Since Narendra Modi came to power in India in 2014, there has been a marked increase in Hindu nationalist sentiment and religious violence throughout India. This article follows how this has panned out over Modi’s career and what it means for the country.
In 1947, when Pakistan emerged into the world a freshly-minted country, it was for the express purpose of ending the religious violence between the Hindus and the Muslims that had marred the Indian subcontinent up until that point. The reasoning was simple enough: split the subcontinent into two parts, one for the Hindus and one for the Muslims, and let both communities frolic around in their designated plot of land. In retrospect, drawing an arbitrary line in the massive subcontinent and, in the process, uprooting the lives of millions of its inhabitants proved to harm relations between the two communities more than fix them.
Today, more than 70 years after that fateful decision, the Indian subcontinent is still rife with ethno-religious violence. Riots between Muslims and Hindus are common as the state turned a blind eye. In such a charged environment, with both the Hindus and Muslims clinging on to what little gives them the perceived edge, it is no wonder that the Kashmir issue imploded in such a violent way after remaining unresolved for the past seven decades.
Although religiously-motivated violence has always been an issue in India due to its blood-spattered history, it has arguably increased in the past few years. This is interesting to note because India has been a secular state since 1947. So, what exactly motivated this sudden rise in religious violence within India?
The Rise of Modi
In India, there has been a marked rise in nationalist sentiment since the ascension of Narendra Modi and his ruling party BJP, which commonly stresses on the importance of a Hindu identity. Back in 2002, Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat when anti-Muslim protests engulfed the state, leading to the worst religious violence witnessed in India since the Partition. After a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, leading to the deaths of 58 people, Modi was quick to blame the Pakistani secret service and paraded the bodies of the dead around. Protests erupted across Gujarat and 1,000 people were killed according to official estimates, most of which were Muslims. Eventually, Modi was cleared of complicity by the Supreme Court.
Citizenship Amendment Bill
However, Modi’s proclivity for Hindu nationalist has not faded — protests broke out in New Delhi last year after Modi’s government pushed forward the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which allowed religious minorities from particular countries to obtain fast-track citizenship in India. However, Muslims were notably missing from the list of minorities that could take advantage of this and many people saw this as purposeful exclusion, in violation of the secular spirit of the Constitution. Protests broke out across India but these too became violent as the police cracked down on protestors, leading to over 50 people dying.
One of the most controversial and widely-criticized decisions taken by Modi’s government was the revocation of Article 370 regarding Muslim-majority Kashmir, disputed territory between Pakistan and India. Among other things, the revocation of this article would allow people from outside Kashmir to purchase property and settle in Kashmir, leading many to believe that this move was carried out to change the demographic character of the region. To make matters worse, this was followed by a violent crackdown on the insurgency movement against the Indian government within the region. A curfew was imposed, Wi-Fi access cut off and all those who resisted were met with brutal violence.
Indeed, the most alarming part of Modi’s stewardship of India is his attempt to transform a secular state into one that has an overpowering Hindu identity. If he succeeds in his efforts, we might witness the largest democracy in the world fall prey to religious extremism.