Focus Corner

India’s Secular Identity at Risk: The Impact of Modi’s Leadership and Hindutva Agenda

Examining the Erosion of Pluralism and Democracy in the World's Largest Democracy

India is often celebrated as the world’s largest democracy and a model of pluralism. It is home to more than 1.4 billion people of various religions, languages, cultures, and ethnicities. Its constitution guarantees freedom of religion and equal rights for all citizens. However, in recent years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s secular and inclusive ethos has come under severe threat.

Modi and the BJP are adherents of Hindutva, a political ideology that seeks to make India a Hindu nation and marginalize its religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians. Since Modi came to power in 2014, India has witnessed a surge in communal violence, hate crimes, discrimination, and intolerance against non-Hindus. A raft of new laws and policies has interfered with the religious practices, personal choices, and civil liberties of minorities. Many fear that India is becoming a majoritarian and authoritarian state where dissent is suppressed and democracy is eroded.

Some of the examples of the BJP’s Hindutva agenda are:

  • The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) grants citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from neighboring countries while excluding Muslims. The CAA sparked nationwide protests in 2019 and 2020, which were met with brutal crackdowns by the police and vigilante groups. The CAA is seen as a discriminatory and unconstitutional law that violates the secular principle of India.
  • The National Register of Citizens (NRC) requires all residents of India to prove their citizenship with documentary evidence. The NRC was first implemented in the state of Assam, where nearly two million people, mostly Muslims, were left out of the final list and faced the risk of statelessness and deportation. The BJP has announced its intention to extend the NRC to the whole country, raising fears of a mass disenfranchisement of minorities.
  • The cow protection laws ban the slaughter, consumption, and trade of beef in most states of India. Cows are considered sacred by many Hindus, but beef is a staple food for Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other marginalized communities. The cow protection laws have emboldened vigilante groups, known as “cow vigilantes,” who have lynched and attacked dozens of people, mostly Muslims, on suspicion of cow slaughter or smuggling.
  • The love jihad laws prohibit interfaith marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men. The term “love jihad” is a conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of luring Hindu women into marriage and conversion. Several BJP-ruled states have passed laws that criminalize such marriages and require prior permission from the authorities. The love jihad laws have been criticized as a violation of the fundamental right to choose one’s partner and an attempt to control the sexuality and autonomy of women.
  • The temple politics involve the construction of Hindu temples on disputed sites where mosques or other religious structures once stood. The most prominent example is the Ram temple in Ayodhya, which is being built on the site where the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque, was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992. The demolition triggered communal riots that killed more than 2,000 people. In 2019, the Supreme Court of India ruled in favor of the Hindu claim and paved the way for the temple construction, which was inaugurated by Modi in 2020. The temple politics are seen as a symbol of the Hindu triumphalism and the erasure of the Muslim heritage in India5.

These are just some of the manifestations of the Hinduization of India under Modi. The BJP’s Hindutva agenda has not only endangered the secular fabric of India but also undermined its democratic institutions, such as the judiciary, the media, the civil society, and the opposition parties. Many of these institutions have either been co-opted, compromised, or silenced by the BJP’s authoritarian tactics. The dissenting voices of journalists, activists, academics, artists, and religious leaders have been harassed, arrested, or killed. The human rights situation in India has deteriorated significantly, as evidenced by the reports of various international organizations, such as Freedom House, which downgraded India’s status from “free” to “partly free” in 2021.

India is at a crossroads. It can either reclaim its secular and democratic legacy or continue on the path of Hindutva and authoritarianism. The choice is not only for the Indian people, but also for the world. As the world’s largest democracy and a rising global power, India has the potential to serve as a leader and a model for other countries. But suppose India abandons its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all. In that case, it will not only betray its citizens but also the ideals of democracy and human dignity that it once championed.

Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma is a seasoned Political Journalist with a deep passion for Indian Politics. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has established himself as a trusted… More »

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