With India’s government brutally cracking down on protests against changes to the country’s secular constitution, ISMAEEL NAKHUDA explains how India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is simply finishing off from where Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer left off.

Shot point blank in the chest, the Father of the Nation Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi fell to the ground as his white homespun khadi attire of traditional Indian clothes became soiled with his crimson blood.

Gandhi, a stalwart of Indian independence, breathed his last on 30 January 1948, a scene poignantly re-enacted by actor Ben Kingsley in Richard Attenborough’s moving 1982 epic biographical film, Gandhi. Millions of Indians mourned the death of a man who later on became a global symbol of hope, freedom, justice, compassion and interfaith relations.

Derogatorily vilified by Winston Churchill as the “Half-Naked Fakir” or “Seditious Fakir,” the Mahatma had spent several decades running a non-violent campaign to secure a free India from British rule, something that captivated the hearts of millions across the world.

Though a devout Hindu who died with the words Ram, Ram on his lips, it is ironic that this icon of freedom was brutally murdered by a Hindu fanatic incensed at his championing the rights of all Indians regardless of faith and ethnicity. For his killer, Nathuram Godse, Gandhi had betrayed Hinduism.

Godse was a product of what was then considered to be a fringe right-wing Hindu extremist group called the Mahasabha also known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Established during the British Raj, the founders and leaders of the RSS were deeply influenced by Fascism and Nazism and espoused a form of Hinduism that contemporary moderate Hindu politicians such as Shashi Tharoor describe as “an assault on Hinduism.”

Their goal was simple, they wanted an India completely dominated by Hindus and espoused militant Hindu activism to achieve their goals, something that their ideological descendants continue to champion.

During the first part of the 20th century, RSS founders had links to and admiration for fascists such as Mussolini and Hitler. For instance, M.S. Golwalkar (1906-1973), a famous RSS ideologue, wrote at the height of Nazi Germany’s rise, “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races—the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”

Another RSS ideologue, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966), openly praised Hitler’s horrid treatment of the Jews and advocated similar treatment for India’s Muslims. In 1939 he wrote the foreword to a book by Savitri Devi, another Nazi sympathizer who considered Hitler an avatar of Vishnu.

Such was the lethality of its rhetoric that the RSS was banned by the British and also periodically, after independence, by the Indian government. For the RSS, India’s independence from colonial rule in 1947 was not enough. For them, the new leaders’ territorial nationalism (the Indian nation being formed of all people who reside there) was a “perverted concept of nationalism” and not real freedom.

They believed that India’s embracing of non-Hindus in the name of national unity was wrong and that the country should be a nation of Hindus or a Hindu Rashtra. Savarkar once said that if you are a Muslim, Christian or Parsi, however ‘Hindu’ you may be culturally, India is not your holy land. Golwalkar also wrote, “There are only two courses open to these foreign elements, either merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race.

That is the only sound view on the minorities’ problem… [The] foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens’ rights.”

It is from this twisted fascist ideology that India’s present government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes their ideological inspiration. It is also this mind-set that underpins the recent political developments in India.

That Muslims have been left out of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that turns religion into a means of deciding who to treat as an illegal immigrant and who should be fast-tracked for citizenship is no coincidence.

India’s government is planning to roll out a National Register of Citizens (NRC) that has already been trialled in the north-eastern state of Assam with disastrous consequences.

Some 1.9 million people comprising both Hindus and Muslims have been made stateless. In a country where people often do not have documentation or documentation that is peppered with mistakes and so prone to being rejected, the nation-wide NRC will make tens of millions stateless.

There is, however, a way out for Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis who find their names not on the register—they could quite simply use the CAA to correct their situation.

Muslims on the other hand have no recourse. They will be rendered without a state, therefore realising the RSS’ vision of creating a nation of Hindus where so-called ‘foreign races’ do not even enjoy citizen rights.

It is because of this challenge to the country’s founding as a secular republic that students and political activists across India, in the footsteps of the original Indian freedom fighters, are peacefully calling for their voices to be heard, something that is leading to a brutal crackdown. Godse and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are peas from the same pod. Seventy-one years on since the killing of Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is quite simply finishing off from where his assassin left off.