Narendra Modi has upset his opposition’s applecart of expectations by winning the elections last month. Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance, National Democratic Alliance, has under Modi’s leadership staged an unprecedented victory in Lok Sabha by winning 349 of a total 543 seats.
Interestingly, Modi has managed to secure a victory without bringing about any social or economic improvement he vociferously promised in 2014. His much-trumpeted demonetisation policy adversely affected the low and middle classes of the Indian society. Only Ambani, Bajaj and Mittal families benefitted from his policy of sab ka vikas (development for all).
Misinformation spread about airstrikes carried out in Pakistan that “killed 300 terrorists” in February 2019 helped him gain tremendous popularity among the public.
The Indian electorate have reposed trust in him once again. Even more unprecedented is their adversarial reaction to secular ideology that Indian parliamentarians have been boasting of since the days of Nehru.
Ever since the Iranian revolution in 1979, as a result of which Reza Shah Pehlvi’s regime was wiped out, the transformation in the Indian political dispensation has been most decisive. Let’s not bring in here the tectonic changes that swept through Russia and Eastern Europe, where socialism collapsed but the ruling elite remained the same. In most of the countries in the region, autocratic rule continued — Putin almost rehabilitated Stalin and ideology was substituted with ideological chaos or no ideology at all.
However, in India, the change is pervasive as well as ideological. Secularism and pluralism have imploded and Hindutva has entrenched the Indian society. The RSS ideology is completely opposite to that nurtured in the Nehruvian tradition.
Without unleashing the reign of terror that Ayatollah Khomeini deemed necessary to bring about socio-political change in Iran, BJP, with the benefit of Modi’s ‘raw wisdom’, seems set to achieve the same, however with violence perpetrated selectively. Its xenophobia is directed against Muslims only, and Modi and Amit Shah have turned a blind eye to lynching and hate crimes.
Over the last 15 to 20 years, Hindi has become markedly sansakritised and names of the cities have been changed. Indian past is being re-cast in the light of norms and patterns gleaned from Hindu mythology. In Indian media and Bollywood films, anti-Pakistan sentiment is recurrent.
India has almost been reinvented itself as a binary opposite to Pakistan and the Muslims. This is not the India Gandhi and Nehru had envisioned. Such reorientation of India with Hindutva as its fundamental ideology is bound to impact other countries in the South Asian region and beyond.
So far the religious right has been prevented from taking centre stage in Pakistan. In almost all the democratically elected governments, the religious parties have had peripheral representation. Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), the conglomeration of religious parties and factions, could only form the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under Pervez Musharraf. One may, therefore, argue that despite the not-so-smooth democracy in Pakistan, its electorate has demonstrated far greater political maturity by not allowing religious right to gain power.
Now that BJP, with Modi as its head, has emerged as the biggest political force in India, the beleaguered religious right in Pakistan may feel encouraged to regroup and assert itself. Any demagogue, well versed in the art of political gimmickry like Khadim Hussain Rizvi, will find ready endorsement from the electorate on the pretext that the religious extremism in the neighbouring India can only be blunted through religious extremism at home.
The same logic may find resonance in Sri Lanka and Nepal. These countries can also go on to enforce socio-religious homogeneity among their respective people, which would be extremely perilous for the minorities. If political identity is determined through religious ideology with exclusionary accoutrement, animosity and antagonism are likely to be the abiding features.
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With Hindutva forces sweeping the polls, one may speculate that history will repeat itself on the pattern of Italy and Germany of 1930s and 40s, that like Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, RSS-controlled India will entertain imperialist designs.
Modi’s background as a semi-literate chai wala, who has made it to the top slot in the world’s ‘largest democracy’ seems portentous if studied in a proper perspective. Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler rose from similar sort of backgrounds and unleashed hell. Modi may not have the potential of wreak havoc but one cannot rule out his ambition to emulate Hitler and Stalin, which will sets alarm bells ringing in South Asia.
Any attempt to convert India into Hindu Rastra will trigger reactions across the national frontiers. The advisable course of action for the BJP government is to adopt an inclusive strategy in which people from all religions and ethnicities are protected against mob violence perpetrated by those, who consider cows worthier than humans. Cow rights must not take precedence over human rights. That is the bottom line.