Jaskaran Sandhu: Beware Of Pro-Modi Rallies Attempting To Provoke Sikhs In The West

The goals of pro-Modi rallies are clear. Much like in India, the hope is one of provocation to change narratives.

Jaskaran Sandhu
March 1, 2021 | 3.5 min. read

It is easy to understand why Sikhs, Punjabis, and Indians around the world are continuing to hold solidarity rallies in support of the farmers’ protests.

We worry about loved ones back home facing state violence. We have already seen shocking crackdowns from India, between hired goons attacking the demonstrators and arbitrary arrest of journalists to police brutality and sedition charges against protestors.

For Sikhs, there is an extra layer of anxiety, as our people faced genocide at the hands of the Indian state once before. A lot of the recent images and rhetoric from the Modi government and its supporters is eerily reminiscent of the lead up to 1984 and beyond. 

Those in the West know that demonstrating in front of government buildings, including legislatures and consulates, will bring greater international scrutiny to what is happening in India and force Modi’s Hindu Nationalist government to restrain itself from further draconian and undemocratic measures. 

And it has, in many ways, worked.

The level of global scrutiny Modi is receiving is unprecedented during his tenure as Prime Minister. His history with the Nazi and Hitler inspired Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the spiritual backbone of the Sangh Parivar and governing BJP, is now widely known.  India’s collapsing democracy, including its free press, is getting the attention it deserves, albeit a few years late. The rise of violent Hindu Nationalism and state-sponsored attacks on minority groups at the hands of fascists (sometimes referred to as Saffron Terror) has finally garnered the level of concern worthy of its threat. 

What is harder to understand, though, is why there have been pro-Modi rallies, regardless of how small, outside of India. These demonstrations have shared a few disturbing similarities. 

They have been organized or promoted by pro-RSS and BJP groups or affiliated members. The RSS operates around the world through its international arm known as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), and the BJP through organizations known as “Overseas Friends of the BJP”. The RSS has been previously banned in India, including for its role in the mob demolition of the historic Babri Masjid and resulting anti-Muslim violence. The purpose of both organizations is to bolster Hindu Nationalism abroad and promote the Modi government agenda. 

There are some allegations that Indian consulates have been directly involved in organizing rallies as well, which is believable considering their past history of interfering in the affairs of Sikhs in the diaspora. Indian consulates have become more abrasive during the course of the farmers’ protest in general.

These rallies, while completely ignored by Canadian mainstream media, have been featured prominently in Indian pro-state (i.e. Godi) media.  Some Indian news stories have been curious due to their absurdity as they featured negligibly small numbers of pro-India demonstrators. There is a more nefarious purpose to these pro-India rallies. 

Rather than protesting outside government buildings, which would be the normal thing to do, pro-Modi rallies have mostly targeted communities, neighbourhoods, and centres with heavy Sikh and Punjabi populations instead. 

The goals of these pro-Modi rallies are clear. Much like in India, the hope is one of provocation. This serves the dual purpose of distracting international scrutiny forming around Modi’s India due to successful pro-farmers’ solidarity protests, as well as equipping Indian media with the reframing it so desperately needs on the diaspora. 

Hindu Nationalists use similar tactics in India, which has worried Sikhs in the diaspora. For example, in late January of this year members of the BJP and RSS targeted the historic Sis Ganj Gurdwara in Delhi, threatening Sikhs in retaliation for the farmers’ protest. 

The mid-February pro-Modi rally in Australia, is the most egregious recent example of this tactic outside of India. Hindu Nationalists targeted a Sydney Gurdwara while shouting religious slogans, however quick police action thankfully stopped the convoy before it could arrive at the site. It goes without saying that Sikhs had congregated at the Gurdwara to protect it if the Hindu Nationalists did succeed in reaching. 

A similar pro-Modi car rally was organized yesterday through pockets of Sikh populations in Brampton - a city home to one of the largest concentrations of Punjabis in the world. While we laughed at the fact that rally participants got into accidents with one another over the stretch of their demonstration in support of Hindu Nationalism, there is a lot to be worried about. 

All of this is why Sikhs and Punjabis around the world need to stay alert and aware of attempts to provoke the community. The defense of our Gurdwaras and community centres are critical. We need to stay disciplined and vigilant and, much like the Sydney example, alert local authorities as soon as we learn of them so they are lawfully stopped before they provoke the tension Hindu Nationalist want.


Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Senior Consultant at the public affairs agency Crestview Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_

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