Hindu nationalists defining Indian democracy down

India may well be on its way to becoming a Hindu state, even as its secular constitution remains officially in force, writes Christophe Jaffrelot in the Journal of Democracy (July). In an article marking the 70th anniversary of democracy in India, the political scientist notes that much of this change toward favoring Hinduism and cracking down on other religions, particularly Islam, picked up momentum in 2014 with the rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP party and the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister. While Modi has made frequent statements that support religious minorities, he also has stood by while Hindu nationalist groups have put pressure on Muslims and Christians, with one leading BJP figure condemning Mother Teresa just before she was declared a saint. The same leader, Yogi Adityanath, was named chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, in March. Along with various campaigns to promote Hindu nationalism, the most long-lasting effort has revolved around defending the cow as sacred; even though selling beef is permitted in almost every state, militias and other nationalist groups have taken the law into their own hands, targeting “traffickers” (formerly legal sellers of beef), especially the many Muslim butchers.

Jaffrelot argues that India is becoming what he calls an “ethnic democracy,” which is marked by recognizing one ethnic or ethnoreligious group and its discourse as forming the core nation of the state. He adds that Hinduism “continues to enjoy a favorable international image as a religion that professes pacifism and pure spirituality. Indeed, this is one of the sources of India’s ‘soft power.’” Yet criticism is mounting. In its 2017 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom decried the existence in India of a “pervasive climate of impunity in which religious minorities feel increasingly insecure and have no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur.” But it is likely that India will widely be viewed as a counterweight to China in the interests of Western realpolitik. Jaffrelot concludes, “Hindu nationalists, looking around at a mostly Hindu society, have always favored democracy in the majoritarian sense. What they do not favor is the nondemotic side of democracy, the side which insists that individual and minority rights remain sacrosanct, with no majority allowed to trample them, ever.”

 (Journal of Democracy, http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/)