Indubitably, India’s federal election 2019— the most intriguing issue among many young Indian voters and international stakeholders—was the most wide-ranging and probably most expensive election campaign in the country’s history. More than 2,000 parties and 8,000 candidates contested for 543 seats: with 900 million voters casting their votes in one million polling stations over 38 days. Some 83 million Indians were first-time voters, with 15 million of them aged 18 and 19.The exit poll shows that the governing BJP of Narendra Modi has swept back to victory with a resounding majority of well over 300 seats (Source: BBC). However, Mr. Modi’s return to power—unfortunately— has spawned apprehensions and distress among many, especially among the India’s 200 million Muslims. But why? In this article, I have tried to scrutinize the most perilous and sinister causes.
The Cagey Game: Weaponizing Religion in Election
Using religion—as a useful mechanism in politics— has been a phenomenon all over the ages and different political contexts. Regrettably, politicians overwhelmingly exploit general people using religious emotions in order to gain political benefits. Indeed, Narendra Modi—in recent times— is a great example of that: using religion for political gain. And, with Narendra Modi’s help, this notorious practice has dramatically reshaped the politics in India. Ever since he was elected in 2014, Mr. Modi has played a wary game, appeasing his party’s hard-line Hindu base while promoting secular goals of development and economic growth. Despite worrying signs that he was willing to humor Hindu extremists, Mr. Modi refrained from overtly approving violence against the nation’s Muslim minority. At the same time, he never publicly criticized the prevailing violence against Muslims by Hindu extremist. What a cagey game of politics! As a consequence of this political game, I draw your attention to my second point.
The Hindutva Movement
Religiously inspired nationalist movements— in recent years— have gained eminence in several countries around the world, especially in India. Hindutva (“Hinduness”) is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. The term was popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923. It is campaigned and reinforced by the Hindu nationalist volunteer organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Hindu Sena. The Hindutva movement has been described as “almost fascist in the classical sense”, adhering to a disputed concept of homogenized majority and cultural supremacy. During the past five years in power, the Hindutva movement has gained mammoth momentum under Mr. Modi’s administration. Again, as a result of this scandalous and disgraceful movement, I drag your attention towards my last point.
Burgeoning Hindu extremism
We all know that, from September 11, 2001, the world’s attention has been focused— as it should be— on the violence of Islamic extremism. But there are also major violent trends in Hindu extremism that have largely been ignored and snubbed by the West. In India, this violence is supported by Hindu extremists and their allies in the Indian government, which is currently led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is rarely scrutinized in the West, partly because Hinduism is stereotyped as gentle and non-violent in the image of Gandhi. Thus, RSS activists take benefit from the disproportionate attention given to Islamist violence, enabling the most pernicious extremists to slip under the radar. Subsequently, the actions of Hindu extremists in India and their seemingly growing influence in the country are perturbing and nerve-wracking.
Based on the recent escalating violence against the minority groups, India— as a society— must admit that religious extremism and hatred are deeply entrenched in its sociocultural body. Additionally, from the time when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come into power, BJP’s discriminatory and bigoted policies towards Indian Muslims have alarmed the international community. Furthermore, with the landslide victory in India’s federal election, 2019, Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) is expected to easily form a governing coalition with smaller allies— which entails more power, we fear that this ceaseless religious extremism may surge in coming days. Hence, it is the dire need of the hour that international community take concrete measures to control BJP extremist actions and discriminatory policies in the coming years. The UN along with other major powers such as US, Russia, Japan, China, etc. should pressurize India to protect rights of minorities and of Indian Muslims. The RSS and other extremist elements must be checked and controlled to trim down communal riots and human rights violations. In a nutshell, Modi must brush up and check its hard-lined and belligerent policies and work to create a balanced, peaceful and co-existent environment at home and abroad. Finally, as the re-elected PM has said in his victory speech that his new government would be inclusive and that his party would be committed to the constitution, we also hope that a non-discriminatory, conciliatory and tolerant approach must be adopted by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards all factions of Indian society!