On September 4, 2014, the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced the creation of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). The establishment of this new al-Qaeda branch intersected with two other major political developments in 2014: the advent of ISIS’ “caliphate” in Syria-Iraq in June, and, in May, the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in India, which brought Hindu Nationalism into the social and political mainstream. In response to these two developments, ISIS subsequently undertook to establish its own presence in South Asia. In May 2019, following an ISIS attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir, the caliphate movement announced that it had created a Wilayah (province) for India.
Today, both ISIS and AQIS are competing throughout South Asia to win recruits, conduct terror attacks, and foment religious turmoil—and both have increasingly fixed their gaze on India. While it has been widely recognized these two Salafi-Jihadist movements are seeking to exploit Muslim-Hindu communal tensions in India for their own gain, less attention has been paid to their rhetoric about the Modi government and the social and political ascendancy of Hindutva or Hindu Nationalism. This dynamic demands greater attention.
The rise of Hindu Nationalism in recent decades has exacerbated communal tensions in parts of India, while Hindutva extremists have committed serial crimes against Muslims. Zawahiri himself referenced these crimes—particularly the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujurat in 2002—when he announced the formation of AQIS. ISIS ideologists have since done the same. Indeed, both groups argue that India’s Hindus and Muslims are inexorably at odds with one another and the rise of Hindutva confirms this.