The Platform

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In September, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the Chief Minister of Assam, made a very controversial remark about “integrating Bangladesh and Pakistan.” Sarma was trying to blunt the Congress party’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, which Mint describes as “a five-month, 3,500-kilometer long padyatra from Kanyakumari in the South of India to Srinagar in the North. It is part of the party’s national mass outreach program aimed at highlighting social polarisation, economic inequalities, and political centralization.”

In particular bad timing, Sarma made the remark at a time when Bangladesh’s prime minister was on an official state visit to India.

Sarma’s rhetoric constitutes a component of Hindu nationalists’ stated objective of ‘Akhand Bharat’ which envisions a unified India which would include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Myanmar.

Akhand Bharat is a concept closely associated with the Hindutva ideology and is supported by right-wing Hindu nationalist parties like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishva Hindu Parishad, Shiv Sena, and the Bharatiya Janata Party which all back Narendra Modi, the current prime minister.

While many Hindu nationalists back a united India, the concept also faces backlash from progressive quarters, but they are increasingly in the minority with little political or social agency. The promoters of Hindutva are using India’s democratic culture and manipulating a large population to achieve their dream. Himanta Biswa Sarma’s remark also shows how mainstream Akhand Bharat has become.

Fascist Hindu nationalism is impacting India both internally and externally. Internally, it is contributing to the growth of ugly right-wing politics and further segregating India’s pluralistic society. For instance, when the Modi government scrapped Article 370, right-wing parties were quick to acknowledge it as part of Akhand Bharat.

In the same manner, when former Pakistani cricketer Danish Kaneria expressed his desire to visit the controversial Ram Mandir (Temple) in Ayodhya, the head of the temple also used the concept saying that “Pakistan is a part of Akhand Bharat and Hindus living there are our brothers. If [Kaneria] wants to visit Ram Mandir and offer prayers, then he is most welcome.” It also poses a threat to social harmony by fueling hate speech, Islamophobia, and misinformation.

Externally, Akhand Bharat should concern India’s sovereign neighbors. Based on its ideology of a unified Hindu India, the only way to achieve this vision would be through annexation and territorial conquest. The fear is also not irrational considering views expressed by leading Indian politicians who are members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Influential party leader Biplab Kumar Deb revealed last year that the Bharatiya Janata Party has plans to expand its footprint in Nepal and Sri Lanka.

India is the world’s largest democracy but increasingly, the government and its supporters of Hindu extremists are simply ignoring many of the tenants of democracy. The ruling party’s expansionist dream is a symptom of fascism and could be likened to any number of other grand schemes throughout history or currently being played out in Ukraine. Hence, Akhand Bharat for all intents and purposes should be likened to fascism.

Doreen Chowdhury is a Doctoral Researcher at University of Groningen. Her areas of interest are Comparative Politics, Globalization, South Asian Studies, and Migration Studies. Her works have appeared in The Geopolitics, Aequitas Review, Eurasia Review, and The Financial Express.