Politics, Race

Is Vajpayee the benign face of Hindu extremism,” or simply the right man in the wrong party”? Does it matter?

For all its emphasis on development and the benefits of globalization — such as the trend among U.S. firms to outsource service jobs to India and other developing countries — the party remains the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization whose founders drew partial inspiration from the Fascist movements of pre-World War II Europe. The organization, to which Vajpayee once belonged, has often been accused of fomenting violence against Indian Muslims, who make up about 13 percent of India’s billion-plus people.

One of the worst such episodes took place here in the western state of Gujarat, where Hindu mobs killed more than 1,000 Muslims in 2002. The Hindus retaliated after Muslim radicals set fire to a train carrying Hindu activists and their families, killing 58. Human rights investigators found that the anti-Muslim violence had been encouraged and in some cases assisted by the state’s BJP-led government, whose chief minister, Narendra Modi, shared the speakers’ platform with Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani on Friday night.

Make no mistake, Vajpayee’s success cannot be separated from the state-sponsored violence of Modi and his followers. Here is what one of those followers has to say:

We will not talk about the Ram temple now. We will talk about it later, once we come to power,” said Ramesh Joshi, 28, a clerk in a kitchenware shop. Everyone knows it’s inside us.”