The promise of an inclusive India?

As Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) starts its second innings in government after one of the most bitter, vicious and polarising election campaigns India has witnessed, he has been speaking of an aspirational and inclusive India.

The BJP-led coalition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) secured 350 seats of the 542 seats in the Lok Shaba (parliamentary) elections, with their majority growing from 25% in 2009 to 45% in 2019. Given the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda, this success gives rise to concerns that BJP-controlled areas may be subject to increased FoRB violations.

With exceptions in the south, for example in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry, the BJP made fresh progress in West Bengal and Odhisa, and continued to tighten its grip on existing stronghold states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.  Despite the Southern states remaining largely free from the BJP, FoRB monitoring in the South will need to be stepped up, particularly with the party’s win in West Bengal and Odhisa, states that have recorded a rise in FoRB violations.  

On the 24 May, Modi addressed the NDA at the Central Hall in Parliament. Before addressing the delegation, he bowed before the Indian Constitution and touched the apex document with his forehead. He then took the podium and called on the coalition to take everyone along, even those who did not vote for them. He urged the NDA to regain the trust of minorities, reminding them that India’s minorities have been kept in an illusion, climate of fear and insecurity and that they were misled by deceit.

Modi 2.0?

Modi has a reputation of saying one thing and doing another and his chequered style of governance in his first term is testament to this.

Many have credited Modi’s speech at the Central Hall as statesman-like. Nevertheless, Modi has a reputation of saying one thing and doing another and his chequered style of governance in his first term is testament to this.

Among others, minorities have felt betrayed and disenchanted in the last five years under Modi 1.0, with reports of repression of religious minorities, and ethno-nationalism where Muslim and Christians are regarded as the ‘other.’ Despite Modi 2.0’s warm words, within hours of the 2019 results, a group of cow vigilantes in Madhya Pradesh attacked a Muslim man and his wife on the rumour that they were carrying beef meat. The man was then forced to assault his wife with a ‘chappal’ (sandal) and chant “Jai Shri Ram,” a Hindu chant.

On 27 May Mohammad Barkat Alam, a Muslim tailor from Gurugram was beaten as he returned to his shop from the mosque. His skull cap was removed and thrown away, and he was forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram.” Sources say that he was threatened not to wear skull cap in the area. In another incident, a detergent salesman, Mohd. Qasim was shot in Kumbhi village, Begusarai district, Bihar, after his attacker stopped and asked his name and then told him that he should go to Pakistan. The accused is yet to be arrested.

Meanwhile in Delhi, Dr Arun Gadre, an eminent gynaecologist from Pune, was cornered by five youth who forced him to say “Jai Shri Ram” while he was out on a walk on 26 May. In a YouTube post he recounts his concerns about the kind of society India is turning into, claiming that recent developments are not something he has witnessed before.

Following the elections government officials have continued the concerning practice of giving speeches which could incite religious intolerance. Recently, Pratap Chandra Sarangi, the newly appointed Union Minister of State for Animal Husbandry from Odhisa said that religious conversions can lead to anti-national activities. He went on to compare religious conversion to crimes in which girls are forced to perform sexual services in exchange for favours in medicine or education.

India’s New Nationalism

India’s new nationalism is hard and hostile, portraying anyone who does not align themselves with the political orientation of the BJP as dishonourable enemies of the people and ‘anti-national.

In 2018, CSW met a Pastor Keshav and his wife, Latha, from Koppa, Karnataka, who have been defending themselves against false charges of conversion for over five years. He recounted that the person who acted as his Surety at his bail hearing was reprimanded by the magistrate who said: “They are anti-nationals, you rascal. Why are you posting bail for them?”

Silver tongued oratory has established Modi’s ‘brand,’ and is now directing Indian politics in a majoritarian route. We see a leader who bows to the Constitution which promotes and protects fundamental rights, including the freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate religion, but on the other hand, pays tribute to the formulator of the Hindutva philosophy, V.D Savarkar, on his 136th birthday anniversary, who in Modi’s opinion was an inspiration to nation building.

Clearly, the meaning of ‘secularism’ in India is undergoing a kind of deconstruction, whereby the rights of the majority via a religious narrative of Hindutva becomes the new ‘secular.’ India is set on course towards fulfilling the BJP-RSS objective, which is to make India a Hindu Rashtra (nation), and as one commentator noted “they are now a juggernaut hard to stop.”

By CSW’s South Asia Team Leader