Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his second term in 2019, he has pursued policies that have eaten away at the country’s democracy. His government has abused existing legislation to stifle dissent, abused investigative agencies to pursue dubious charges against political opposition, and created detention centers designed to detain those who cannot prove their citizenship status , with disproportionate effects on Muslims. Thanks to multiple measures, Indian democracy is in a state of precipitous decline.

The overwhelming victory of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last national elections has accelerated this process. Armed with a clear parliamentary majority, the Modi government implemented legislation that raised questions about its commitment to democratic principles. The August 2019 decision to repeal the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir did not follow constitutional process, and the law amending the citizenship law passed in December 2019 has helped religious minorities in neighboring countries but excluded them. Muslims, although many sects are suppressed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Modi and the BJP have used the draconian Illegal Activities (Prevention) Act, originally passed in 1967 and recently amended, to crack down on legitimate dissent. Among other provisions, it allows the state to designate an individual as a terrorist without providing corroborating evidence. Some opposition politicians have also alleged that India’s main investigative bodies, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Direction of Enforcement, are involved in settling political blood feuds.

Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his second term in 2019, he has pursued policies that have eaten away at the country’s democracy. His government has abused existing legislation to stifle dissent, abused investigative agencies to pursue dubious charges against political opposition, and created detention centers designed to detain those who cannot prove their citizenship status , with disproportionate effects on Muslims. Thanks to multiple measures, Indian democracy is in a state of precipitous decline.

The overwhelming victory of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last national elections has accelerated this process. Armed with a clear parliamentary majority, the Modi government implemented legislation that raised questions about its commitment to democratic principles. The August 2019 decision to repeal the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir did not follow constitutional process, and the law amending the citizenship law passed in December 2019 has helped religious minorities in neighboring countries but excluded them. Muslims, although many sects are suppressed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy, Christophe Jaffrelot, Princeton University Press, 656 p., $ 35, August 2021.

Meanwhile, Modi and the BJP have used the draconian Illegal Activities (Prevention) Act, originally passed in 1967 and recently amended, to crack down on legitimate dissent. Among other provisions, it allows the state to designate an individual as a terrorist without providing corroborating evidence. Some opposition politicians have also alleged that India’s main investigative bodies, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Direction of Enforcement, are involved in settling political blood feuds.

These disturbing developments serve as the backdrop to Christophe Jaffrelot’s latest book, Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy. With a few notable exceptions, books on Modi and his government have shifted towards hagiography. Jaffrelot, a leading scholar of contemporary Indian politics, departs from these accounts. In the process, he argues that unless current trends are verified, India could become an ethnic democracy – a majority state with little respect for the rights of religious minorities, especially Muslims.

Jaffrelot skillfully traces Modi’s spectacular rise from an infantryman of the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – a close affiliate of the ruling BJP – to the chief minister of Gujarat in 2001, then to the national political scene in 2014. Modi’s India is new to the wealth of detail he has amassed about Modi’s early career trajectory and his skillful use of social media. Jaffrelot exemplifies the Prime Minister’s determined quest to dismantle what remains of India’s secular norms, relying on hollow but highly effective populism to keep voters in his grip. In the end, his characterization of India as a state geared towards ethnic democracy seems quite appropriate.

As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi adopted pro-business policies that led to a surge in economic growth at the expense of social equity. Perhaps more importantly, he carefully forged a bloc of Hindu voters, even attracting international condemnation. In 2002, after a deadly attack on Hindu pilgrims by Muslim vendors at a train station in Gujarat, Modi allegedly tolerated a three-day anti-Muslim pogrom across the state. (A team of investigators appointed by the Supreme Court of India failed to find sufficient evidence to implicate Modi.) He skillfully turned this dark episode to his advantage, drawing on his charisma and a sophisticated public relations campaign.

Modi has faced fierce criticism following violence both at home and abroad: the United States has even denied him a visa. But he presented himself as a besieged foreigner and described the state’s Muslims as a potential fifth column for Pakistan. In rallies and speeches, he hinted that only he could protect the people of Gujarat from terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan and appealed to regional identity to build support. Jaffrelot shows how Modi developed a common populist trope during his tenure as Chief Minister, cultivating a plebeian image that emphasized his humble personal experience, recounting his childhood experience selling tea at a train station.

Since coming to national power, Modi has relentlessly pursued a populist agenda. During his first term as Prime Minister, he launched a series of social programs ostensibly designed to help India’s poor and dispossessed. A massive initiative aimed to end public defecation and dramatically improve municipal services, such as waste disposal and garbage collection. Despite the fanfare and the considerable cost, Jaffrelot maintains that the results are far from exemplary. Some of Modi’s other programs, such as providing mobile debit cards to enable poor people to access credit, have failed to deliver on their grand promises.

Meanwhile, Modi sought to bypass and undermine existing institutional controls over executive political power. As Prime Minister, he made concerted efforts to undermine the independence of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court of India. In 2014, when the Supreme Court, in line with case law, asked Modi to appoint four specific judges, his government refused to give the green light to a name: Gopal Subramanium, who was named friend of the court in a case involving criminal charges against Modi ally Amit Shah.

Jaffrelot also details Modi’s systematic attack on India’s free press, including the resurrection of 1970s practices, when then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency which restricted civil liberties. The current government, a major print media advertiser, has withheld newspaper ads critical of Modi and the BJP. He also used the existing provisions of the penal code – many of which date back to the British colonial era – to silence journalists who provided honest but critical coverage of the government and its policies. For example, a journalist from Uttar Pradesh languished in jail under the draconian illegal activities (prevention) law for covering a horrific rape case.

Perhaps the most disturbing feature of Modi’s second term is the government’s concerted effort to marginalize India’s Muslim minority. Jaffrelot provides a set of distressing accounts of this effort, from the BJP limiting Muslim electoral representation to the overtly partisan use of the police to quell dissent. According to a survey conducted by Common Cause and the Lokniti Program for Comparative Democracy, 64% of Indian Muslims say they are afraid of the police. As Jaffrelot writes, Muslims have been repeatedly and questionably implicated in various terrorism charges, but the courts have dismissed them due to a lack of appropriate evidence. But the growing politicization of the judiciary makes this trend particularly worrying.

Jaffrelot concludes that these signs do not bode well for Indian democracy, not to mention the general weakness of the political opposition. The evidence he gathered Modi’s India is convincing. However, supporters of the BJP will likely reject him by pointing to the adulation that welcomes Modi abroad, the pride he has restored among Indian citizens, and the prosperity that is on the horizon. Without a sustained economic downturn or social unrest in India, Modi will stay the course.

Given India’s global economic and strategic importance, few national leaders have spoken out strongly against Modi’s government. Although his administration has recovered from past assaults, consoling itself for the past can prove to be a thin reed on which to rest the hope of democratic renewal. Unless civil society, the press and regional Indian politicians back down, this could be reduced to a democracy in name only.


Source link

About The Author

Related Posts