Right-wing populism

Modi won – but did India?

In Indiaʹs recent elections, the ruling NDA secured 45% of the vote. The fractured oppositionʹs message of inclusivity and justice was no match for Modiʹs brand of jingoistic populism. But what are the implications for Indian society? By Aditi Roy Ghatak

Soon after winning the general elections in India, Narendra Modi promised that he would be prime minister of all Indians; not only of those who voted for him. Minorities, he said, need not fear. The international media praised this new rhetoric as a welcome sign of moderation.

India’s minorities, including almost 200 million Muslims along with Dalits, Adivasis, Christians and others, however, hope that their worst fears will not be realised. They have been familiar with Hindu extremist speak for decades, and statements by some elected leaders induce fear. The unstated message is that minorities have nothing to fear as long as they accept Hindu dominance, but this rule does not apply consistently, as recent hate crimes and their handling confirm. Indians remember the Gujarat riots in 2002, when Modi, then the chief minister of the western Indian state, failed to stop the massacre of Muslims.

"Enemies of the people"

According to the constitution, India is a secular nation and accepts all religions – a position that is increasingly being questioned. Worse, those who disagree are labelled "enemies of the people". Amongst others, five human-rights activists and academics arrested in August last year are still in jail for having stood up for the rights of the oppressed. Independent journalists, civic leaders and intellectuals are harassed, attacked and even killed. Journalist Gauri Lankesh was probably the most prominent victim.

Video-taped murders of Muslims go viral and vigilante groups carry out attacks over beef eating and inter-caste marriages. Alleged terrorists are even rewarded with political positions.

Indian demonstrators take part in a protest against a spate of murders targeting minorities under the pretext of protecting cows in Mumbai on 3 July 2017 (photo: Getty Images/AFP/I. Mukherjee)
A prime minister for all Indians? Soon after winning Indiaʹs recent general elections in India, Narendra Modi announced that minorities need not fear. Familiar with Hindu extremist speak for decades, India’s minorities, including almost 200 million Muslims, are capable of reading between the lines: minorities have nothing to fear as long as they accept Hindu dominance – but this rule does not apply consistently, as recent hate crimes and their handling confirm

Pragya Singh Thakur, accused of conspiracy in the 2006 Malegaon blast case, is a member of parliament. Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has seen no reason to apologise for his alleged hate speech.

On the one hand, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi is resurrected as a hero, and on the other, fantasies based loosely on ancient mythology now trump scientific insights, as bigotry, xenophobia and misogyny run wild.

Empty promises

The Narendra Modi victory is in keeping with the international trend of victorious right-wing populists. They thrive on divisive action while insisting on organised unity. His policies sound good in theory, but have failed the grassroots test thus far.

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