Column Kanta Adhin

The Modi effect and Hindu-Muslim relations in the Netherlands

Kanta Adhin

On 9 April 2022, the na­tion­al newspaper Volks­krant published an opinion article about the Indian film The Kashmir Files. This film deals with the fate of the Hindu community (Pandits) after the storming of the Kashmir valley in 1989-1990 by Islamic militants. The authors of the piece, all affiliated with the Netherlands-based foundation The London Story, point to the many hate and nationalist incidents in India as a result of the film, which has been praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and plays into the hands of its nationalist political ideology (Hindutva). They feel that screening the film in other countries could stir up nationalist and Islamophobic sentiments within the Hindu diaspora and ultimately lead to tensions. Their concern stems from the observation that Hindu nationalism is alive and well even within the Indian diasporas. Also here in the Netherlands where, according to them, a growing influence of the Indian nationalist government can be observed in the last ten years. The chairman of the Hindu Council (the government interlocutor for Hindus in the Netherlands) reacted indignantly, because the authors do not substantiate this claim. (See reaction in theVolkskrant of 15 April 2022).

I share the opinion of the Hindu Council that a claim about growing influence in the Nether­lands of the nationalist Indian go­vern­­ment led by Prime Minister Modi needs further expla­na­tion. What exactly is meant by influence? Is there active influence by the Indian government through funding of organisations in the Netherlands? By actively spreading the Hindutva ideology during meetings or by other interference with the Hindu community? In other words, are the authors talking about ’the long arm of Modi’? If so, they should be able to come up with concrete examples.

Or do the authors mean that there is a growing popularity of Modi among Hindus in the Netherlands? I can imagine this, because I often meet people who talk about him with admiration. Their admiration is often about his efforts to develop the country and, in particular, to improve the conditions of the poor population, such as his Digital India programme, which aims to promote, among other things, rapid Internet access in rural areas and digital literacy and to stimulate the production of electronic goods in the country. Or his Ujjwala scheme to provide free LPG connections to rural households. There are certainly also those who applaud nationalist policies in favour of Hindus, for how can it be that in a country where Hindus are in the majority, Muslims have a privileged position? Legislation to put an end to this, therefore, is not seen by such Modi fans as a major problem. After all, there is no legislation in the Netherlands that favours minorities, is there? Modi’s foreign policy and his contacts with superpowers also put India on the map. These admirers believe that the energetic Modi ensures that Hindus matter, that they are not marginalised and do not remain shrouded in invisibility. This is a boost to their Hindu identity.

Prime Minister Modi

The question is, however, whether these admirers – or some of them – will let themselves be seduced into intense hatred and violence against Muslims and thus introduce Indian scenes in the Netherlands. The chairman of the Hindu Council firmly refutes this. The Hindu community in the Netherlands will not allow itself to be seduced into Islamophobia! Furthermore she emphasises the good contacts with the Muslim government interlocutor (Contactorgaan Moslims en Overheid) and together they state “that we, Dutch Muslims and Hindus, will not let ourselves be driven apart. The authors of the opinion piece in the Volkskrant have seriously underestimated the good relations between Muslims and Hindus in the Netherlands!” I can imagine that on an organisational level there is no hate speech and stirring up tensions, but what about individuals. What do they do and how receptive are they to the nationalist thinking they can read a lot about, also on social media. Dutch Hindus also watch a lot of Indian television channels.

In general, it seems that people can make the distinction between what is going on in India and the multicultural life here in the Netherlands. This may also apply to other European countries. The authors themselves write that no escalations have yet occurred following the screening of The Kashmir Files in European cinemas. Of course it is always wise to stay alert to signs of radicalisation, because you cannot exclude any group from it. However, the authors of the opinion piece can be expected to back up their statements with facts. Then the reader, too, can judge whether the screening of a film like The Kashmir File is a cause for concern.