byte‐sized nationalism: mapping the hindu right in the united states

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of California Davis]On: 26 October 2014, At: 12:47Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture &SocietyPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rrmx20

    Bytesized nationalism: Mapping the Hindu right in theUnited StatesBiju Mathew a ba Assistant professor of business , Rider University , E-mail:b Organizing committee member of the New York Taxi Workers AlliancePublished online: 24 Feb 2009.

    To cite this article: Biju Mathew (2000) Bytesized nationalism: Mapping the Hindu right in the United States, RethinkingMarxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society, 12:3, 108-128, DOI: 10.1080/08935690009359015

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08935690009359015

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  • 108 Barkin

    mexicana: Presente y futuro, 208-37. Lecturas del Trimestre No. 8. Mexico: Fondo deCultura Econmica.

    Valle Baeza, A., and G. Martnez Gonzlez. 1996. Los salarios de la crisis. Mexico City:Facultad de Economa and La Jornada Ediciones.

    Byte-Sized Nationalism:Mapping the Hindu Right in the United States

    Biju Mathew

    Hum, tho there ajnabi And here I remain a strangerkitni mulakaatoon ke baad after so many meetingskhoon ke dhhabbey dhulengey How many monsoons will it bekitni barsaatoon ke baad before the blood is washed away

    Faiz Ahmed Faiz Faiz Ahmed Faiz

    In the plush offices of downtown Manhattan or suburban Los Angeles, in the shim-mering green and undulating suburbs of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, or on the inter-states that cut cleanly across the country, there is no blood to be washed away. Theblood here has long since been washed away, confined now to the Native Americanreservations and the inner-city ghettos of black and Hispanic communities. Buttoday, in the suburbs of middle-class America, a new form of blood lust is being fo-mented: blood that will drench people a continent away. Hindu nationalism, orHindutva, operates in the bowels of these sparkling, efficient, and serene middle-class havensthe "cleansed" suburbsas it foments its agenda for India. Hindutvain North America is the product of multiple forces, each overlapping and part of theothers: a crisis of diasporic identity, a mode of integration into the dominant whitesociety and capitalist political economy, residual immigrant nationalisms, and home-grown Indian patriarchy. Hindutva works out of a community that does not occupya contiguous space, but instead lives dispersed over the suburban United States. Itscommunicational backbonethe one feature that makes it capable of operating asan organized ideological forceis a set of criss-crossing electronic pathways: theinformation superhighway, or simply the Internet to old-time users.

    This complex of forces that create Hindutva in North America shares some fun-damental aspects with Hindutva in India, but also is separate inasmuch as the socialconditions of its existence and reproduction are vastly different. For the many people

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  • Remarx 109

    in India who battle on a day-to-day basis the ugliness of communalism, this force,located and operating out of a land ten thousand miles away is especially important.1

    Hindutva in the diaspora has, over the last decade, begun to have more and moreinfluence over the fortunes of Hindutva at home for at least one fundamental reason:its material connections with the forces of Hindutva in India (the Hindu dollar, thesaffron greenback) that flow from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America to theVishwa Hindu Parishad in India.2

    I wish to begin my analysis of Hindutva in North America through a focus on twoaspects of its strategy. The first is its electronic network-based communicationalstrategy, without which the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and its sister organi-zations in North America would be unable to function. The second is its small butcoherent leadership structure that operates outside the electronic pathways but pro-vides the ideological basis for the movement in North America. This analysis of theelectronic networks that connect and create the forces of Hindutva in the United Statesand Canada and its small, coherent leadership can be inaugurated, however, only atanother register, for reasons I will outline shortly.

    From the Suburbs Via Satallite: Long-Distance Nationalism

    In an article written in 1991, about a year before the Sangh Parivar destroyed theBabri Masjid (a prominent sixteenth-century mosque in North India) and massacreda few thousand Indian Muslims, Gyan Pandey reflected on the difficulty of writingabout and making the "ugliness and disorienting" aspect of communal violence vis-ible. On the one hand was the problem of sensationalized reporting of the violencethat fell into the trap of treating it as a mere "aberration" in the otherwise peacefulflow of secular lifesomething unfortunate and out of character that explodes inter-mittently in India without any apparent logic for, after all, the national character ofthe citizenry is one of secularism. On the other hand was the problem of writing outthe ugliness and disorienting aspects of the violence by refusing to sensationalize itand instead framing it within a sanitized and structured academic discourse. Pandeystruggled with that dilemma as he came face to face with the effects of one of themost brutal rounds of communal violence in India since 1947: the Bhagalpur kill-ings of 1991.

    This is highlighted in my mind because in some sense I face the precise converseof the same problematic. How does one, I ask myself, dig out and present the im-

    1. "Communalism" is the word used to denote sectarian hatred and violence, usually on the basis ofreligion. In popular Indian usage, communalism is seen as the antonym of secularism.2. Vishwa Hindu Parishad literally means World Hindu Council. Both in India and abroad it is part ofan array of organizations that constitute the Hindu right in India. The organizations that are part of thisformation include the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps), which is the ideo-logical fountainhead of the combine; the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party), which is theparliamentary front of the combine; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is the cultural arm of the force;and the Bajrang Dal (the Army of Hunuman), which is its militant violent front. This combine is alsooften referred to as the Sangh Parivar (or the Hindutva family).

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  • 110 Mathew

    mense violence that Indian immigrant professionals produce ten thousand miles awaywhen, here in the United States, everything they do is hidden behind layers of publicliberal discourse and civil institutions of multiculturalism, that oh-so-genteel effortto live in peace together?

    The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, which is the flagship organization ofHindutva in North America, works silently in the shadow of multiculturalism in theUnited Statesrarely, if ever, emerging into the public spotlight. On the rare occa-sion when it emerges in public spaces, it appears appropriately dressed in the garb ofa "cultural" organization that "opposes all violence" and is simply involved in peacefulcelebration of the "beauty of tolerant Hinduism." This invisibility coupled withmomentary appearances (for instance, where beautiful, young brown girls dressedin traditional silks stand in for them in a parade)3 works sucessfully to mask the well-worked-out engine of violence of which they are part. Let me elaborate.

    The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America began operations in the United Statesin 1970 and registered its first office in New York State in 1974, describing itselfas a cultural organization with the goals of "add[ing] cultural enri