New Delhi: Earlier this week, Israel’s consul general in India, Kobbi Shoshani, in an unusual move, went after well-known Indian fact-checker and co-founder of Alt News, Mohammed Zubair – accusing him of “spreading fake news and hatred about Israel”. This was days before he won the Index on Censorship journalism award for 2023, for busting misinformation.

If you put the lens closely on that post by the top Israeli diplomat on the micro-blogging site X, it appears as if intended for the Hindutva troll army to take a hint from it, and hunt for Zubair on the social media platform, to possibly bog him down and thereby divert attention from what he had been doing – fact-checking the claims and counter claims made by the Israeli side on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian crisis. While the social media space has been a virtual battleground with both pro-and anti-Israeli posts after the horrendous Hamas attack, that the diplomat went especially after Zubair seemed to support that possibility.

Clearly, after the initial developments in the Israel-Hamas showdown where Hamas mercilessly attacked unarmed innocent Jews, Israel has been losing the sympathy wave in the social media space, worldwide, to the Palestinians. The cold-hearted bombing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and now the West Bank and the images springing out of the Israeli army’s pounding of the strip has left their government to face a barrage of uncomfortable questions from the international community. 

In such a scenario, a free and ready to go troll army from India to bat for the Israeli government has to be a gift.

As expected, after Shoshnani’s post, the Hindutva brigade lost no time to troll Zubair, a marked guy for the right wing in India anyway for his continuous debunking of several of their communal claims. A fact-checker with a wrong name, of course. Off and on, FIRs, therefore, get filed against Zubair, prodding police in some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled state or the other to take them further. One such complaint had put him behind bars for some weeks not so long ago. 

Though by the time the Israeli diplomat made an attempt to stop Zubair’s work on X, the Hindutva troll army and the ruling BJP had already set the tone on the Israel-Hamas conflict – mouthing unwavering support for the Israeli government and straightjacketing Palestinians as ‘terrorists’.

The stand is typically hinged on the anti-Muslim ideology of the larger Sangh Parivar, and also its one nation, one language, one religion dream which brings them closer to trying to be a Hindutva Zion, a partner state of Israel, to paraphrase Faisal Devji’s Muslim Zion, the title of his book on how Pakistan imagined itself. So also the Israeli government’s policy of imparting arms-training to all its young and able, which fits perfectly in support shown by the likes of K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), for the militarisation of the Hindu society, to eventually fight the Muslims. 

It is no rocket science that the reigning star of the Sangh Parivar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been inching closer to the Israeli far-right wing government and particularly Benjamin Netanyahu, its controversial prime minister. The idea about Israel, a Jewish homeland, is a model the Sangh Parivar desperately wants to bring home to India in a Hindutva variant.

Blast from the past

What the likes of Shoshnani must need reminding though is the pro-Nazi sentiment of the Hindutva contingent in the 1930s. Particularly of the Hindu Mahasabha leader V.K. Savarkar, considered the father of the Hindutva ideology. Let’s flip here a few pages of history to help Shoshnani and his ilk do that reminding. 

In Jerusalem, some years ago, walking through the largest Holocaust remembrance centre, Yad Vashem, my Hindu heart sank in shame when at one place, an audio visual exhibit flashed the Swastika to highlight that Hitler copied the symbol from the religion. That a sacred symbol of my religion was worn on the arms that aimed for the neck of thousands of innocent Jews including children did make me mumble under my breath, it shouldn’t have been in my name.  

Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Photo: Yossi Ben David/ Yad Vashem/

Parallel to Hitler’s Germany, in the India of the 1930s, top honchos of Hindutva were, however, in support of the Nazi leader and his annihilation of the Jews.  The likes of Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar were at odds with Congress leaders of the day, like Jawaharlal Nehru, for not supporting the Nazis and the Fascism of Italy. Marzia Casolari in her 2023 book, In the Shadow of Swastika – The Relationship Between Indian Radical Nationalism, Italian Fascism and Nazism, writes that a month after the “great anti-Jewish pogrom known as ‘the Night of Broken Glass’ took place”, “pro-Hindu Mahasabha journals published articles in favour of German anti-Semitism.”

The author further writes:

“This stance brought the Hindu Mahasabha into conflict with the Congress which, on 12th December (1938), made a statement containing clear references to recent European events. Within the Congress, only (Subhash Chandra) Bose opposed the party stance. A few months later, in April 1939, he refused to support the party motion that Jews might find refuge in India. Savarkar and the Hindu Mahasabha had a similar opinion.” (page 90)

Speaking at a public meeting in Malegaon in the autumn of that year, Savarkar felt that following the German example could solve Hindutva’s ‘Muslim problem’. This was just one example of several instances cited by the noted author where Savarkar justified Hitler’s pogrom on the Jews. At one point, the book quotes Savarkar saying publicly, “Surely Hitler knows better than Pandit Nehru does what suits Germany best. The very fact that Germany or Italy (under Mussolini) has so wonderfully recovered and grown so powerful as never before at the touch of Nazi or Fascist magical wand is enough to prove that those political ‘isms’ were the most congenial tonics their health demanded.” 

Casolari goes on to say, “Golwalkar went further than Savarkar and even considered the possibility of denying the Muslims citizens’ rights. It is well-known that Golwalkar’s idea of nation was inspired by Johann Kaspar Bluntschli, ‘an exponent of German ethnic nationalism’ and author of The Theory of the State.” 

Back to the future

After the recent Hamas attack, the Congress called for shunning violence, and also reiterated India’s longstanding stand in support of a Palestinian state. That the BJP and the rest of the Hindutva brigade accused the Congress thereafter of supporting ‘terrorists’ (read Muslims) came across as a fitting parallel to what Savarkar and his ilk had stated to the anti-Nazi stand of the Congress of the 1930s. 

As the Israel-Hamas conflict began to escalate, the Modi government did end up falling back on  India’s traditional line on Palestine but the ruling party’s social media campaign against Congress for that statement has continued, merely because it has an anti-Muslim edge to it, a potential weapon in a difficult election season.

For many in Israel, the recent Hamas attack is also a reminder of the frequent attacks carried out on Jewish civilians by Arab militants infiltrating from neighbouring Syria, Jordan and Egypt in the 1950s and the 1960s, leading Israeli Defence Forces to conduct raids, better known as Reprisal Operations.  

In 1955, David Ben-Gurion, considered Israel’s founding father, ordered one such raid against the Egyptians near Gaza after the murder of an Israeli civilian inside Israel. 

After his retirement from politics, though, Ben-Gurion famously went on to settle down at a modest house in the middle of Negev desert, not very far from Gaza. Apart from a photo of his wife, what hung at his home was one other frame. It was of Mahatma Gandhi from India, a black and white visage of the ambassador of non-violence hanging from a wall of his small study.  

No Savarkar, Hegdewar or Golwalkar. No, not even Nehru. 

On spotting that photo of Gandhi all those years ago, all the shame that I had felt on finding the Swastika at Yad Vesham vanished into the hot desert air of Negev. It was seamlessly replaced by the pride that only an Indian could feel. That a man whose lifetime had seen so much violence on his community had come home to Gandhi.

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