Narendra Modi and the rise of Hindu Nationalists

Spearhead Analysis – 31.07.2015

By Ali Farooq

Narendra-ModiThe BJP government rose to power in the Indian elections of 2014 with the mandate that they will revolutionize the Indian economy and make India a formidable economic power on the world stage. One other key-stone assurance they gave the Indian public was that they will be tough on terrorism with special reference to alleged sponsorship of terrorist activities in India by Pakistan. This hawkish policy towards Pakistan is designed to appease the core constituency of the BJP: the Hindu Nationalists.

The current leadership of the BJP including the Prime Minister and quite a few of his ministers are members of a Hindu Nationalist group called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is historically an organization that is intolerant of minorities who in India’s case are people of all religions except Hinduism. Minorities currently account for approximately 20 % of the Indian Population a major portion of which consists of Muslims. Liberals in India are worried that the policies of this right wing government are making the minorities anxious and on top of that Mr. Modi’s stint in Gujarat that was marred with allegations that he didn’t do enough to prevent the 2002 Gujarat Riots in which about two thousand people mostly Muslims lost their lives doesn’t help the government’s cause either. The government is being seen as lenient towards Hindu nationalist organizations who have organized re-conversion campaigns of Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism. Their rationale for these conversions is that a few hundred years ago primarily all inhabitants of India were Hindus with the exception of Parsis and Jews and the re-conversions are basically getting people to accept their true faith.

A year has passed since the BJP government swept into power, and we have yet to see any significant progress on the economic front. The real GDP growth rates haven’t exploded as was the expectation during the election campaigns. In order for the economy to grow faster structural reforms need to be made in the power sector while at the same time bureaucratic barriers need to be removed to facilitate foreign direct investment.

As each day passes the Indian electorate is getting impatient as the election of their “so called Messiah” has not yielded the results they expected. Narendra Modi and his cabinet are well aware of this and have decided to take the route of bashing Pakistan as a way of point scoring and portraying that not all is lost. The Pakistani Prime Minister has on multiple occasions initiated steps towards resumption of talks between Islamabad and New Delhi but his efforts have been in vain. It looks as if the Indian government is portraying to the world that Pakistan is desperate to improve relations with its immediate neighbor.

Recently when terrorists struck a police station in Gurdaspur in India near the border with Pakistan, within three hours the Indian government put the blame on Pakistan and its intelligence services for being involved. Rather than gathering the facts before making such a claim they assumed that Pakistan was responsible. These types of premature accusations are counter-productive and further destabilize the region. Also India should not forget that the Samjhota express attacks that took place on Indian soil were executed by Indian nationals themselves.

In the near future till this extreme right-wing Hindu nationalist government remain in power India’s relations with Pakistan are going to deteriorate even further unless there is a policy shift in New Delhi towards Islamabad. One thing the Indians should keep in mind is that the combination of religion and statecraft is a poisonous one. Pakistan is a prime example as it continues to struggle with the hangover effects of the policies of United States that were financed by Saudi Arabia during the Zia era which gave rise to militancy in the AfPak region. India should be more careful because Pakistan is a country which is 97% Muslim and still the puritan form of Islam that was propagated during the Zia years has brought decades of misery upon its people in the form of sectarian killings and the use of violence against minorities. India’s minorities are in much greater number and they belong to many different religions. Any perceived or actual threat to their cultural or religious norms from the Hindu nationalists could have catastrophic consequences for the country.

India is on its way to become a formidable power on the world stage but if it keeps on this path of restructuring its society along Hindu lines it will fail to materialize this goal. Western countries specifically United States which has a big stake in the region is interested in promoting religious tolerance in India. When President Obama visited India in 2015 he specifically mentioned that the current religious intolerance in India would shock its founder Mahatma Gandhi. This remark gave rise to a big debate on the issue in India.

India’s leadership should adopt secular policies which will be in line with its constitution that declared India as a secular democratic republic. If Narendra Modi wants history to judge him as a global statesman he should not let Hindu nationalists hijack the principles on which the country was founded. Only time will tell what lies in the future for the Indian people. We can just hope that the BJP realizes sooner than later that the current trajectory of its policies will divide the country along religious lines and might threaten the federation as a whole.