Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of India has been in power since 2014. His party- the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- is a right-wing party known for strong Hindu nationalist beliefs. Historically, the BJP’s biggest competitor was the Indian National Congress (INC) party, but after a string of corruption scandals that left India’s political left fragmented, the BJP has become the first party since the 1980s to hold an outright majority in the Lok Sabha (Parliament’s House of the People). While recent elections have more than likely been democratically fair, the BJP has since used its majority to establish anti-democratic reforms. Most importantly, they have been stifling free speech in order to target minorities and get rid of their opposition by claiming both are anti-national.
As previously stated, the core of the BJP’s beliefs is a strong sense of Hindu nationalism. Not only do Hindus make up almost 80% of India’s population, but there is also a violent history of Hindi-Muslim conflict in South Asia. As such, one of Modi’s strongest appeals to the BJP’s base is his Islamophobic rhetoric and policies. The BJP uses Muslims as a common enemy to rally their voter base by strategically using violence to polarize areas in which there is higher electoral competition. These disinformation campaigns also caused a rise in lynchings of Muslim individuals. Aside from spreading hateful language, Modi has also mobilized the courts to target Muslims. A local court in Varanasi recently ruled to shut down a mosque in response to complaints from local Hindus, and while the decision was technically overruled by the Indian Supreme Court, they still decided to order the majority of the mosque to stay blocked off, leaving it inaccessible to those looking to pray there. Using the courts to solidify power is a common tactic in stealth authoritarianism. While it is clear that these rulings are tied to Modi’s goals, he is absolved of blame in the public’s eyes since he, theoretically, has no influence over their rulings.
While the BJP does have a large and loyal following, there are plenty that oppose their anti-Islam rhetoric and policies. The Citizen Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens were two policies that outwardly targeted Muslims by either denying foreign Muslims citizenship and/or questioning the citizenship of Islamic Indian nationals. When enacted, both policies sparked outrage and resulted in countless protests across the country. However, those that opposed the BJP were arrested by law enforcement and charged with sedition or incitement to violence– even though protests were peaceful in most cases. The Supreme court has already ruled that the right to peacefully protest is protected under India’s constitution, therefore, these arrests were direct violations of the constitutional rights of Indian citizens.
The government has also targeted the press for running stories that oppose the BJP’s viewpoints. Less than two years ago, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting cut off a cable news channel from broadcasting for 48 hours because their coverage of mob attacks on Muslims was “critical towards the Delhi police and RSS.” The RSS is a Hindu nationalist group that Modi was a member and leader of. Liberal rights to speech are integral to constitutional democracies. By limiting free speech in the media, Modi and the BJP are stepping out of the bounds of a democracy in order to stifle their opponents- a practice often associated with authoritarian governments.
Many of the BJPs supporters and leaders justify their sentiments by citing the violence done unto Hindus by Muslim emporers through history. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, is often specifically used as an example of why it is acceptable for modern Hindus to get retribution for crimes of the past. The argument lies on a belief that because of past conflict, not only is it acceptable to oppress present day Muslims, but they also deserve to be oppressed. Some might find this reasonable, especially since HIndu- Muslim conflict has continued since the era of the Mughals and people have been oppressed on both sides of the conflict. However, an important thing to consider is that the Hindu population holds the vast majority of power in India today. Not only do they make up 80% of India’s population, but a majority of representatives in both houses of parliament and in the supreme court are Hindu. Therefore, they are no longer in a position to be oppressed anymore, and should not be atoning for past crimes by making those with no connection to them suffer. It is also worth considering that the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, and a majority of Muslims facing oppression in India today are Indian citizens. This treatment of them effectivly ignores all protections the constitution provides for them by discriminating on the basis of religion.
Modi and the BJP have explicitly targeted Muslims to appeal to a Hindu nationalist base. They have also practiced anti democratic means by oppressing anyone in opposition by calling them anti national and limiting their rights to free speech and peaceful protest. If these trends continue the world’s largest democracy will be further jeopardized.
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