India is home to a number of dissident Hindu extremist groups, who aim to set up parallel regional governments to satisfy their ethno-religious fanaticism, and who are often comparable to radical Islamist groups. These extremists are increasingly resorting to violence as a means for change.

Carnegie’s Gilles Dorronsoro introduced Christophe Jaffrelot, senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS in Paris, who presented on the subject of his latest book, Armed Militias of South Asia (2009). This work comprehensively chronicles the trends of militia activity in the Indian subcontinent over the last decade.

According to Jaffrelot, militias in India have been organized along three general lines: political, ethno-nationalist, and religious fundamentalist. Although disparate, these movements all serve to undermine centralized state governments by playing an increasing role in regional governance.

Extremists: 

  • Roots: Hindu militias have their roots in nonviolent resistance, which has been cyclically abandoned and embraced over the last decades. Currently, many of these groups are becoming more violent. 
  • Constituents: Hindu militia and terrorist organizations are generally made up of three types of people: religious authorities, former and current army officers, and disillusioned mainstream Hindu nationalists. 
  • Power: Some groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevah Sangh (RSS) in Gujarat, control regional policy by setting up parallel administrations and pressuring Hindus to conform to their fundamentalist program. In some areas, militia control is so strong that interfaith marriage is impossible. 
  • Targets: Muslims are the biggest target of Hindu extremists, followed by Christians. 
  • Long-term Goals: Hindu extremists want a regime change in India that would support religious nationalistic ideology. 
  • Fears: Because they feel that their Muslim counterparts are stronger and better coordinated, Hindu extremists are increasingly emulating Islamist terrorist tactics. 

Government Challenges: 

  • Politics: The 2009 electoral loss of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, does not signify that India is any safer from Hindu militias. Many of these extremist groups function outside the political sphere. 
  • Need for Equality: The Congress Party has been dragging its feet in regard to guaranteeing equality for Muslims. For example, there is blatant under-representation of Muslim candidates in the Congress party voting lists for general election. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for Muslims is staggering, and unless the government actively implements the rule of law over Hindu extremist groups, the trend of inequality will only worsen. 
  • Regaining Control: The Indian government should reassert itself in areas where militias are gaining influence in order to reestablish state control over the entirety of India. If it does not, the government risks losing political and social relevance. 
  • Homegrown Islamic Terrorism: In addition to the Hindu extremists, who constitute a larger segment of its population, India must also address homegrown Islamic terrorist groups, such as the Indian Mujahideen. The two radical movements are fueling one another.