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August 14, 2020

Majoritarian nationalism

Opinion

August 14, 2020

On August 5, India completed a year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made good on his election promise of doing away with the special status of Kashmir.

While Kashmir was still reeling under its repercussions, Modi himself was making good on another of his promises to the Hindu majority – of returning to Ayodhya for the initiation ceremony of construction of a temple at the place where Babri Masjid once stood.

Is Modi doing this because he has risen through the ranks of the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and is thoroughly biased against the Muslims of his country? Or is there a political point in pursuing the Hindu nationalist agenda? In other words, instead of asking questions about the person, let us question the sociopolitical underpinnings of democracy in India that has catapulted divisive leaders like him to power.

While the BJP had increased the number of its members in the State Assembly of Gujarat from 11 to 67 from 1985 to 1990, it formed government in the state for the first time by almost doubling its tally to 121 in 1995. At the same time, its share in the total votes cast in the State Assembly elections rose dramatically from 26.7 percent to 42.5 percent. This enormous victory came on the heels of the party’s role in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.

When anti-Muslim riots erupted in Gujarat in February 2002, Modi was the chief minister of the state. He was widely blamed and condemned in the national and international media for being a silent spectator, if not outright complicit, in the riots.

Owing to the controversy surrounding him in connection with the riots, Modi dissolved the State Assembly months before the expiry of its term and called for fresh elections in December. Notwithstanding all the media reporting about his negative role as the CM, Modi’s BJP won a record 127 seats in the State Assembly and bagged 49.9 percent of the total votes cast.

When the same Modi, with a reputation tarnished by communalism, came to the centre as the BJP’s candidate for the prime minister’s slot, the story was no different. He raised the BJP’s share in the total votes cast from 18.8 percent in 2009 to 31.3 percent in 2014 and 37.4 in 2019. At the same time, he managed to decrease Congress’s share in the total votes cast from 28.6 percent in 2009 to 19.5 percent in both 2014 and 2019 elections.

This not only explains Modi’s rise on the Indian political scene but also determines the direction of his politics. If populist majoritarian nationalism hinging on hatemongering against minority communities is winning him elections, he and his party would be taking a political gamble by changing course. So when his party whisks the CAA past parliament despite protests or the prime minister leads Bhoomi Pujan at the Ram Temple, they are merely yielding to the aspirations of a large segment of the majority Hindu community of India.

Therefore, the problem in India is deeper than one person’s or one party’s political eccentricities. The problem seems to be that purist majoritarian nationalism is increasingly gaining ground among the majority Hindu community. It is naturally driving a communal wedge between the majority and the minorities by creating outgroups that do not fall within this brand of majoritarian nationalism.

In the case of India, such outgroups do not consist of small populations. The minority Muslim population of India that is being alienated through such an approach constituted 14.2 percent of the total population of India in 2011. Even if it is thinly spread, unlike other religious minorities like Sikhs who are concentrated in a couple of states, it still is around 200 million.

Perhaps, after winning two terms, it is time for Prime Minister Modi to correct course and save India from alienating large segments of the minority populations. It is time for the Indian prime minister to heal the wounds of the minorities and inject some sense into the heads of the majority.

The writer is a research analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad.