In 2014, Narendra Modi ran as the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and won the position of Prime Minister. The major theme of the BJP is Hindutva, which is an ideology that seeks to redefine Indian culture in terms of Hindu values, which might not be so problematic, except that 14% of the Indian population is Muslim. This has led to actions by Modi’s government that punish what it sees as anti-Hindu.
Modi actually has a history of indifference towards the plight of Muslims under his charge. In 2002, when he was Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, he said and did nothing to stop anti-Muslim riots that resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people, and has denied any culpability. This trend has continued in recent events, with Modi failing to call for unity in the wake of extreme violence used by police and government supporters in peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. According to Levitsky and Ziblatt, one of the warning signs for a would-be autocrat is a leader who encourages violence or refuses to condemn it when it comes from their supporters, suggesting that Modi is already under thin ice as a leader
Modi’s source of support seems to come from a populist stance as a result of his party’s promotion of Hindutva. According to Müller, populists are anti-pluralists, in that they promote the belief that the faction they represent is actually the only authentic, morally pure people of the country who have been taken advantage of by corrupt elites. Modi specifically falls under the definition of a right-wing populist, in that he blames ethnic out-groups, specifically Muslims, for the plights that befall Hindus.
Modi has not been shy about appointing people to his government who have clear anti-Muslim sentiments. Giriraj Singh, Minister for Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, explicitly stated that Muslims should have been sent to Pakistan in 1947, after India won its independence. Additionally, Modi appointed a Hindu monk, Yogi Adityanath, to be Chief Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, who has gone on to say that Muslims did themselves no favors by staying in India after its partition and has called protestors of the Citizenship Amendment Act terrorists.
The anti-Muslim sentiment of Modi and the BJP can also be seen implicitly through legislation and tampering with elections. Modi’s government has criminalized the slaughter of cows, which are sacred animals in Hinduism, and then refused to speak out when Hindus accused Muslims of slaughtering cows and proceeded to attack them. A recent piece of inherently anti-Muslim legislation is the Citizenship Amendment Act, which grants fast-tracked citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians who immigrated to India illegally from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, making no mention of citizenship for Muslim illegal immigrants. Furthermore, in areas with mob violence, and therefore likely anti-government sentiments, eligible citizens have been deleted from voting registries for ridiculous reasons. For example, a 28-year-old Muslim man who has lived in India all his life was removed from the voting registry for being under 18 years old. These actions by Modi’s government clearly show that Modi and the BJP do not wish to represent India’s Muslim community.
However, Modi’s government has taken the sentiment of Hindus being the true people of India to an extreme in stripping away the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, a region of India that is 67% Muslim overall, with about 97% of the population in the Kashmir valley being Muslim. According to Robert Dahl, in a democracy, free and fair elections should be present in their most basic form not only at the national level but also in subnational institutions, and the conditions of the region following the removal of its autonomy clearly shows that this is not the case.
Modi removed democracy so greatly from Jammu and Kashmir, an entire region, that Freedom House, an organization that tracks democratic practices and norms in various countries, has two separate pages for India and Indian Kashmir. India as a country overall has a democratic rating of 71/100; Kashmir only received a 28/100.
According to Levitsky and Ziblatt, two key signs of democratic erosion is a lack of fair and free elections and suppression of the media and civil liberties. Jammu and Kashmir is governed by centrally appointed officials, and the Ladakh section of the region has no legislature and therefore no elections, clearly therefore showing a lack of free and fair elections. inthis region. India has led the world in number of internet blackouts in the last three years, but 47% of these internet shutdowns took place in Kashmir. Internet blackouts are a form of suppression of the media, because a crucial part of access to media in modern times is internet access. Furthermore, the civil liberty freedom of assembly has been suppressed due a combination of a curfew and internet blackouts, because there is no way to coordinate a protest without the internet, and if the protest takes place after the curfew, the police already have grounds for arrest. Robert Dahl also states that a key aspect of democracy is the right to oppose. After the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy, opposing politicians in the region were detained without charges. The detention of politicians in combination with the inability of citizens to form protests shows that the region of Jammu and Kashmir does not have the right to oppose.
India clearly already has hints of democratic erosion due to the anti-Muslim sentiment that has arisen from the Hindutva promoted by Modi and the BJP, but a democracy can only be as strong as its weakest unit. Modi has taken populism to an extreme by essentially neutering the rights of the majority-Muslim citizens of Kashmir and Jammu to make them not part of the people he is supposed to represent as Prime Minister. Until free and fair elections, free media, and civil liberties have been reinstated in Jammu and Kashmir, India cannot be considered a full democracy.
 Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2018), 21.
 Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 101.
 Ipek Çinar, Susan Stokes, Andres Uribe, “Presidential Rhetoric and Populism,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 50, no. 2 (June 2020): 242.
 Robert Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (Yale University Press, 1971), 12.
 Robert Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (Yale University Press, 1971), 5.