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Concerns raised over Hindu nationalist event at Eden Park

7 February, 2024

Interview by Caeden Tipler, adapted by Mahdhi Osman-Penrice

Founder of Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians and activist, Dr Sapna Samant, says last month’s Hindu nationalist rally at Eden Park is “very troubling to see on the whenua”. Image: Northern Grandstand, Eden Park - Wikimedia Commons

In January, a rally was held at Eden Park in Auckland to commemorate the opening of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, India.

The Ram Mandir is a temple constructed on what Hindus, including India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi, identify as the birthplace of Lord Ram, a pivotal Hindu deity. 

However, the construction of the temple is controversial among India’s minority Muslim diaspora, as the site previously housed the Babri Masjid; a 16th-century mosque that was destroyed by a Hindu nationalist mob in 1992, causing the death of over 2000 people.

The controversial Prana Pratishta ceremony at Eden Park has raised concerns about the spread of Hindutva — otherwise known as Hindu extremism, which has links to anti-Muslim, anti-Sikh, and anti-women ideology in Aotearoa.

Founder of Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians and activist, Dr Sapna Samant, told 95bFM’s The Wire that the gathering at Eden Park was not just an expression of religious fidelity as it claims.

“It was really a show of Hindu nationalism, which is very troubling to see on the whenua."

Samant emphasises that Hindutva is not Hinduism but a “fascist ideology disguised as a rigid form of Hinduism”, promoted by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi who leads India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

ACT Party Leader, David Seymour, and the National Party’s Minister for Ethnic Communities, Melissa Lee, were both at the rally.

Samant says there is a track record of New Zealand politicians attending Hindu nationalist events but that Seymour and Lee’s participation at this event is particularly concerning.

“They not only attended this event but sent out messages to Hindu nationalists globally that they are supportive of Hindu nationalism.”

Both politicians gave a comment to the Indian news agency, Asian News International (ANI), an organisation accused of spreading Hindu nationalist propaganda for the current Indian government, with Seymour going as far as to chant the phrase “Jai Shri Ram”.

The term “Jai Shri Ram” translates to ‘Victory to Lord Ram’ and is regularly chanted during instances of Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim violence in India, including lynchings.

Lee told The Spinoff that she attended the rally as a Minister in support of the country’s ethnic communities.

However, Samant questions where Lee has shown support for other minority groups needing advocacy, such as the Palestinian community.

“They will go with whom they think the communities they ally with are worth attending.”

Eden Park also recently faced criticism for banning the display of Palestinian flags at a cricket match a week before the Hindu nationalist rally, which Samant thinks is hypocritical.

“Eden Park banned the display of Palestinian flags on the Saturday and hosted a Hindu nationalist event on the Sunday, where is the consistency?”.

When asked for comment, Eden Park told 95bFM: “We are confident the appropriate diligence was conducted ahead of Sunday’s event, which was well attended by a number of community leaders along with central government and Auckland Council representatives."

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air