India, applauded as the world’s largest democracy, stands more polarized and fragmented today than it has ever been in the last seven decades. The ruling party, The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), led by current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is working hard to make India a Hindutva Nation and, in the process, is adversely altering the secular foundation on which the Indian Constitution was written. The BJP proved its religious nationalist agenda with the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), a highly polarizing piece of legislature that has gained criticism on a global scale.
The BJP first rose to national prominence in 1984, when it advocated for the destruction of Babri Masjid, a mosque in Ayodhya built on disputed land, so that the original temple could be built in the same location. The BJP used this as a tool to enlist a large number of Hindu nationalist supporters and confirm their vision of a Hindu nation. The destruction of the mosque eventually took place in 1992 by a mob of Hindu fanatics. The event sparked a series of protests and deadly riots around the country, including a massacre of Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was chief-minister of the state, making him a hero amongst Hindu nationalists around the country.
The BJP has formed a government three times in India — first in 1996. The Prime Minister’s rule lasted only for about two weeks before he was made to resign, as he was unable to hold majority in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Parliament. Then, from 1999 to 2004, under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajapee, a moderate, India made some good progress. In 2014, many Indians voted for Modi because he came with promises of development, modernization and economic uplift. The BJP has since ruled India under the autocratic power of Modi and is making a mockery of its secular democracy by promoting a religious and exclusionary agenda. India, ever since its early-90s major structural economic reforms, was recognized as the world’s fastest growing economy, with an yearly GDP growth ranging between eight and 12 percent. However, the current BJP government’s actions are slowing growth. The party’s agenda and the country’s focus have been diverted away from economics towards the arithmetic of votes by dividing the nation on religious grounds.
Among various economic policies, the first drastic measure was the demonetization of denominations of the rupee (₹) in 2016. The government surprised people practically overnight by banning the use of ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes. This sucked out liquidity from the economy and impacted many small businesses. Unemployment is currently soaring, with the economy facing the highest unemployment rate in nearly 45 years. India’s various democratic institutions have been compromised, including the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the nation’s central bank. Rather than allowing the RBI to function as an autonomous body, the government has put its own stooges there. With increasing control of the RBI, the Modi government can control monetary policy and camouflage government spending.
In December 2019, India introduced the CAA, which makes it easier for members of all communities, except Muslims, to acquire Indian citizenship. The CAA aims to grant citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighboring countries yet discriminates against Muslims, making it harder for them to be naturalized. Historically, India receives immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It is no coincidence that all three countries are Islamic states with many Muslim immigrants. The CAA will tighten India’s borders, but only against Muslim immigrants, as well as force Muslim residents to prove their citizenship in a country where documentation may not be readily available or easy to obtain.
Along with the CAA, the BJP also wants to compile a register of all of India’s 1.3 billion citizens with the goal to hunt down undocumented immigrants — many of whom, of course, are Muslims and may not have the documentation to prove that they are Indian. The government is also building camps for those that may get weeded out, which does not augur well of its intentions. Many Muslims chose to stay in a secular India during the subcontinent’s bloody partition in 1947, when Pakistan was carved out as a state for Muslims. Thus, Muslims fear losing their citizenship and their country.
Anti-CAA protests have been widespread around the country and have attracted millions of people, especially students, to take to the streets and declare the CAA as unjust and a violation of the Constitution. As a member of India’s youth myself, it makes me proud that we have risen up to challenge what seems like a partisan policy. The protest proves the strength of our youth and their respect for their fellow countrymen. Yet the great polarization and anti-Muslim sentiment that these recent actions have sparked, especially from supporters of Modi’s Hindutva agenda, are scary to say the least.
Unfortunately, people in India saw these developments coming. There have been a string of initiatives and policies of BJP which are steering the country towards a Hindutva state. In August 2019, the government revoked the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Article 370 was a constitutional provision that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, a majority Muslim state. The motivation behind the government’s action is clear — to establish a BJP government there. Even today, people in the state are suffering from arbitrary arrests, internet shutdown and regular curfews. There have been extreme controls on media coverage and people are thus unaware of the suffering in the state. Through these actions and by undermining the secular identity of the nation, the ruling party is threatening India’s democracy — damage that may take decades to fix. The fuel that is keeping the BJP alive is the very poison that is killing India’s democracy.
Since 1947, speculators have raised eyebrows at India’s democracy, and many have predicted that someday it would collapse. With nine major religions and many other small religions and over 19,500 languages, India stands as one of the most diverse countries, with its strength deriving from its diversity. If the current leadership threatens the very foundation on which India was built, it could collapse the largest democracy.