India's Rising Majoritarianism

Author Name: Omer Aamir      03 Dec 2019     India

There is increasing distress around South Asia due to India’s rising majoritarianism. As mob lynchings of minorities occur regularly, cow vigilante squads and populist leaders rule the streets of the world’s largest democracy. There is fear around the country and little pressure from the international community for India to mend its ways. The Muslim minorities do not have sympathy from correligionists in the Gulf i.e. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The custodians of the two holiestmosques sign multi-billion dollar contracts with India, while the worst forms of human rights abuse takes place against Muslims on an almost daily basis.The United States, the world’s so-called guardian of human rights, has turned a blind eye to the happenings in India due to its strategic relationship with it. Nevertheless, in its International Religious Freedom Report 2019, it has listed India as a country of serious concern.
According to Kanchan Chandra writing inforeign affairs magazine,India was created as the opposite of majoritarian nationalism in 1947. Instead, with the Bhartiya Janata Party’s rise to power, it has become a safe haven of Hindu majoritarianism. Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Gandhi in 1948 was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a violent right-wing organization that promotes Hindu supremacy.
RSS, the ideological fountainhead of BJP, promoted the belief that Hinduism is the basis of Indian nationalism and followers of other faiths, mainly Islam and Christianity, are Hindus because Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life or the culture of the land. Its aim was to transform India into a Hindu state. Seeing its’ actions over the years, it can be seen that RSS became more violent in its strategies as time went on. It started organizing cow vigilante mobs, protests such as the one to demolish Babri masjid and other acts of majoritarian aggression. Modi was more of an ideologue compared to his peers, but he was also pragmatic and knew that he could rise in the hierarchy only through steadfast loyalty to the organization. Modi’s beginning as a strongman was heralded after 1999, when he vowed to counter Pakistan with bombs in exchange for bullets. Thereafter, he was at the forefront of developments in BJP and its play in India’s power politics.He went on to oversee the 2002 Pogrom of Muslims in Gujrat. Due to his alleged involvement, he was blacklisted from travelling to the United Kingdom and United States. However, after he was elected Prime Minister in 2014, the ban on his travel abroad was lifted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP administration have established an ethno-religious and populist style of rule since 2014. Their agenda has strengthened beyond the formal branches of government while condoning and promoting communal, religious and caste- and gender-based violence. In modern day India, even meditation exercises such as yoga have undertones of Hindu majoritarianism and are organized on a state level to appease the rising exclusivistHindutva ideology.
The Hindutva ideology seeks retribution for events of the past. Bajrang Dal, one of the proponents of this ideology, was formed in 1984 to avenge the construction of the Babri Masjid. Bajrang Dal has either been sanctioned or has been at the fringes of Indian society. However, in 2014, Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an offshoot of RSS, was elected as theprime minister. Since then, the militant group has been legitimized and grown exponentially more powerful. The Ayodhya Temple incident serves to illustrate this. A 16th century memory continued to linger in the minds of the Hindus and eventually led to the destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992 led by foot soldiers of Bajrang Dal. A temple was built in its place and after the case was heard by the Indian Supreme Court,the Supreme Courtruled infavour of awarding the site to the Hindus.This comes months after the BJP government enacted a law making the utterance of triple talaq (divorce) a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in jail. It may have been an attempt to win over the Muslim women, but was seen to create fissures in the Muslim community.
These incidents show that besidesthe Parliament, the Indian Judiciary has started to take on an increasing tilt towards majoritarianism as well. The court usually adopted a counter-majoritarian stance and struck down legislation and executive action moved by the Nehru government and presented itself as the guardian of fundamental rights, particularly the right to property and the right to do business, to deny political majorities the transformative reform agenda they sought. However, as time has gone on, it has become more suffocating for it to issue counter-majoritarian decisions and instead it has turned to issuing verdicts that fall in line with the Hindutva ideology such as the one on triple Talaq. The actions of the BJP government have gotten a nod from the courts more frequently due to the weight of majoritarianism weighing heavy on the courts. This was visible through the Ayodhya temple case. The Indian court can only avoid such ideological polarization by ensuring that its appointment procedure allows no place for political partisanship. However, currently the Indian courts cannot escape from the burden of Hindu majoritarianism.
Moreover, in modern-day India,there is increasing pressure on Indian Muslims to conform or face harsher conditions. The Muslims are living in unease and face daily harassment from the Hindu majority. In today’s context, the BJP leaders openly expound the notion that if Indian Muslims cannot adjust, then they have the option to go to Pakistan. Ever since the BJP government has come to acquire a centre stage in Indian politics, the insidious problem of lynchings, hate crimes/speeches, violence against Dalits, simmering communal tensions and above all, the victimization of Indian Muslims, has been part and parcel of the government’s extensive project.
With regards to its foreign relations, India has solely focused on isolating Pakistan rather than alienating the entire Muslim Ummah. It has maintained healthy relations with Gulf countries and Iran. Moreover, it has provided aid to Afghanistan and sought to strengthen bonds with Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh. Nonetheless, the BJPgovernment’s majoritarian tendencies are elucidated in its internal framing of laws. The internal laws it framed include the ones on banning the trade of cattle. Modi’s government decreed in 2017 that trade in cattle will only be allowed in cases of agriculture ploughing and dairy production. This severely affected the Muslim community, which largely controls the Indian meat industry and is responsible for the $4 billion dollar exports in beef and millions of jobs that are generated in the industry.
This incident shows that India’s majoritarian upsurge under the garb of Hindutva seemsto be self-destructive. The beef exports are being curbed, thus affecting the Indian economy and furthering the burden on the economy are communal tensions which generate a sense of paranoia, thus hindering productivity and leading to a bad image of the country abroad.
In conclusion, it be elucidated that India has experienced an upsurge in Hindu nationalism driven by a majoritarian agenda. It has been unable to stifle the tide of this Hindutva ideology and this has resulted in increasing tensions internally as well as externally, particularly as relations with Pakistan have soured. The Hindutva ideology can be attributed to vent up frustration of thousands of year of foreign rule and its targets seemto be not only Muslims but other minorities as well. The so-called secular farce that was adopted by the state, was solely due to the shock of the creation of Pakistan that the Indians experienced. However, as the aftereffects of that shock have subsided, Hindus have reclined towards their internal whims, i.e. propagating the Hindutva ideology. In a country of diverse religions, multicultural traditions and a history of coexistence, the promotion of Hindu ideology is extremely dangerous. It will fracture the society beyond repair and will be detrimental to its complex democracy.
However, more importantly, the venom of Hindu ideology looks likely to spill across the border and in the future, theBJP-government adopting an increasingly belligerent attitude towards Pakistan. Their focus is Pakistan, as elucidated by statements of their top leadership and therefore, Pakistan must remain aware and ready in case of any nefarious designs of Modi and his accomplices.
Omer Aamir is a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies. He plans to pursue International law and International Relations for further studies.

 

The author is research fellow at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). This article was first published in Daily NHT. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com