Former Australian Senator: Diplomat’s RSS Visit “Deeply Shameful”

“This is deeply shameful,” stated former Australian Senator Lee Rhiannon on 15 November in reaction to Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, visiting the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary on the same day.

“RSS publicly admire Hitler and promote a pure race ideology, extreme Hindu nationalism, for India,” added Rhiannon, who was a Senator representing New South Wales (NSW) from 2011 to 2018. Her tenure overlapped with O’Farrell’s stint as NSW Premier. O’Farrell resigned from that position in 2014 after an inquiry by an anti-corruption commission revealed he had failed to disclose costly corporate gifts.

Rhiannon is not the only Australian shocked by O’Farrell’s RSS meeting.

Australian journalist CJ Werleman, sharing pictures of O’Farrell’s meeting with the RSS chief, accused the diplomat of praising “fascist paramilitary organization RSS, which has a stated aim to do to Indian Muslims what the Nazis did to the European Jews.” Werleman further announced that he sent a formal letter of protest to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs in response to “the decision of its top diplomat to praise RSS, a Nazi-inspired Hindu fascist organization.” The letter, addressed to O’Farrell and first circulated by Indian activist Saket Gokhale, states in part:

The relationship between India and Australia is robust and has a long positive history based on our mutual values of democracy, freedom, equality, respect for human rights, and treating people equally regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. I’m sure you’ll agree that both our nations hold these values very dear to our souls as we partner and build on our relationship in the 21st century.

Against the backdrop of this context, it was a matter of utter dismay and disappointment for many liberal Indians who believe in these shared values to see you providing legitimacy to the RSS — an organization that preaches radical Hindutva, doesn’t believe in the India of a secular India, has been know to idolize the Nazi ideology, and runs quasi-militant outfits that have often been charged with participating in communal riots and running campaigns against the religious minorities of India.

Arguing that Australia is “giving legitimacy” to the “fascist” RSS, Gokhale noted, “It’s sad that Australia has forgotten that RSS-led Bajrang Dal killed Pastor Graham Staines and his two children.” Staines, an Australian missionary who ran a home for lepers in India for over 30 years, was attacked and burned alive in 1999. The killers claimed they were “provoked by the ‘corruption of tribal culture’ by the missionaries, who fed villagers beef and gave them bras and sanitary napkins.”

As controversy continues to swirl around O’Farrell’s visit — which he says was made to applaud RSS’s COVID-19 relief efforts — a petition demanding his resignation has garnered over 1300 signatures.

“O’Farrell’s laudatory visit to the RSS headquarters instills a spirit of dread within the persecuted minorities of India as well as those Australian citizens of Indian minority origin,” states the petition. “His open praise for RSS is already being used by right-wing media outlets in India as a propaganda tool to promote the paramilitary. In short, O’Farrell’s visit with RSS represents a threat to regional peace and stability.”

Rhiannon, a signatory to the petition, is among those promoting the call for O’Farrell’s resignation.

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Pieter Friedrich

Pieter Friedrich

Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.