🌊 Hindutva fascism threatens the world’s largest democracy

In India, fascism is reinventing itself. It has crept through Hindu nationalism – Hindutva – and now poses a serious threat to Indian democracy, writes Amit Singh

Frequently framed as populist, nativist and nationalist, ‘Hindutva fascism’ has so far evaded the serious scrutiny of scholars and activists. But, as Luca Manucci has argued convincingly, mislabelling such a phenomenon could jeopardise the struggle against fascism and anti-democratic regimes.

Without accurate labelling, we will never develop an effective counterstrategy against fascism. Fascism is manifesting itself in India under the auspices of radical right-wing groups such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Widespread public confusion, along with a silencing of the discussion around Hindutva's ‘fascistic roots’, is assisting the gradual death of Indian democracy.

What is Hindutva?

Hindutva is an ethnic form of nationalism. Since 1925, the right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been its most staunch proponent. RSS is radically far-right, hierarchical, authoritarian, and founded on the premise of Hindu supremacy. Hindu nationalism seeks uniformity through the imposition of Hindi language, Hindu religion, Hindu mythology, and unquestioned loyalty to the nation. On different levels, it seeks to repress dissenting views, and to expunge religious pluralism and secularism from political discourse.

Current right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an active member of RSS, is notorious for his complicity in the post-Godhra riots. Modi claimed that the fire on the train which killed 59 Hindus in 2002 was an act of Islamist terrorism rather than an outbreak of communal violence. Under Modi, India is fulfilling RSS' Hindutva mission to make India a Hindu nation. Once a secular state, India has become an electoral autocracy, with Hindutva as its unofficial ideology.

Hindutva's fascistic roots

Veer Savarkar, one of Hindutva's earliest proponents, asserted:

India should follow the German example to solve the Muslim problem… Germany has every right to resort to Nazism and Italy to fascism – and events have justified those isms…

veer savarkar, 1938

Hindutva ideologue Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar applauded Hitler’s Germany for exterminating Jews to maintain the purity of the race and its culture. He strongly believed 'foreign races in Hindustan must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race; [they] deserve no privileges… not even citizen's rights.'

BS Moonje, a politician close to the RSS, met with Mussolini on 19 March 1931. Moonje played a crucial role in moulding the RSS along Italian (fascist) lines, militarising Hindu youths. Hindutva ideologues consider a homogeneous identity a necessary foundation of nationhood. Thus, nationhood is inherently anti-plural.

Hindutva’s proximity to fascist ideas

The RSS shaped Hindutva ideology similarly to the way the Nazis and Italian fascists shaped fascist ideology in the 1930s. Hindutva rejects the liberal democratic conception of nation and citizenship. It is anti-democratic, and inherently Islamophobic. The cult of tradition and male chauvinism dominates Hindutva fascist policies. Under Modi, Hindutva fascism has crystallised.

Fascist politics aims to separate a population into 'us' and 'them'. In India, pre-existing communal divisions between Hindus and Muslims have been exacerbated by Hindutva forces such as the RSS and its political wing, the BJP. Since Modi came to power in 2014, his administration has fed Islamophobic propaganda to the Hindu masses. This has led to the public demonisation of Muslims, and even normalised violence against them.

Hindutva is obsessed with Hindus' inherent superiority. The Indian Ministry of Culture is even establishing a genetic database to 'trace the purity of races in India'

Muslims have even been prosecuted for offering prayer in their own homes. A move to pass a Citizenship Amendment Bill, along with a proposed National Register of Citizens, are Modi's underhand attempts to exclude Muslims from Indian citizenship.

The Nazis were obsessed with 'racial purity', striving for a pure 'Aryan' German race. Hindutva, too, is consumed by the idea of Hindu superiority. In 1966, Golwalkar published a book alleging the 'purity' of Hindu blood. Today, the Indian Ministry of Culture is establishing a state-of-the-art genetic database to 'trace the purity of races in India'.

Disagreement is a crime in fascist discourse

In Modi's India, dissent at any level meets with ruthless punishment. This is a clear symptom of a fascist regime. Modi is a ‘predator of press freedom’. Under his government, freedom of the media and academic freedom have sunk to new lows. In many cases, parliamentary debate has been shut down, and laws passed without debate.

Under Modi's government, press freedom and academic freedom have sunk to new lows

The cult of Modi in India has parallels with Hitler’s leadership style. Images of the ‘Dear Leader’ are everywhere. Sensationalist, biased Godi media has replaced state media. This media never tires of demonstrating how hard Modi works. Instead, what they should be doing is criticising his disastrous mismanagement of the Covid pandemic, which has resulted in the deaths of millions of Indians. Godi media is normalising illiberalism and promoting hate speech, not only against Muslims, but against anyone who opposes Modi.

Fascism rewrites history. It promotes anti-intellectualism by attacking universities and educational systems that might challenge its ideas. Under Modi, chapters on protest and social movement have been excised from textbooks. Replacing them are Islamophobic Hindutva ideologies, and stories of Hindus' past glories. Academics and scholars are fired or attacked for criticising Hindutva or the Modi government. Government institutions, especially security and financial agencies, intimidate and harass opposition parties and anyone who dares to voice dissent.

Resisting Hindutva fascism

Current resistance against Hindutva is sporadic and disorganised. However, open resistance against Hindutva is apparent in various forms, and at different levels. Farmers, students, intellectuals, religious minorities, India's main opposition party, and members of civil society, are rising up to protest Modi’s Hindutva government policies.

‘Invisible defiance’ against Hindutva fascism is also taking shape in private discussion, even among Hindutva supporters. Hindutva may be hegemonic, but its gradual decline has already begun.

In 2005, the US banned Modi from entry because he had failed to act against anti-Muslim riots in India. However, when Modi became prime minister in 2014, Western leaders gave him the red-carpet treatment, possibly to nurture business interests. Once Hindutva gained respectability in the West, it boosted the morale of its proponents, and discouraged resistance.

If Western nations really want to save liberal democracy, they must isolate authoritarian leaders like Modi, and condemn their illiberal policies. Doing so is the only way to save a dying democracy like India.

No.24 in a thread on the 'illiberal wave' 🌊 sweeping world politics

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Amit Singh
Amit Singh
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Coimbra

Amit holds a PhD in human rights from the University of Coimbra's Center for Social Studies.

His research interests include right-wing politics in India, religious populism and emotion, Hindu nationalism, secularism, human rights, and religious minorities.

His most recent article is Secularism in the Troubled ‘Waters’ of ‘Hindu Nationalism: A Case Study of the Conflict between Freedom of Expression and Religion in India (Secular Studies, 2024).

Amit is a Sylff fellow at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, Japan, holder of a Slovakian national scholarship, and a research associate at the Centre for the Study at the Indian Languages Society in India.

He regularly writes opinion articles and appears in public debates.

Personal website


An Approach to Hindutva in India by Amit Singh

An Approach to Hindutva in India
Bharati Publication, 2024

The Conflict of Freedom of Expression and Religion: A Case Study from India, by Amit Singh

The Conflicts of Freedom of Expression and Religion: A Case Study from India
People's Publication Literature, 2018

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10 comments on “🌊 Hindutva fascism threatens the world’s largest democracy”

  1. Very well written.
    Hinduvta is menace to peace as are the Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and tht Zionist terrorist Israel

  2. Very well written. The author presents the current situations in MODI raj. Author should also propose some solutions. Some possible solutions are:
    Peace loving people should come forward and educate masses.
    These extremists should be kicked out of religious bodies and temple management committees.
    Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar, Mandela and Dr. King's ideas should be shared with masses.
    Oppressed people, (Christians, Dalits, Muslims and Tribals) should be provided legal help.
    Christians, Dalits, Muslims and Tribals should join hands and stand up for each other.
    Frightened and scared people should be given hope.
    The truth that Facists have support of 38% of the population. Half of these supporters support them because they think that there is no alternatives. So real bhakts (blind followers) are less than 20%. There is a hope in this picture, all is not lost.
    The 80% non bhakt Indians should know that India's image will tarnish, foreign investments will stop, the cornered minorities may revolt and fight back if current situation continues. Everyone will suffer if there is no peace and no respect for law and judiciary. Indians are humble and peace loving people. Let's not give up Hope.
    Jai Hind

  3. Utter nonsense published under guise of freedom of expression. There is no such thing as Hindu fascism. It's another oxymoron invented by western liberals to keep India down and keep Hindus ashamed of their roots.

    There is no danger to Indian democracy. Minorities are not under any threat. Majority of Indians are living a peaceful life. I hope such biased writers are not permitted to spread anti Hindu and anti India propaganda.

    1. @ Napster...

      It is in fact your comments that are totally divorced from reality. There are numerous clear indicators of this phenomenon gaining ground in India. The fascist roots are of course utterly undeniable given the mindset of several RSS leaders (Sawarkar, Golwaljkar and Moonje who actually visited Italy to meet Mussolini)

      You may disagree with left liberals (and their attitude may very well have contributed to the rise of Fasiscm in India...) but to deny everything as their ploy is either blatantly dishonest or perhaps a way of living in your own bubble!

      Legislature - Completely in control of the BJP and they have turned this into a mockery

      Cult Worship - Modi is shown as some kind of Messiah and all events - non legislative events like Kashi Corridor and legislative events like the inaugaration of the new Parliament is carried out in the fashion of a jamboree event for his glorification. In fact the later was done in utter disregard of protocol with the event resembling some sort of coronation ceremony for Modi and contempt for the Republic with the head of state (President) not even invited

      Judiciary - some last breaths by people like Chandrachud but most of them have either succumbed to pressure OR are shamelessly corrupt (like former Chief Justice Gogoi who achieved the verdict for Ram Mandir and now a member of the upper house of parliament in India)

      Executive - Mainly run by Modi and Shah with little role for Cabinet Ministers except for proudly showing off their ignorance (Smriti Irani talking garbage about the Global Hunger Index) or arrogance (Nirmala Sitaraman who is the most obnoxioius Finance Minister in history). In addition big role for the Enforcement Directorate to harass all those who are in opposition

      Media - Most shocking transformation which is playing a nefarious role in sidelining the opposition which is bad enough but participating with glee in hate mongering day and night.

      After all these people like @ Napstar are able to make these comments!!!!

  4. India is becoming a hell for minorities..people getting killed day by day with no reason .author is well known and has great knowledge about current situation.

  5. If protecting one own country and it's culture from extremists is called Hindutva fascism, better it be than western infidels who timidly succumb to Islam.

  6. Total load of hogwash by vested interests!!!

    Not even worth more time

    Modi is our leader and he is doing good for India without any discrimination

    Enjoy the election results, losers

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