Rightwing groups invariably love to hate Sweden, a small, socialist, self-righteous country, who aspires to be a humanitarian superpower. Around the developed world, conservative media never misses any chance to spread a negative image of a liberal Sweden and its immigration policy. With a population of nearly 10 million, Sweden has received almost a quarter of a million asylum seekers at the time of Syrian refugee crisis in 2014 and 2015, the largest number per capita of any country in Europe. This ‘open-door’ policy has infuriated the American Right further. It spreads canards of how Swedish progressive idealism of accepting refugees, particularly Muslims is bringing disaster to the country. Even American President Donald Trump has been leading this smear campaign when he told a crowd addressing a rally in Florida in February 2017: “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. … They took in large numbers (of immigrants). They’re having problems like they never thought possible.” Nothing had actually happened in Sweden the night before when Trump said that. Trump was only doing what he does the best, spreading alternative truth.
After Trump’s infamous speech, Sweden and its most immigrant receiving city, Malmö have further become the favorite punching bag for ultra-rights all over the world. It is another matter, Sweden is still the best in the world at pretty much everything and Malmö is much safer than any American cities, but the false propaganda has even strengthened skinhead and neo-Nazi outfits in Sweden itself. In the recent years, Sweden has been witnessing one of the fastest-growing nationalist parties, the Sweden Democrats, in Europe. In June 2017, it had become the second biggest party in polls with support of around a fifth of Swedes. Country’s environment is increasingly turning hostile to immigrants in general. Even India’s Hindu rightwing has started using Sweden’s example of how Muslim immigration can ‘ruin’ the peace and prosperity of a developed country. Concocted stories of Muslim immigrants’ criminal acts in Sweden were often cited recently to justify Modi regime’s refusal to accept Muslim Rohingya refugees. Several Hindu rightwing social media entrepreneurs regularly goad me to worry about Muslim immigrants in Sweden and to stop talking about Hindutva fundamentalism in India. Even, regularly India’s Hindutva trolls join hands with Sweden’s ultra-nationalists to hurl abuse at Muslim refugees. However, India’s Hindu rightwing while coming together with Swedish anti-immigrant ultra-nationalists tends to forget that not only the Muslim migration, but also Hindu migration to Sweden has taken huge upswing in recent years.
Sweden, a small country, has already become permanent home for more than 25000 Indians, mostly Hindus and a large floating population of Indian professionals and computer engineers. In 1950s, some Indian students came and stayed on and in 1970s followed by a large number of Gujarati Hindu businessmen from Uganda after being thrown out by Idi Amin. In 1980s, a big group of Punjabis came obtaining political asylum. After Sweden’s immigration policy reform in 2008, India has become a leading country of labor supply, mostly of computer specialists. The number of Hindus living in Sweden has also strengthened due to addition of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka and Hindu refugees from Bangladesh. In the last ten years, Sweden’s Hindu population has been increasing 1.06 percent annually due to largescale migration. There are many religious minorities within Indian community in Sweden, but due to the sheer size, a cultural form of Hinduism has dominated the Indian diaspora. This identity formation has not been limited to remain being cultural only, it has also been colored to a large extent with political ideology of Hindutva.
The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has been directly involved in mobilizing Indian diaspora in different parts of the world and its branches outside India being known as Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh. Its Swedish chapter whose mission is to promote Hindu culture among diaspora community has been also active in recent years in recruiting support in various Hindu temples, which has come up in different parts of the country. Several of these Hindu diaspora organizations in Sweden have been also raising money to support RSS and its affiliate organizations and their activities in India. The ever-growing Hindu diaspora in Sweden is increasingly contributing to promote an aggressive form of Hindu nationalism in India. The migration to an egalitarian society like Sweden is not even able to bridge caste divisions within the Hindu diaspora. Diaspora members are mostly upper caste Hindus and they dominate places of worship and other cultural associations in Sweden. There are five major Hindu temples in Sweden and a large number of cultural organizations in Sweden. Moreover, the upper caste diaspora has been providing financial and political support to RSS to demand revocation of India’s caste-based job reservation policy in favor of lower caste and indigenous population.
While actively aiding Hindutva politics in India, Hindus in Sweden are using religion and culture to organize collective activities and creating visibility in Swedish society. In general, the Hindus have succeeded fairly well in their economic integration into Swedish society, while their political and social participations have been very limited. The growing anti-immigrant sentiments among the natives in Sweden has also not excluded this professionally successful, but socially exclusive group. Hindu software engineers usually score high on performance and customer satisfaction and thus favored by their employers, but an increasing number of Swedish have started considering them as job stealers. There is a growing demand on the ruling party of Sweden, the Social Democrats to balance its traditional pro-immigration credentials to protect country’s job market. As per the European Social Survey in 2014, most Swedish had favored immigration should be allowed to a “great” or “pretty great” extent. However, by late 2016, this attitude had changed considerably and a majority wanted to see a reduced intake of migrants. It is true that 2017 US News and World Report List has still recognized Sweden as the best county in the world to be an immigrant, but the ground situation is fast shifting. In this context, the growing bonhomie between India’s Hindu fundamentalists and Swedish nationalists is not going to sustain for long. Sooner than later, Hindu diaspora in Sweden will also come under far-right’s radar of hatred.
The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden