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Hindutva, Electoral Fortunes and a Vision for the Nation

Romit Raj

This essay is primarily about the conflict between the aims of the ruling party, that of winning elections and that of governing the nation as it should be. It is difficult not to be for or against the ruling party in any discussion today because of the polarization of opinion which makes people take stands without reflecting on an issue-by-issue basis but that is what this essay tries to do; while it cannot be denied that the ruling party has significant achievements to its credit there are also disquieting aspects that need examination. Many of them have been listed out by those who are already for or against the ruling party and do not bear repeating but this essay will look at certain key aspects that have not attracted much notice. Regardless of who comes to power in 2024, they should be helpful.     

In the past decade political power in India has been redistributed to an extent that few in 2009 – when the UPA led by congress had won its second term – would have thought possible. By the time the dust had settled, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) had won 303 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, when the BJP had won 282 seats on its own, it was hailed as a massive mandate; how then are we to describe their performance in 2019? However, it is not just the performance at the centre that deserves attention, but also at the state level, where BJP’s electoral and political machinery has established a firm grip on power. The BJP’s influence goes beyond electoral majorities; today the leadership of the BJP has a broad public mandate to set the course that the nation will take over the next few decades. India’s public institutions, which have faithfully reflected the worldview of the Congress party since independence, are now largely behind the BJP. This has also led to a rapid change in the way that Indians approach their culture, history and their place in the world. When we see a new spin given to history, we do not note that the earlier history also reflected a political ideology and a ‘spin’. Under Modi, Indians of the middle-classes seem more aspirational than they have been in decades. The Congress view of India, what was formerly the “official narrative” of India has been abandoned.

By the time the BJP completed its first term, and a different narrative was in place, the more the Congress party harked back to its past, the more it reminded people of its less admirable doings. However, the elections in 2019 were less about the crystallisation of public opinion against the Congress party (though that was a part of it) and more an affirmation of the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi. BJP under Modi is the new vehicle that Indians expect to correct ‘historical wrongs’ and set the nation on a new path that better reflects, above all, the ambitions of her Hindu majority. The Hindus did/do not constitute a unified ‘majority’, but this has been the BJP’s broad aim.  This can be seen in the increased vote and seat share of the BJP at the expense of the even regional parties across the country.

This essay is in three parts. The first part, which is its core, lays out the historical conditions fostered by the Congress party in independent India that eventually led to the rise of the BJP. The second seeks to examine the failings of the current BJP, which is being distracted from the need to articulate an effective and inclusive/viable vision that is commensurate with the ambitions of the people of India. We could say that it is only an inclusive India that is viable even if it is not the inclusivity as defined by the Congress. The essay will conclude with a short section with some ideas on how such a vision can be formulated by either the BJP itself (though that seems unlikely in the near future considering the course that the party has set) or by an opposition party seeking to, essentially, beat the BJP at its own game. Many of these political parties have adopted a watered-down version of Hindutva alongside sops to the electorate – like free bus rides for women in Karnataka – that will not be economically viable at the national level without squandering the available resources. One could therefore propose that a return to the ‘secularist manifesto’ is not being proposed by any political party and some version of addressing the ‘Hindu majority’ has become imperative.  

The decline of ‘secularism’

Before going on to examine Nehruvian secularism it will be necessary to understand the various mindsets India had to deal with. Sociologist Ashis Nandy, in his paper, “An Anti-Secularist Manifesto” proposes an interesting and for our purposes here, useful, classification of the political outlooks of the citizenry in India (Nandy extends his hypothesis to other contexts) (1). The first category in this classification is the cultural construction of the western man. According to Nandy, this archetype may never really exist in traditional societies but is necessary as a shadow category to highlight its absence. In traditional academic writing, this absence of the western man has often been viewed as the ultimate cause for the non-west’s failure.

The second category is the westernised native, a local who has internalised the values of the western man and seeks to approximate him. Most Indians will quickly recognise this category, which will, rightfully, evoke the long list of Congress leaders post-independence including Jawaharlal Nehru himself. The primary purpose of the westernised native is to transform traditional societies into westernised ones, through a process often referred to as modernisation. To the westernised native, it is the scientific, rational, empirical, and importantly for us, secular mindset of westernised societies that need to be introduced to traditional societies to supplant their communal nature. The third category is that of the zealots, often referred to as traditionalists or reactionaries. These are groups who have internalised the humiliation meted out to them by western modernity and harbour these grievances. According to Nandy, the zealot is not truly a believer and has accepted the western Enlightenment’s attitude to all religions, including his own. But for the zealot - somewhat cynically - traditional religious and ethnic values are tools for mobilisation, which would eventually lead to the creation of a political platform through which the disciplined and scorned zealot can acquire power. Finally, the fourth category is that of the masses of people, who are, what Nandy calls peripheral believers, surviving in a political landscape controlled either by the western native or the zealot. As the name of the category may suggest, the peripheral believers are largely religious, however, unlike the zealots their piety does not inspire absolutist or ideological worldviews. Nandy argues that these numerically preponderant groups are concerned with everyday life and for them coexistence with people from different religions (also peripheral believers) is necessary for survival. They are, therefore, tolerant and unlike the western native, who ascribes tolerance to a western idea of secularism, the peripheral believers are tolerant because of their lived experience. Their faith, instead of inspiring intolerance (as is believed by the western native and justified by the attitudes of the zealot) inspires a more harmonious worldview.

According to Nandy, for the western native, the religious masses are an impediment in the path of modernisation. They are also seen as passive or zealots-in-waiting, who can be mobilised and whipped into frenzy by the zealots for their regressive political ends. For the zealots, the peripheral believers are weak and do not have the requisite purity of faith or the martial discipline needed to counter the assault of the western natives. In Nandy’s scheme, both western natives and zealots do not understand the motivations of the peripheral believers, but clearly and unambiguously understand each other’s motivations.

Nandy’s framework is useful for us because it provides a neat way to understand the evolution of Indian politics since Independence. It is apparent that for most of independent India, under Congress rule under Nehru and after, power has belonged to westernised natives. I would like to argue that in their quest to modernise India, the Congress party and its leadership has disrespected not just the zealots but also the large masses of peripheral believers, who have, in-fact been mobilised against the Congress party by the BJP, often leveraging a reactionary brand of politics.

Ever since 1947, the Congress party insisted on a flawed and doubtful mission to ‘secularise’ India. While the Hindu faithful has been subjected to a number of state driven and centralised reforms, other faiths in the country including Islam and Christianity were largely left untouched. What are Hindus to make of the fact that the Government of India chose to significantly increase its involvement in the management of Hindu religious sites while eschewing similar measures for Islamic and Christian sites? It is true that the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1951 seeks to differentiate between matters of religion, which were to remain under the remit of the relevant religious denominations and secular matters (concerned with the management of the property), which were to be managed by the state. In reality however, this is a separation that is impossible to maintain, as Partha Chatterjee argues in his paper ‘Secularism and Toleration’(2). Chatterjee’s example of a potential conflict here is instructive: what if the State chooses to utilise the endowments to open hospitals or universities instead of using them for more elaborate rituals? The situation led to a commentator noting in the 1960s - “the commissioner for the Hindu religious endowments, a public servant of the secular state, today exercises far greater authority over Hindu religion in Madras state than the Archbishop of Canterbury does over the church of England”(3). No such interventions were made in the administration of religious sites of other religions. It can perhaps be safely assumed that the Congress leadership, which was overwhelmingly Hindu, did not actively conspire to weaken Hinduism while strengthening other religions.

What then can we attribute this singular focus on state machinery to secularise the Hindu culture? Without hazarding a guess about the ‘private intentions’ of public figures, it can still be speculated that these leaders felt that their own Hindu credentials would soften the reaction to their policies.  Hinduism also did not make the demands that the other religions made on their adherents, and this could have reinforced their ‘secular’ conduct. But from Nehru to Indira Gandhi and much more recently Rahul Gandhi, Congress leadership has strategically also chosen to recollect/reiterate their Hindu heritage whenever necessary. Before the 2019 elections, the country had to witness the sight of Rahul Gandhi conducting elaborate rituals to prove his credentials as not only a Hindu but a janeu dhari Brahmin (those who wear a sacred thread around their torsos to mark the coming-of-age ceremony at the onset of puberty). Clearly, these public affirmations of their Hindu practices are not working for the Congress leadership anymore. Under assault from the zealots, the western natives cannot regain the trust of the peripheral believers. They being ‘Hindu’ is not enough of a guarantee that they will protect Hindu interests.

This historically one-sided mission, focused on Hinduism alone, seeking to replace a traditional worldview with a secular one is not limited to the Endowments Act of 1951 and extends to several other administrative, political and cultural initiatives of the Congress Party. Another pertinent example is the existence of several personal laws in India as opposed to a uniform civil code, which, by definition, would be more secular. It is a well-known and politicised fact in India that the Muslim community in the country have been largely exempt from reforms in civil laws. The Shah Bano case, which eventually led to the Rajiv Gandhi government passing the Muslim Women (Protection on Divorce) Act, 1986 (4) is a good example of the Congress party compromising its progressive credentials for the sake of electoral gains. This has only recently been addressed by the Modi government passing the Triple Talaaq bill. Not surprisingly, the Congress, now in opposition, could not frame any coherent arguments against what is frankly a secular move (notwithstanding whatever the real intensions of the government may have been) by the Modi government. I propose a similar incoherent response by the Congress party, should the government choose to push a uniform civil code in the parliament.

Taking their cue from the Congress policy on education and culture, academic institutions and personalities in India, particularly in their approach to writing Indian history, have been guilty of if not misrepresenting, then at least presenting a unidimensional view. Many Indians, who would consider themselves liberal, are of the view that the political right as represented by the BJP and the RSS are distorting historical facts to effectively rewrite Indian history to suit their political interests. There is little doubt that this is indeed happening, even if one often encounters these efforts in their truly ludicrous avatars, with politicians asserting the presence of nuclear weapons or aircrafts in the ancient past. However, the bias inherent in the historical accounts presented by the other side - the historians and academics patronised by the Congress governments over the years - should also be duly noted. These academic viewpoints have heavily influenced not just domestic but also foreign scholarship about India and Hinduism that cannot be overturned easily by proposing an opposite view today because of the BJP government’s educational or cultural policy. More importantly from a political perspective, these ‘liberal’ views have seeped into the lives of the peripheral believers through mainstream education and other cultural means. Just as in the case of the political efforts of the Congress party mentioned above, these academic viewpoints and dogmas have led to resentment among the peripheral believers, for whom, this historical perspective does not square up with their lived experience and cultural memory. It is difficult for them to accept the views of Hinduism as hoary superstition, promoted by western academics.

Historian Dharma Kumar’s paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly in 1994 highlights some interesting instances of this liberal academic bias (5) , from which I will recount one here. The historic account of Mughal India is a deeply polarising issue now and the renaming of roads named after Mughal emperors in Delhi has triggered much righteous indignation among many educated Indians. However, as Kumar discusses in her paper, the historic account of Mughal rulers, as provided by academic historians such as Romila Thapar, are at best incomplete and do not delve into the suppression of Hindu culture under Islamic rule in India. There can be little doubt that under Islamic rule, India was a world centre of art and architecture, but this patronage of the arts by the Mughal courts tell us little about the fates of millions of Hindus, who had to endure Islamic rule. Even under the Mughal Emperor Akbar Muslims were favoured over Hindus As Kumar writes in her paper: “The beauty of the Taj tells us nothing about the absence of conflict between Muslims and Hindus at the time it was built, nor about Muslim arrogance, nor the suppressed feelings of resentment on the part of Hindus, or distrust between the various communities”vi . As Kumar suggests, in the absence of historical records, one has to read between the lines to get a Hindu perspective on Islamic rule. One way to do that would be to look at Hindu behaviour at the end of Islamic rule in India. Kumar quotes a historian of the early colonial period, who remarks: “It is rarely acknowledged how much Hindu festivity came out into the open during the nineteenth century….At the beginning of the nineteenth century the celebration of Ram’s birth anniversary Ram Naaumi, was largely confined to temples and private compounds, but by 1900 it had moved outdoors in showy processions that drew upon the cooperation of moneyed sponsors, priests and lay worshippers of Ram”(6).

At the turn of the 20th century as India opened up its economy, financial power slowly became more decentralised. As a consequence, many people, especially those who would be classified within the zealot category in Nandy’s scheme found a new voice outside the political and cultural system engendered by the Congress worldview. This is a crucial point because without the patronage and support of the newly enriched trader classes outside of the Congress fold, the BJP would have struggled to effectively mobilise the peripheral believers (in effect the masses). Several things fell into place for the BJP and RSS and the organisations came to be seen as the shelter for believing Hindus, who had felt minimised under the rule of the Congress leadership, which had focused on secularising the Hindu landscape, without any real democratic mandate to do so. It is not hyperbole to suggest that the current BJP government, especially the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have broken through the factional Hindu polity of India by portraying themselves ostensibly as the saviours of the faith of all Hindus regardless of class or castes. This, above all, I would argue, is the reason that the BJP is the political force it is today.

Hindutva’s imagining of modern India

The BJP has been in power long enough for its constituency to demand a long-term vision for India. It can now claim to have one of the largest memberships of any political party in the world. Electorally, in the short term (5-10 years), this must seem like a positive both from within the party and to those outside it. After all, this rapid rise in membership is a sign that the BJP has now truly replaced the Congress party as India’s primary political platform. However, this rise is also connected to the way that the political identity of the BJP is changing rapidly, in ways it could not have envisaged. I would argue that this change is making it harder for the Modi government to affect the kinds of large-scale socio-cultural reforms that the country can truly benefit from in the long run (say 20-30 years).

The idea of ‘reform’ is often used in the economic domain and in fact it is fair to say that economic reform is seen by many as the panacea to solve all the problems facing the country today. The relentless talk of development being pushed by the Modi Government has begun to sound like the modernisation agenda we discussed above with regard to the Nehruvian era. Yet, it could be supposed that the senior leadership of the BJP recognises that socio-cultural reformation of the Hindu society is the necessary base on which long term economic prosperity of the nation can be achieved. Accordingly, it would seem that that there is a belief among many middle-class educated Indians (BJP’s support base) that caste-based differences are on the decline and that soon economic development will render caste obsolete. Research, however, continues to show that in the 21st century, caste-based inequalities continue to flourish in India, especially when it comes to educational and economic opportunities. Inequalities manifested in this particular combination of educational and economic opportunities are becoming particularly troubling. Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the 21st Century painstakingly demonstrates that modern economic processes, including reform, continue to propagate inequalities(7). As Piketty writes, “…there is no natural, spontaneous process to prevent destabilising, inegalitarian forces from prevailing permanently”(8). According to Piketty, the most critical force towards reducing inequality is what he calls diffusion of knowledge. For our purposes here this is akin to education and skill development. On the other side, a critical force that increases inequality is the process of accumulation of wealth over generations. According to Piketty, this force of “divergence” - as he puts it - is particularly powerful when growth is weak and return on capital is high. Simplifying Piketty’s nuanced analysis, the more wealth you have, the more wealth you and your descendants will accumulate over time. So, the lowest castes (who are also economically weak) fare badly on both sides, with less opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills and at the same time facing wealth accumulation by higher castes, which is likely to put them at a disadvantage for a long time. 

Caste based inequalities is perhaps the most important example of what continues to ail Hindu society today. Another important social-cultural issue, which has been exacerbated by the BJP’s inability to control its criminal elements, is the increasing alienation that minority communities face in the country today. The protection of these criminal elements by local authorities makes them more predatory on the minorities who make up close to 20% of India’s population and it is fair to assert that prosperity and peace in India depends heavily on the inclusion of minorities in the cultural and economic mainstream.

These two prominent examples highlight the scale of challenges facing the Modi government and the BJP. So far, the party has not been able to show any ability to articulate and implement a vision that meets the scale of these challenges. As mentioned earlier, a key issue is connected to the BJP’s membership increase. But before discussing the rise of membership in the BJP, it is important to understand how the organisation has changed since the rise of the Modi Shah duo. Talking to party workers in September 2018, the prime minister used interesting analogies to describe the relationship between party workers and the top leadership. He invoked the role of the vanar sena (monkey army) in Rama’s victory over Ravana and role of the gwalas (cow herders) in helping Krishna lift the Govardhan mountain. (9) What is interesting is that Modi was invoking a direct relationship between on-ground workers and the top leadership. What was absent was reference to an organisational structure, with middle level management and set processes, which are critical to the success of most organisations, at least in the long term. Modi’s speech was very much in line with his and Shah’s vision of a flatter BJP, where the middle management is either absent or simply too disempowered to offer any real leadership. Rashmi Singh, in her article in the Caravan magazine, calls it the populist restructuring of the party and informs us that this has been largely welcomed by the ground-level party workersx . This is hardly surprising considering the way they have been empowered to essentially run inspired but unstructured ground operations for the BJP. There can be a number of reasons for why the BJP has been restructured this way and perhaps it was meant to be a way for the Shah Modi duo to clear the field of any individuals or groups within the organisation who may challenge them or their development agenda. However, an empowered middle-management is incredibly important in most organisations, particularly large ones, where an absence of middle management means that the leadership can do little but provide inspiration or big picture plans to ground level workers. The organisational middle is needed to oversee day-to-day operations and ensure that policies are being followed. What is also important to understand is that these individuals and groups need to be empowered to make on-ground decisions to react to dynamic and evolving situations, which the top leadership cannot always keep tabs on. Scaled at the size of the BJP, one can quickly realise how severely limited is the impact that Narendra Modi or Amit Shah can have on the organisation on a day-to-day basis. In other words, without an effective middle-management it is almost impossible to exercise ground level control or ensure strict adherence to the party line. Whatever programme is devised at the top must be translated lower down for the ground-level workers. Without such translation the lower cadres are given power that they should not be allowed.  

It should hence not be a surprise to anyone that criminal elements within BJP’s cadres have disrupted peace and tainted the government’s development agenda. Many, especially on the left, have argued that it was Modi and Shah’s intention from the beginning to disrupt social harmony by, for example, enabling fanatic Hindu elements to attack the minorities. However, as before, I wish to stay away from speculating on a leader’s ‘intention’ and instead wish to rely on what they have said publicly and their policy initiatives. It will be hard to argue that any policy position adopted or implemented by the BJP has been anti-minority. It is true that with the exception of a few instances the prime minister has not strongly condemned acts such as mob lynching, but the idea that Modi, who seems most keen on portraying India as a leader on the world stage, is actively promoting mob lynching of minorities in India, seems to be far-fetched. India will not become an economic powerhouse while simultaneously supressing and persecuting its minorities, who - as we discussed earlier - are 20% of the population. This was reflected in Modi’s insistence on everyone’s trust (sabka vishwas) at the beginning of his new term. To me, it seems much more plausible that, considering the organisational structure that Modi-Shah have pursued, it has become very difficult for them to reign in these violent, fanatic elements, who after all have worked hard to bring BJP to power over several elections. Modi cannot attack these elements too openly without also hollowing out his electoral infrastructure and he cannot manage them on a day-to-day basis without an effective middle-management.   

To compound this organisational crisis, BJP’s focus on short term priorities has meant that they have allowed hundreds of politicians from other parties to join them. Like the Congress party before them, the BJP has weaponised the investigative agencies (perhaps to a greater degree) and it is quite apparent that many leaders from parties such as the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, the Telugu Desam Party are joining the BJP to escape prosecution and protect their assets. This too is changing the political identity of the BJP and causing internal friction. According to reports in the Hindustan Times(10) and other media outlets, party loyalists in Goa were particularly angry at the induction of tainted Congress leaders into the party to retain power in the state in 2019. These leaders had been booked for illegal gambling and rapes by BJP led regimes in the past but were then being welcomed into the party. Not surprisingly, all the three leaders who defected from the Congress joined the Goa cabinet. A similar dynamic unfolded in Karnataka, where BJP machinations brought down the Congress-JDS government when many leaders in the ruling coalition joined the BJP. The issue is whether the admission of outsiders on a large scale into a body will not transform the nature of the body.   

These factors point towards significant weaknesses of the BJP that may not change electoral results now or in the near future - but do provide an opening for other political platforms to take advantage of. More importantly perhaps, these factors also explain why the BJP’s leadership, which seems focused solely on capturing and retaining power for itself, is unable to articulate the kind of complex and large vision that this country – and particularly its Hindu majority - seems to be ready for.

The way forward

With the installation of the BJP government in the 2014, India had turned a page in its political and cultural history. The 2019 elections confirmed and solidified this move. However, as discussed above, in the past five years the BJP has been unable to develop a vision, let alone a plan, for this next part of India’s journey. Apart from relatively short-term economic issues, India continues to struggle with the same set of issues that have plagued it since independence and even before. Chief among them are caste-based inequalities, lack of an educational policy that can transform Indian society beyond caste-based inequalities and severely inadequate health infrastructure. To add to these, some issues have worsened over time. For example, soil degradation and climate change have further eroded the viability of the Indian agricultural sector, which continues to occupy a majority of Indians. These are only some of the critical long-term challenges that India faces, and this list is not meant to be comprehensive. What is more important here is to stress on the fact that restoring Hindu confidence and pride is not an end in itself and has to instead become a vehicle for political and cultural transformation that addresses the issues mentioned above. Additionally, this transformation has to be inclusive of the minorities in India. 

Secular politics, the kind that the Congress used to exemplify (and perhaps still does) is well and truly dead as an electoral strategy and any political ideology or strategy in the future has to reconcile with a largely believing Hindu majority in India. But this cannot necessarily mean that minorities are being discriminated against. Hinduism has been regarded by many as a way of life and not a religion. Even Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS in a recent speech described a Hindu in an extremely broad way that can easily include people from other religions and even atheists(11). It would seem that Hindu doctrines, more so than other theological traditions, lend themselves to be inclusive of other religious practices and beliefs. So, an ostensibly Hindu party does not need to exclude or oppress minorities and can develop an inclusive and tolerant vision without the kind of, at times, opportunist ‘secularism’ that has been such a central part of the political tradition of independent India. The BJP, however, continues to define its brand of Hinduism as a reaction against and rejection of other faiths, particularly Islam. The National Register issue is a good example. Few modern countries will accept an uncontrolled flow of illegal immigration through its borders; in other words, there is nothing unacceptable about a rational immigration policy, which can empower a country to control immigration through its borders. The politics of the National Register, however, has been framed as a way of targeting Muslims by the BJP, including by the Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, who referred to unregistered Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh as termites in one of his speeches during the 2019 election campaign(12). This is not a strategy for inclusion but instead a polarising rhetoric meant for short term electoral gain. This rhetoric is not without consequences. When the leader giving these speeches is the future home minister of India, it makes it harder for minorities to trust the BJP, making an inclusive agenda more difficult to attain. A vision for the future instead needs to take from the kind of broad definition of Hinduism proposed by Mohan Bhagwat. This Hinduism will likely be inspired by ancient Indian scriptures - not just Hindu ones but also Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Sufi, and other religious traditions - but contextualised for relevance in the 21st century.

Apart from being inclusive, a modern Hindu tradition will urgently need to address the condition of lowest castes, especially the Dalits and Adivasis. The caste system, as a manifest system of discrimination and oppression needs to be eradicated and one could argue that the secular policies of the state have largely failed to do anything about it. Instead, the inequalities of the caste system need to be addressed through cultural reform of Hindu traditions. Reservations will continue to be relevant, but need to be made more effective and their benefits more widespread in both education and employment. It is outside the scope of this essay to elaborate on strategies for a more equitable reservation policy, but it seems obvious that families should not be allowed to benefit from reservation in perpetuity as this only ends up engendering hierarchies within the lower castes, with their upper echelons often making common cause with the upper castes. Apart from reservations, Hindu reform may also need platforms that bring people together, especially the youth, from across different backgrounds and regions. These platforms are essential to trigger intermingling and break down barriers that currently divide the country across fault lines such as caste, language, region, religion, economic background etc.

Finally any vision for future India must address the state of public education and health in the country. While private education will continue to be important, it needs to be regulated far more competently and public policy must necessarily focus on strengthening public education. Similarly a large part of policy and governance efforts must be made towards improving public health infrastructure in India with emphasis on a complete overhaul of medical education in the country. The BJP government has spent some time and political energy towards improving public health and medical education in India. The results, however, will depend on continued focus and corruption free and effective implementation of policies. 
In conclusion, the seeds of BJP’s success in the recent years were sown by the policies and agenda of the several Congress governments that ruled over the country after independence. These policies were, at times, insensitive and misguided, and in the long term have driven away the numerically preponderant, peripheral believers. The insular leadership of the BJP, however, is showing itself incapable of developing an inclusive and ambitious vision for India in the 21st century, focusing instead on centralising power at any cost. This has left a vacuum of imagination and inspiration that can be filled by those who chose to fight the BJP electorally. Indian politics, unlike that of the United States of America, has never conformed to a contest between a liberal, secular left with welfare-oriented policy propositions and a conservative, religious right intent on shrinking the role of government. With this new chapter under Mr. Modi, this left vs right framework of understanding politics has been rendered completely useless in India. As evidence one could look at the policies of the Modi government (which most people describe as a right-wing government), many of which, such as Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana(13), can only be described as welfare policies that increase the role of the developmental state in people’s lives. A challenge to the BJP juggernaut does not need to (and likely will not) come from a secular left political platform, the kind that the Congress party used to embody. Instead, the challenge to the BJP will firstly need to acknowledge that Modi and the BJP have forever changed Indian politics, rendering old secularism obsolete and secondly address the lack of vision and long-term thinking in BJP’s politics. Any such political platform, I would argue, will give itself a good baseline for success in Indian politics over the next five to ten years.



Nandy, Ashis (1995): “An Anti-secularist Manifesto”, India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 1, SECULARISM IN CRISIS, pp 35-64   


Chatterjee, Partha (1994): “Secularism and Toleration”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 28, pp. 1768-1777


Smith, Donald Eugene (1963): India as a Secular State, Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press, p 246 


Engineer, Asghar Ali (2000): “Maintenance for Muslim women”, The Hindu, url:


Kumar, Dharma (1994): ‘Left Secularists and Communalism’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 28, pp. 1803-1809


Katherine Prior, ‘Making History: The State's Intervention in Urban Religious Disputes in the North-Western Provinces in the Early Nineteenth Century,’ Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1, (Feb., 1993), p 180.


Piketty, Thomas (2014) : “Capital in the twenty-first century”: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press


Ibid, pp 28


Singh, Rashmi (2019): “The Diminishing Middle : How Modi is restructuring the BJP”, The Caravan, url:


Chanakya (2019), “In its hegemonic moment, the challenges for BJP”, Hindustan Times, url:


In his speech, Mr. Bhagwat described a Hindu as someone who is confident of his beliefs but tolerant of the beliefs of others. He goes on to mention that a Hindu can believe in any God, or no God at all, he can speak any language and come from anywhere in the world. Later, he concedes that some people would not be comfortable with the Hindu label, no matter how broadly it is defined; he suggests instead the concept of the Indic thought instead of Hindu thought for those but insisted that the RSS finds the Hindu label more strategically prudent. A transcript of Mr. Bhagwat’s speech is available here -
One can also watch the video of his speech here -


Ghoshal Devjyot (2019), “Amit Shah vows to throw illegal immigrants into Bay of Bengal”,Reuters


Pradhan, Hemanta (2016), “Scheme for LPG to BPL families to be launched in Odisha”, Times of India, url:

Romit Raj works for a social research firm in Bangalore. He has been a student of sociology and history and is currently pursuing a doctorate in design research. He is deeply interested in Indian politics and culture and is seeking to add to the understanding about these subjects in modern India through speculation.

Courtesy: Narendra Modi

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