Modi Doctrine – Divisive Politics and Minority Rights in India

  • Syeda Noor ul Ain Ali
  • May 08, 2024

Since the late 1990s, India’s political landscape has witnessed a notable rise in religious sentiments, marked by the electoral successes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist group. Although the BJP’s influence waned for much of the 2000s, it has experienced a resurgence in recent years, particularly under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This renewed vigor of the BJP has brought forth a different kind of nationalism, one that doesn’t prioritise secular values but rather asserts that Indian culture is inherently Hindu.

The BJP has also solidified its ideological influence. It has effectively normalized what scholars John Harriss, Craig Jeffrey, and Stuart Corbridge term ‘Banal Hindutva’ which refers to the integration of Hindu nationalist beliefs into mainstream politics. These views were previously considered outside the political mainstream but are now regarded as commonplace elements of Indian political discourse. This departure from India’s tradition of secularism, which had already been weakened by internal conflicts within the Congress Party, raises important questions about India’s political future and its enduring commitment to celebrating diversity and unity.

As India’s General Elections unfold, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP engage in a fierce battle of ideologies, employing controversial methods to sway Hindu-majority voters. Modi’s recent comments in Rajasthan, equating Muslims with “infiltrators” and perpetuating anti-Muslim stereotypes, highlight a troubling trend of exploiting communal tensions for political gain. Amidst allegations of spreading hate speech and lacking substantial achievements, Modi’s leadership raises profound concerns about the erosion of minority rights and democratic principles in the world’s largest democracy.

The track record of the Modi government on minority rights is tainted by systemic discrimination and state-sponsored violence. The Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2024 exposes a disturbing reality: under Modi’s leadership, India has witnessed a surge in communal violence and state repression targeting religious and ethnic minorities. From the illegal demolition of Muslim properties in Haryana to the brutal suppression of dissent in Manipur, the BJP-led government consistently prioritizes its political agenda over the safety and well-being of minority communities.

A report by the Washington, DC-based India Hate Lab found a peak in hate speech, primarily targeting Muslims, during campaigning for Indian state elections in 2023; notably, the BJP emerged victorious in three of the five states that went to the polls.

Legislative reforms such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have exacerbated communal tensions and marginalized vulnerable groups further. The CAA’s exclusionary provisions, which expedite citizenship for migrants from neighboring countries while excluding Muslims, blatantly undermine India’s secular foundation and send a chilling message of intolerance. Meanwhile, the NRC’s implementation in Assam and its proposed nationwide expansion threaten to disenfranchise millions, particularly Muslims, deepening societal divisions.

Additionally, the Modi administration’s crackdown on dissenting voices and civil society organizations poses a grave threat to freedom of expression and democratic principles. Journalists, activists, and opposition politicians face arbitrary detention and harassment, while religious minorities endure increased surveillance and discrimination by law enforcement agencies. The government’s heavy-handed tactics in Jammu and Kashmir, including communication blackouts and the detention of political leaders, further erode democratic norms and exacerbate tensions in the region.

Internationally, concerns over India’s deteriorating human rights situation have mounted, with calls for accountability and justice reverberating across the globe. However, Modi’s government remains steadfast in its pursuit of a divisive political agenda, seemingly unaffected by criticism and condemnation. As India grapples with escalating communal tensions and assaults on minority rights, the need for inclusive leadership and respect for democratic values has never been more pressing.

A glaring instance of state complicity in violence against Muslims is the phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘bulldozer justice,’ where houses of perceived offenders are demolished under the guise of planning regulations. This unilateral action by government authorities, primarily targeting Muslim homes following incidents of communal violence or activism, has sparked allegations of state-sanctioned collective punishment of the Muslim community. Despite condemnation from independent human rights bodies and judicial criticisms, Hindu-owned properties in the same vicinity often remain untouched, underscoring the discriminatory nature of these demolitions.

Religious polarization is set to escalate in the lead-up to the elections, with the BJP positioned to benefit from the consolidation of a Hindu voting bloc. A report by the Washington, DC-based India Hate Lab found a peak in hate speech, primarily targeting Muslims, during campaigning for Indian state elections in 2023; notably, the BJP emerged victorious in three of the five states that went to the polls.

While Modi’s supporters anticipate a landslide victory in the forthcoming elections, uncertainties persist, as evidenced by incidents such as the unopposed election of a BJP candidate in Modi’s home state, Gujarat. These events hint at apprehension within the BJP, potentially fueling dangerous rhetoric. A victory for the BJP, the most probable outcome, would only serve to bolster the Hindu nationalist movement.

In conclusion, the Modi doctrine represents a perilous departure from India’s democratic ideals, posing a severe threat to the rights and freedoms of minority communities. As India stands at a crossroads, it is crucial for the electorate to reject the politics of division and embrace a vision of inclusivity and tolerance. Only by repudiating Hindutva ideology and safeguarding minority rights can India fulfill its promise as a pluralistic democracy and beacon of hope for the world.


Syeda Noor ul Ain Ali

Syeda Noor Ali is a freelance writer.

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