The Far-right is not Limited to the West: The Case of India

There is a general tendency in both academia and the media to associate far-right politics with the West. Far-right politics have indeed been enjoyed new and rigorous support in the West, especially in Europe. The recent rise of the far-right in Europe is related to the refugee crisis that started in 2015 with thousands of refugees and migrants streaming into Europe from other continents, particularly the Middle East and Africa. The far-right in Europe has used this crisis to its advantage by marking refugees and migrants as scapegoats who are responsible for the economic uncertainty, social problems and even the Covid-19 in the country. Thus, they have successfully increased their votes.

In the United States of America (USA), Donald Trump became the 45th president of the country by using the same strategy. However, far-right politics is not limited to the West. It is going global. For instance, the incumbent prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was elected as a prime minister for two consecutive terms by using the same tactics as the far-right in Europe and the United States. Cas Mudde, a well-known expert on far-right politics, declares Trump and Modi as “the mainstream faces of the global far-right”.[1] Indeed, Modi was once called “a Trump before Trump” by Steve Bannon, who served as the Chief Strategist of the White House and the former editor in chief of the far-right site Breitbart News.[2]

The history of the far-right between India and the West goes back to the 1930s. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an Indian right-wing paramilitary volunteer organization, was in touch with Mussolini and later Hitler and supported the ideology of the Nazis. The organization also refused to be a part of the Indian independence movement arguing that “the real fight would be the one between Hindus and Muslims, not between the British colonial rulers and the Indian people”.[3] Moreover, Modi was a full-time RSS worker and still is a member of the organization.[4] Mudde describes the RSS, although arguably, as the most powerful violent far-right group in the world. It is claimed that the number of members of the group is about 5-6 million.[5]

Like the relationship between the RSS and fascism in Europe in the past, today the far-right on both continents still influence and support each other. For instance, Modi uses Islamophobia, like his far-right contemporaries in the West, as a distraction from the real problems in the country. The far-right in Europe has long exploited the Covid-19 epidemic for its anti-refugee propaganda by painting refugees and migrants as the carriers of the infectious disease.[6] Modi has also used fake news and the ongoing epidemic to exclude Muslims. Pro-government television channels and social media blames Indian Muslims, who come together and perform their worship, for the spread of the virus in India.[7]

The use of violence is a well-known tactic of the far-right to attract attention and spread fear towards its opponents. The recent U.S. Capitol attack, incited by Donald Trump, is the newest example of this situation. Modi responded to the attack on his official Twitter account as follows: “Distressed to see news about rioting and violence in Washington DC. Orderly and peaceful transfer of power must continue. The democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests”. [8] However, since he came to power in 2014, nationalists in the country have committed many violent acts against minorities in the country.[9]

The use of social media is also a common characteristic between the far-right in India and the West. Since the 1990s, Hindu nationalists have been using the Internet to spread their ideology and support for Modi. The members of this informal online political group are referred to as “the Internet Hindus”.[10] It should be noted that this group operates in a country with the second largest Internet user base in the world.[11] What makes the Internet attractive for the far-right is the lack of strict rules as much as traditional media tools. For example, it is more difficult to verify that you are posting false or misleading information on social media than traditional media.[12]

Far-right politicians and leaders not only use the same tactics but also cooperate with each other. In October 2019, 23 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) made an unofficial visit to Kashmir two months after its semiautonomous status was removed by the Indian government. The MEPs consisted mostly of far-right political parties such as France’s National Rally and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland. They were granted access to the region unlike foreign journalists and some domestic politicians. The visit was paid and invitation-only.[13] The MEPs visited the region while Omer Abdullah, former Chief Minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, remained under house arrest during their trip.[14]

Another example of the bromance among far-right leaders is the relationship between Trump and Modi. Trump describes Modi as “great leader, loyal friend”.[15] Moreover, Modi gave a speech in support of Trump’s nomination for president in 2020 during his official visit to the United States.[16] The importance of bilateral relations between the far-right is to move a veneer of legitimacy and thus avoid criticism from the opposition. Moreover, far-right parties and leaders around the world share a common enemy that unites them, namely liberal democracy. This cooperation leads to the normalization of far-right views in politics in the long run.


[1] Cas Mudde, “Trump and Modi are the Mainstream Faces of the Global Far-right”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/23/trump-modi-mainstream-faces-global-far-right, (Date of Accession: 05.01.2021).

[2] Eviane Leidig, “The Far-Right is Going Global”, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/21/india-kashmir-modi-eu-hindu-nationalists-rss-the-far-right-is-going-global/, (Date of Accession: 05.01.2021); Chidanand Rajghatta, “Steve Bannon: As a Nationalist, Modi was a Trump before Trump”, The Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/steve-bannon-as-a-nationalist-modi-was-a-trump-before-trump/articleshow/70210775.cms, (Date of Accession: 05.01.2021).

[3] Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Why Has India Embraced the Far-Right?”, Tribune, https://tribunemag.co.uk/2019/06/why-has-india-embraced-the-far-right, (Date of Accession: 06.01.2021).

[4] Rajesh Joshi, “The Hindu Hardline RSS who See Modi as Their Own”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-29593336(Date of Accession: 07.01.2021).

[5] Cas Mudde, The Far-right Today, Polity Press, Cambridge 2019, p. 93.

[6] Aggelos Andreou, “Europe’s Far-Right Exploits COVID-19 for Anti-Refugee Propaganda”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/06/04/europes-far-right-exploits-covid-19-for-anti-refugee-propaganda/, (Date of Accession: 06.01.2021).

[7] Ritika Jain, “How India’s Government set off A Spiral of Islamophobia”, Article 14, https://www.article-14.com/post/how-india-s-government-set-off-a-spiral-of-islamophobia, (Date of Accession: 05.01.2021).

[8] Narendra Modi, “Distressed to See…”, Twitter, https://twitter.com/narendramodi/status/1347009724789653508, (Date of Accession: 05.01.2021).

[9] Mudde, a.g.m., p. 93.

[10] Sriram Mohan, “Locating the “Internet Hindu” Political Speech and Performance in Indian Cyberspace”, Television & New Media, 16(4), 2015, p. 339-345.

[11] “Countries with the Highest Number of Internet Users as of December 2019”, Statisca, https://www.statista.com/statistics/262966/number-of-internet-users-in-selected-countries/, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2021).

[12] Zack Beauchamp, “Social Media is Rotting Democracy from within”, Vox, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/1/22/18177076/social-media-facebook-far-right-authoritarian-populism, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2021).

[13] Leidig, a.g.m.

[14] “Why Europe’s Far-right Supports India on the Kashmir Issue”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2019/11/3/why-europes-far-right-supports-india-on-the-kashmir-issue, (Date of Accession: 06.01.2021).

[15] “President Trump Lauds Prime Minister Modi as ‘Great Leader, Loyal Friend’ on His 70th Birthday”, The Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/president-trump-lauds-prime-minister-modi-as-great-leader-loyal-friend-on-his-70th-birthday/articleshow/78179908.cms?from=mdr, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2021).

[16] Adam Withnall, “Backlash against Modi as Indian PM ‘Endorses Trump for 2020 in Breach of Diplomatic Convention”, The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/modi-trump-howdy-houston-texas-rally-2020-election-a9116926.html, (Date of Accession: 07.01.2021).

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Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ was born in 1994 in Adana. He completed his primary and high school education in Osmaniye. Kıldiş, who graduated from Gazi University International Relations Department in 2016, has been continuing his graduate education at Gazi University in the Department of Middle East and African Studies since 2017 and writes on "Syrian Refugees and the Rising Far Right in Europe". During his undergraduate studies, Kıldiş did his internship at the Economic Development Foundation in Istanbul, he did Erasmus internship at TÜSİAD in Brussels and an internship at ANKASAM strategic analysis center in Ankara. The author studies immigration, Islamophobia, the far right and the European Union.

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