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The BJP doesn't recognise Indians - only Hindus and minorities

"For seven decades, India has been held together by its constitution, which promises equality to all. But Narendra Modi’s BJP is remaking the nation into one where some people count as more Indian than others" - Samanth Subramanian from Guardian

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The BJP doesn't recognise Indians - only Hindus and minorities

"For seven decades, India has been held together by its constitution, which promises equality to all. But Narendra Modi’s BJP is remaking the nation into one where some people count as more Indian than others" - Samanth Subramanian from Guardian

The BJP doesn't recognise Indians - only Hindus and minorities

"For seven decades, India has been held together by its constitution, which promises equality to all. But Narendra Modi’s BJP is remaking the nation into one where some people count as more Indian than others" - Samanth Subramanian from Guardian

The BJP doesn't recognise Indians - only Hindus and minorities

"For seven decades, India has been held together by its constitution, which promises equality to all. But Narendra Modi’s BJP is remaking the nation into one where some people count as more Indian than others" - Samanth Subramanian from Guardian

Modi's party was founded on principles of secularism, diversity, and equality. Yet it has gone too far down the path of Hindu nationalism.

Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister and leader of the BJP, is one of the world’s most powerful leaders. Despite a first term that saw record levels of unemployment and a failure to tackle corruption, he was voted in for a second term by record numbers of voters and remains overwhelmingly popular. What is it about Modi and the BJP that appeals to so many?

Much of his popularity lies in his fostering of a sense of national identity rooted in India’s Hindu culture. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, this nationalist message has taken many forms, going so far as to rewrite much of the national curriculum taught in schools in a way that emphasises the achievements of Hindu rulers in history, teaching Hindu scripture as historical fact, while marginalising other narratives in India’s past such as the Mughal emperors.

The overall message is one that is successful in unifying a large section of the Indian population at the expense of minorities – perhaps at the expense of India’s secular foundations as a country of diversity, with many religions and ethnicities rather than a monoculture.

Looking back to the origins of the BJP, the element of Hindutva – Hindu nationalism – has clearly had a long history in the party. But today it is being used in a way that is far more extreme and divisive than its founders could have imagined.

The history of the BJP.

Today’s BJP is a direct descendant of an earlier party, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), founded by a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organisation that supported the concept of India as a Hindu nation. Established in 1925, the RSS was inspired by the same sense of nationalism and ethnic superiority that gave rise to the fascist parties taking hold of Europe during the same period.

The RSS is still active today, counting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a member. And it shares its ideology of Hindu nationalism with the BJP.

Yet the BJP itself, at its inception in 1980, was notably less hardline than the BJS or RSS when it came to Hindu nationalism. The party’s leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, ensured that its ideology was based in secular socialism, with the founding principles of nationalism, democracy, secularism, a Gandhian economic policy and value-based politics.

At his inaugural speech, Vajpayee criticised the lack of morals in India’s political landscape and pledged to work towards a better politics based on integrity, honesty, and tolerance. He defended secularism, instead claiming Ekam Sad Vipra Bahudha Vadanti (The real is one; the learned speak of it variously) as the root of Indian philosophy. This is a way of thinking that celebrates pluralism and respects multiple faiths and worldviews, making it the ideal home-grown intellectual foundation for a diverse, cosmopolitan democracy.

India’s complex history reduced to a single story.

This position gradually changed in the late 1980s, as the party – and the RSS - came to prominence during a campaign to build a temple in place of a sixteenth-century mosque in the town of Ayodhya, on a site that is regarded as the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. In 1992 the BJP organised a large rally that culminated in the destruction of the mosque. Riots broke out around the country, killing around two thousand people. It was a moment that gave rise to an increased communal polarization throughout the country, that began the BJP’s trajectory away from secularism and towards a more divisive ideology.

For those who value India’s ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity – and the secular principles that give such diversity the freedom to thrive – this ideology is extremely worrying. Around 80% of the population is Hindu, but the country is also home to millions of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and others. Using the rhetoric of tradition and religion, today’s expression of Hindutva – Hindu nationalism – has become a political doctrine that has little relation to Hinduism itself. Instead, it is used as a banner to channel popular discontent away from the government and towards minority groups.

Since the BJP came to power in 2014, India has seen unprecedented growth in attacks on minority groups as the party’s rhetoric is translated into reality. “We are receiving reports that indicate increasing harassment and targeting of minorities – in particular, Muslims and people from historically disadvantaged and marginalised groups, such as Dalits and Adivasis,” said Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her 2019 report to the UN Human Rights Council.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in 2019, made it possible for migrants from neighbouring countries to get a fast-track Indian citizenship – unless they happen to be Muslim. Peaceful protests against the discriminatory nature of the act in early 2020 led to the worst inter-communal violence seen in Delhi in thirty years, with more than fifty people killed. It is part of a rising tide of violence over the past few years, in which armed gangs have lynched people suspected of killing cows for beef and the police have done little to prevent attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned shops.

A divided nation.

Inequality has gone hand in hand with the decline of secularism. In 2017, an Oxfam report showed that the top 10% of Indian society controlled 77% of the country’s total wealth. It’s a far cry from Vajpayee’s original policy of Gandhian socialism. Instead, power has become increasingly centralised, and constitutional institutions such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) - even parliament itself - have become tools in the hands of the BJP.

The BJP needs to rediscover its original values. It is possible to celebrate Hindu culture without denigrating other traditions. True equality means finding a way to share the national wealth more equally, and protecting the most vulnerable – not by creating a mentality of “them” and “us”.

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