The Republic of India has been the most populous democracy in the world since its foundation 75 years ago. Since the meteoric rise of Hindu Nationalism, also known as Hindutva, and subsequent election of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the integrity of India’s democracy has deteriorated. Prime Minister Modi is attempting to forge a new India as a religiously homogeneous state with Hinduism as the state mandated religion. It was a commonly held belief that Hindutva was confined to India, but it has spread throughout the world. In August and September Hindu Nationalist violence, intimidation and hate speech ravaged the cities of Leicester, United Kingdom and Edison, New Jersey. Prime Minister Modi is using Hindu Nationalism to radicalize and spark Islamophobia in India. Islamophobia is dangerous to both the Muslim citizens that reside there but also to the democratic institutions that the West typically values so highly.
On August 14th, 2022 parades for Indian Independence Day took place all across the United States. But in Edison, New Jersey, home to one of the largest communities of Indian Americans, parades sparked civil unrest. Participants of the parade drove a wheel-loader, a piece of heavy machinery that resembles a bulldozer, in order to represent the destruction of the homes of Muslim activisits across India. The wheel loaders were adorned with posters of Prime Minister Modi and another Hindu nationalist, with the words “father of bulldozers” in Hindi. Muslim students in Edison fear that this kind of hateful ideology will enter their schools and Muslim parents are fearful to allow their daughters to go outside in Hijab.
On September 17, Hindu men marched through Leicester yelling “jai sri Ram”, a Hindu nationalist war cry, proclaiming death to Pakistan, and intimidating Muslim residents and store owners. The aggression occurred after India defeated Pakistan in a cricket match, as the two countries are strong rivals in sport, and have a long, complicated and occasionally violent political history. In response a group of Muslim men vandalized a Hindu Temple. 47 people have been arrested in Leicester for the two weeks of violence.
Both Leicester and Edison are religiously and ethnically diverse areas that have histories of ethno-religious coexistence. They are only the most recent examples of Hindutva present outside of India. In these cases, Indian diasporic peoples are representing the ideals of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), the Hindu Nationalist Party in power in India. There are many other in which the Indian High Commission and the Indian Embassy, have both meddled in foreign elections to promote anti-Muslim speech and attempted to censor free speech in order to preserve a state of unknowingness to their divisive and dangerous ideology.
In Melbourne, Australia, the Indian High Commission attempted to censor anti-Modi political research done by the University of Melbourne, but were stopped by the Australian government. There were also reports in 2019 that campaigners linked to the BJP were attempting to spread false information regarding Muslims in the United Kingdom and Sikhs in Canada. In the West where Muslims are already disenfranchised the spread of radical anti-Muslim makes their lives even more dangerous.
Since the foundation of India’s democracy politicians have used the religious and ethnic conflicts to consolidate power but never before in India have politicians institutionalized ethnic and religious differences in their secular legislation. Congress advocated the rights of all individuals as a direct response to the former colonial status of India. An important distinction must be made, Gandhi was a devout Hindu, but not an extreme Hindu Nationalist. It is important to recognize that India is one of the three Hindu-majority states in the world, and with that comes a desire to retain their collective Hindu culture, but it does not have to come at the cost of stripping others of their political rights due to cultural and religious differences.
Prime Minister Modi has been slowly implementing laws that exclude Muslims from political participation. The Modi government created a law called the Citizenship Amendment Act. This law established that religious refugees immigrating to India would be admitted based on religion, every refugee would be admitted except Muslims seeking asylum. This law institutionalized that Muslims that had already been admitted asylum, were at risk of being deported. The BJP has packed the courts and has been able to manipulate the media in India. They have issued public funding towards news outlets in India in exchange for promoting Hindu Nationalist propaganda and suppressing stories regarding their state sponsored violence towards Muslims.
Modi stripped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, deploying troops on the ground and removing internet access from the region. His expanding political Hindutva has major implications amongst the ongoing Indo-Pakistani conflict in Kashmir, and now with China as well due to their present control of 20 percent of the region. Recently due to the Modi government the violence between Hindu’s and Muslims has increased in the region, making it more likely for a war to occur between two nations that have nuclear weapons.
Still, the legitimacy of India’s democracy is upheld by the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil and many other democracies worldwide. Hindu Nationalism has been growing amongst some of the most powerful democracies in the world. Their ideologies are becoming increasingly Islamophobic.
Although the President in the United States is no longer Donald Trump, his impact on American politics has been profound. Donald Trump’s version of nativist populism is a factor that amplifies the effects and spread of Islamophobia on both the domestic and international stages. He is just an example of this sort of populist politician, with many seemingly carbon copies of Trump preceding and proceeding him in countries all over the world. He was able to govern through his anti-immigrant and white supremacist ideologies. Even in cases where these politicians do not reach the executive branch of government their pulling power has forced other non-nativist parties to pander to their beliefs in order to keep their own power. Nationalist extremist politics comes in tandem with garnering a strong distrust for the central government, whether justified or not, thus eroding the perception of government by the citizens of the nation. This gives the government less power and hands that power to individuals who stoked these ideologies.
In the United States anti-immigrant and white supremacist politics have created what Ezra Klein calls a “mega identity”. Any political disagreement becomes both a political and personal attack, imbuing a sense of fear in the people. The rising Hindutva within the United States and the rest of the world contributes to that sense of fear and if it is left to grow long enough it will become yet another spark to burn down democratic institutions all over the world.
Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the South Asian Network, a community-oriented organization serving the South Asian community, said that the India he once knew and loved is lost. “Today’s India is obliterating … fellowship with bigotry, fanaticism, xenophobia, and intolerance, organized and institutionalized by the State.” Such things are already institutionalized in many democracies around the world, and Hindutva will only allow them to strengthen.