Modi’s Identity Politics in Post-Secular India: A Threat to Peace in South Asia

Untitled 506 10India has gradually transformed from a secular democracy into a Hindu majoritarian polity. This has happened in sequence to BJP’s rise in power and Modi’s election as prime minister in 2014 and 2019 subsequently. This transformation in the political system of India has ramified in the form of partisan legislation inside India and jingoist foreign policy posture towards its neighbours, particularly Pakistan. The evolving scenario of India’s offensive posture against Pakistan has deep roots in the domestic political scenario shaped by Modi’s government under the deep currents of Hindutva ideology.

Hindutva is a political ideology which aims to secure the political objectives of establishing a Hindu state and securing communal rights of the Hindu community at the cost of other communities and religious groups living inside India. BJP and Modi are using it for their narrow political objective of getting regime stability by moulding domestic opinion in their favour in the veneer of Hindu reformation and revivalist movement.

One of the main objectives of Modi’s government is to consolidate its political control by attracting support from the Hindu majority of India on the slogans and symbols of identity politics in order to get regime stability. Because Premier Modi’s slogan of economically shining and rising India does not correspond with declining economy, therefore, BJP as a ruling political party has shifted the entire national discourse from rational debates revolving socio-economic development and political issues towards identity politics of Hindu renaissance and revivalism.

This political vision aims to reinvent the glorious past of Hindu empires in the subcontinent and glorify it in order to keep people engaged in religious and emotional discourses instead of governance issues. This identity politics of the Modi government revolves around creating otherness of Muslims inside India as an internal security threat and the portrayal of Pakistan as an external threat to very survival of Hindu Rashtra (society) in India. This identity politics has served the Modi government’s political objectives. Narendra Modi contested the 2019 elections by branding himself a chowkida or a guard of India. BJP seems encouraged to continue to shape the nation-building process in India around the religious identity of the Hindu majority because of its emotional appeal and practical political relevance for them.

The portrayal of Muslims as ‘others’ and as a threat to the interests of Hindus has intensified in Narendra Modi’s second tenure. Modi’s government has taken a legal path to justify the political construct of Muslims as ‘others’ through legislation in the parliament. Three prominent anti-Muslim legislations were carried out by the BJP in the Indian parliament in 2019. These legislations are the abrogation of the special status of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir through amendment in article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, proposed and passed by BJP in August 2019.

The second legislation was ‘the personal laws (amendment) act 2019’ which cancelled Muslim personal law and usurped the right of Indian Muslims to settle matters of inheritance, marriages and divorce as per their religion in the courts. Modi’s government has replaced it with uniform personal law for all Indians which is against the secular spirit of Indian polity which gave commitment of religious freedom to Indian citizens for their domestic lives. The third and most recent controversial anti-Muslim legislation is citizenship amendment act (CAB) 2019.

The underlying rationale of all these legislations is securing the interests of Hindus at the cost of Muslims in order to show seriousness and commitment to the Hindutva project. These legislations were condemned by the Muslim community and opposition parties in the Indian parliament as they are against the very secular framework of the Indian constitution. Congress was the founding party and framer of the secular constitution of India. Congress leadership tried to consolidate control of their government in India by drawing out a consensus formula with the Muslim community by carrying out legislations protecting interests of Indian Muslims.

Muslims are second-largest community of over 220 million in India which is second-largest number of Muslims living anywhere in the world. Congress administration settled the issue of Jammu and Kashmir by giving them a semi-autonomous status through Presidential decree and parliamentary legislation of 1954 which acknowledged the disputed status of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) under 1949 UN resolutions. Similarly, Congress government settled the issue of citizenship through the 1955 citizenship act and allowed the practice of family matters (inheritance, marriage, divorce) though separate family acts for Muslims and Hindus in 1954. Modi’s government has reversed these commitments of the founding fathers of India and enacted anti-Muslim legislation in order to establish majority rule in India.

Modi’s majoritarian and anti-Muslim legislation has proven counterproductive for national integration and political stability in India. Since August 5, Modi’s government has imposed curfew in IOJ&K to implement the decision of changing its special semi-autonomous status through the amendment of article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution. India has tried to clamp down the indigenous freedom struggle of Kashmiris for their right to self-determination but failed. Since 1989, Kashmiris are facing state-sponsored terrorism in the form of the Armed Force Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which is pronounced as draconian law. This state repression has produced degenerative results. Post-August 5 curfew in IOJ&K, Pakistan and international press have exposed Indian violence at the international level which has mounted huge public pressure on India.

Kashmiris have defied Indian violence and they are challenging it through peaceful means of protest in IOJ&K despite imposition of curfew for the last 125 days. This great story of sacrifices has inspired other Muslims and minorities living in India to raise their voice of dissent against Indian violence. Modi is facing a strong opposition not only in the parliament but also through the peaceful public resistance of Kashmiris which has given strength to Indian Muslims and other minorities to raise their voice against Modi’s partisan legislation. This is the first story of defiance against Modi’s anti-Muslim legislation. The second significant story of defiance against the Modi government’s legislation on personal issues came in the form of the Muslim community’s opposition to the controversial ‘personal laws (amendment) act 2019’ which has yet to complete its legal course. The third most important story of defiance has emerged in resistance to the Indian Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) proposed and passed by Indian Lok Sabha on 10 Dec 2019, is an amendment of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955. This bill reflects continuity in the Modi government’s policy of repression against Muslims as reflected through the imposition of curfew in IOJ&K on August 5, 2019. 80 votes in opposition while 311 in the support of the bill polled in Lok Sabha (NA) which is a big question mark for the secular Indian constitution. The federal cabinet, headed by PM Modi and the Indian President, has approved it which vindicates their fascist ideology. This (CAA) act is an example of exclusive anti-Muslim legislation which is a question mark on the face of India as the world’s largest democracy.

Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikhs, Parsi and Christians coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are eligible to become Indian citizens. Muslims have been excluded from this bill which violates the natural right to citizenship of Asaami and Bengali Muslims already settled in India. It renders over one lakh Muslims of Assam as aliens. To support this bill, the duration of stay for people belonging to these religions has been reduced from 11 to 6 years in India to get India’s citizenship. This bill is the vindication of the Hindutva mindset of RSS and its influence on Modi’s government. Mass protests have erupted in six states of India which have refused to implement CAA 2019. The Guardian reported that an emergency situation has been imposed with internet blockade in eight major cities of Assam. BBC has called it “India’s new ‘anti-Muslim’ legislation” in its report published on 11 December 2019.

2019 has proven as the culmination point of the Modi government’s anti-Muslim legislation drive. This legislation drive is an outcome of the ominous narrative promoted by Modi and BJP leadership in their 2014 and 2019 election campaigns which were based on anti-Muslim and anti-Pak rhetoric. The Modi government tried to carry out these legislations in 2016-17 to abrogate the special status of IOJ&K in article 370 and annul the citizenship of more than 1.6 million Muslims and managed to pass these legislations in 2019 by creating an external threat.

Since 2014, Pakistan has faced a rise in skirmishes on the Line of Control (LoC) and unprovoked fire from the Indian side. India made controversial claims of surgical strikes in 2016 and 2018 against Pakistan, which were rebutted as ‘fabricated and erroneous’. February 2019 was the culmination of this escalation domination strategy of India in the form of the Balakot attack which was repelled by Pakistan’s armed forces. In retaliation, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) gun downed two IAF fighter jets in an aerial combat.

The trend of Hindutva politics and offensive posture against Pakistan is visible in post-secular India. The Modi government is trying to promote it for their vested political interests; however, it seems that it will backfire in the long-run and it has already started in the form of nationwide protests over the controversial CAA. This situation proves the argument that India under Modi is adrift from secularism to the post-secular era with severe security implications for the Indian Muslim community and for Pakistan. Hindutva ideology promoted by Modi’s government is threat to peace in South Asia.

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Ayaz Khokhar
About Ayaz Khokhar 24 Articles
The author holds an M. Phil in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is an independent political analyst. His areas of interest are Trends in Geopolitics and Politics of South Asia

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