Rise of Hindu Nationalism: Implications for Secularism in India

Today the world is witnessing the rise of right-wing ultra-nationalist popular leaders across the globe like Donald Trump in the US (2017-21), Boris Johnson in the UK and Emmanuel Macron in France. India is also facing this kind of situation with the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  The BJP has its agenda to shift Secular India into a majoritarian Hindu nationalist State under the leadership of right-wing Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi.

Hindu nationalists believe that Hinduism is the prime religion of India, which is polytheistic in nature and has traditionally been open to acceptance of a variety of societies. Nearly 80% of Indians are Hindus, so the Hindu nationalists argue that “Hindu belief and culture should shape the State and its policies. The BJP and other “Hindu nationalist forces” are nervous with the strength and harmony of Hindus as a “political community”; they have accused religious minorities for divided devotion and exercises mass forcefulness against minorities.

Although, the concept of Hindutva politics in India is not a new concept; the Hindu nationalist forces were present even after the independence of India but after losing the debate with the secular forces over the issue of Indian nationalism or ideology, these forces became weak. Their influence on common Indian people was very strong but their influence on electoral politics was very less. The country’s political dynamics provided the opportunity to the Hindu nationalist forces to gain space in electoral politics after the death of India’s First Prime Minister . Further, the emergency of Indira Gandhi paved the way for the Hindu nationalist forces to come into power under the Hindu nationalist alliance Jana Sang in the elections of 1977. Subsequently, the victory of BJP in 2014 and then in 2019 under Narendra Modi as Prime Minister has been made possible with the help of Hindu right-wing nationalist forces especially the RSS and VHP.

The PM Narendra Modi, is a Hindu nationalist and spent his early years working for the “Hindu majoritarian nationalist group” RSS. The first term of the Modi government has been full of tragedies and disasters for minorities, secularism, Dalits, Atheists and liberal forces in India. Muslims which are 14% of total Indian population face severe socio-economic and religious discriminations by the BJP government as they are labeled as terrorists. There is ban on slaughter of cow meat by the BJP government as cows are the holy animal for Hindus. These events show the footprint of Hindutva Ideology in India during the first term of BJP under Narendra Modi.

But when Narendra Modi-led BJP came into power for the second time in May 2019, it became the hub of right-wing Hindu majoritarian nationalists and RSS goons. There is an increase in religious, socio-economic and political violence by the Hindu nationalist in an overt way. Moreover, on August 5, 2019, Indian government revoked the special status of Muslim majority State Jammu and Kashmir fulfilling the dream of his extremist organization RSS. Today the Kashmiri Muslims are living their lives under the curfew and under the shadow of thousands of Indian troops. Moreover, the BJP government started ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Muslims in order to convert Muslim majority into minority which is the agenda of BJP and RSS.

The decision of Supreme Court of India on Babri Masjid on 9 November 2019, the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) are highly anti-Muslims and discriminatory towards Muslims. These all events show that today there is a practical manifestation of the Hindutva’s majoritarian nationalism and also it shows how secular India is becoming the Hindu majoritarian nationalist State. The Hindutva majoritarian Nationalism viewed as a threat for Secularism and liberalism.

Now in the case of India, all these fundamentals of Secularism are under severe threat due to the rise of Hindu Nationalism. Firstly, Indian State is unable to treat all its citizens equally as in the case of Muslims they are facing discriminations due to the significant influence of Hindu Nationalists on State’s Institutions under the BJP government. The incidents of Ayodhya and Gujarat are the clear examples of this. Secondly, under the BJP government there is a ban on the selling of cow meat across the Indian State as cow is the holy animal for Hindus, so clearly the State is favoring one particular religion. Thirdly, the passing of two bills from Indian Parliament i.e. CAA and NRC can also be taken as an example that Indian government is not treating its minorities equally regardless of their religion.

Fourthly, recently, the Indian parliament got involved in the religious matters of Muslims by passing controversial Muslim Diverse bill 2019, which is a severe attack on the core fundamental of secularism which prohibits the State to influence in the religious matters of its citizens. Fifthly, the influence of Hindu Nationalists of State’s affairs is not allowing the State to function without the influence of Hindu religion. This is a severe challenge for Secularism in India especially under the BJP government. Finally, due to the Rise of Hindu Nationalism under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, the minorities of India are unable to enjoy their social, political, economic and cultural rights; this has become a serious challenge to the basic principles of secularism in India.

Moreover, during the regime of Narendra Modi the minorities of India are going through the worst social, economic and political situations as today they have to prove their nationality even after CAA and NRC. The attacks on the worship places of the minorities have increased under the current government. More importantly the Hindu nationalists are running the campaigns to change the religions of the minorities. It is clear that the Congress government was also working on the same agenda covertly but after the BJP government anti-Muslims agenda became the policy of the Indian State. They are working on the agenda of Hindu majoritarian State overtly and the intensity of the completion of this agenda increased. The BJP government is openly working against the minorities to either expel them from the State or convert them into Hinduism. PM Modi and his government are working on the agenda of majoritarianism by favoring the Hindu majority group.

Importantly the Hinutva agenda of Indian government is going to impact the South Asian region which is already a nuclear flash point due hostile relations of India and Pakistan. The current unilateral move of Indian government about the demographic change of State of Jammu and Kashmir is a security threat for the region. The marginalization of the Kashmiri people is going to impact the region and if the Indian government continues with its Hindutva agenda there will be soon a nuclear war within the region. Due to the “Hindutva agenda” the relations of Indian with its neighbors are hostile i.e. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan which is not a good sign for the region. Further the controversial bills of Indian government CAA and RCA are also going to disrupt the regional stability.

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About Ehtisham Ul Hussan 2 Articles
MPhil Scholar from National University of Modern Languages Islamabad