constitute 14 percent of India’s population. “Goli Maaron Saalon ko” (Shoot down those traitorous Muslims), BJP leader Kapil Mishra said at in a public speech in 2021. More recently, Home Minister Amit Shah justified the mass killing of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, saying that they “were taught a lesson” and that the BJP has established peace in the state since then. Emboldened by such hate speech, Hindu leaders have called for genocide against Muslims at Hindu religious conclaves. Muscular Hindutva nationalism has become the cornerstone of Modi’s governance. Narendra Modi is a trained RSS pracharak (propagator of RSS philosophy).
Interestingly, while the Sangh Parivar has an affinity for the Jewish state, its founders also had a deep admiration for Germany’s Nazi movement. Hindutva’s early proponents including Madhav Sadhashivrao Golwalkar, Keshav Boliram Hedgewar and Savarkar glorified Adolf Hitler and his championing of the superiority of the Aryan race. Indeed, their writings reflect their glowing admiration of Nazi Germany and its “purging” of the German nation of a foreign race, i.e. the Jews. Golwalkar stressed that Hindustan (India) must take a “lesson” from Nazi Germany. Fascist notions of “purity” and superiority of the Aryan race fueled the Hindutva ideologues who asserted that in the Hindu Rashtra, foreign races (Muslims) must adopt the Hindu culture.
In “We or Our Nationhood Defined,” Golwalkar asserted that foreign races must be subordinated to the Hindu nation and “must loose (sic) their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race.” In his view, they were not entitled to citizens’ rights.
It is not surprising then that radicalized Hindu youth, including engineering students studying in elite colleges, are using technology and the digital landscape to wage war against Muslims, whom they perceive as obstacles to their goal of creating a Hindu state. Their xenophobic rants are similar to the rhetoric of white Nazi sympathizers.
Lapid, who is a vocal critic of his own government’s policies, told the Israeli outlet Ynet, “In countries that are increasingly losing the ability to speak your mind or speak the truth, someone needs to speak up.” Describing what he felt after watching “The Kashmir Files,” he said, ”I couldn’t help but imagine its Israeli equivalent, which doesn’t exist but could definitely exist. So, I felt I had to [speak out], because I come from a place that is itself not reformed, and is itself on the way to these places.”
A damning indictment of a Hindutva propaganda vehicle.