In 2014 the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP party were elected in a landslide to govern India. They are in government in 21 of 29 Indian states, and are looking set to win again in the upcoming 2019 general elections. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is far more popular than opposition leaders particularly owing to his growing international stature. He positions India as open for business and a potential democratic superpower, hosting Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau among others.
But the India he leads is far from a liberal beacon. Modi has set about heightening the vicious sectarian tensions which lie only just below the surface in much of contemporary India. This should come as no surprise, after all Mr Modi is a lifelong member of the RSS, a right wing paramilitary group dedicated to creating a Hindu nation, who, among other things, were responsible for the assassination of Gandhi and have openly praised Hitler’s racial policies. This quote from the book We, or Our Nationhood Defined written in 1939 by the second Supreme Leader of the RSS, M.S.Golwalkar, summarises their policies in regards to other religions: “the non-Hindu people of Hindustan…in a word must cease to be foreigners; or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens’ rights.” The RSS are effectively the puppet masters of the BJP exercising influence over any area of policy they like, for example in education. Constitutionally all religions must be promoted equally, but in many schools across the country Hindu religious texts are promoted while other religions, particularly Islam, are suppressed.
The racial prejudice of the BJP and the RSS were tragically revealed in 2002 in the state of Gujarat where between one and two thousand Muslims were murdered in a pogrom. The nominal cause for the outburst of sectarian hatred was an attack leaving 58 Hindu pilgrims dead having been burned to death in a train carriage. The state government immediately declared it a terrorist attack, with no evidence, and paraded the charred remains along the main streets of the state capital. When violence inevitably started to break out police intervention was delayed by a state government who apparently had no interest in preserving an open and peaceful India, in fact there were even accusations that they had helped organise and sponsor the atrocity. Horrific stories abound of mobs massacring any Muslims they found, and those suspected of sympathising with them. One former Congress MP, Ehsan Jaffri, was dragged from his house and dismembered by the mob as he sheltered Muslims in his neighbourhood. His desperate phone calls to the police commissioner, director general of police and the chief secretary were all ignored, while police vans around his house watched on as he was torn limb from limb. The rioters were even given the addresses of Muslim owned properties by municipal organisations. In short, although disguised as a spontaneous reaction to an Islamic terror attack, it was an organised pogrom which, at the very least, was encouraged by the state government. But rather than this acting as a moment of insurmountable shame, it has been praised by RSS leaders as an object of ‘pride’ for ‘Hindu society’.
The Chief Minister of Gujarat was none other than Narendra Modi. His position hasn’t changed since he has become Prime Minister. Since 2015 there have been 40 murders committed against those suspected of consuming beef, an unspeakable atrocity to Hindu fanatics. The vast majority of these were directed against Muslims. Often there is no official government response, and on one occasion Modi waited 8 days to condemn the thugs and murderers; he then didn’t admonish his Cabinet member who declared the brutal murder an “accident”. Remarkably some who survive these attacks are then accused of cruelty to animals and are subsequently prosecuted. Only when Hindu Dalits began to be targeted did he begin to speak out against lynching, but once again the Muslim victims received no mention in his speech. Comparisons have been made to Donald Trump’s relationship with the American far right, but the truth is much deadlier. Narendra Modi encouraged mass murder, frequently refuses to condemn barbaric butchering and yet has a relatively good reputation in the West where the words ‘controversial’ or ‘divisive’ have been used, while his pro-business outlook is praised. As Western powers begins to decline, and the role of global leadership shifts east Narendra Modi, and the BJP, cannot be allowed to represent the future of democracy and yet that seems the only foreseeable outcome at the next election.