One of the world-renowned leaders is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since 2014, when he assumed the post of Prime Minister, his name has been linked, inter alia, with the rise of Hinduism.
But this fact is not new. It has a historical background, at present seems to be dominant, and under certain circumstances will be dominant in the future.
The historical backround
The emergence of the Hindu nationalist movement dates back to the Interwar period. The first theorist was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an activist who formulated who is a Hindu. More specifically, he said that this person should have been born by Hindu parents and consider India his motherland and a sacred place. The three main elements of Hindutva were the sense of a common nation, the sense of belonging to a tribe and that of belonging to a common culture. Savarkar’s theory gave birth to a stream of Hindu nationalism that encompassed Indians from all religions that flourished in the country (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism), excluding supporters of foreign religions such as Christianity and Islam. It was evident that the theory of the Indian activist aimed at creating an Indian society based on ethnic and religious origin.
The next Hindu activist was K.B. Hedgewar. Influenced by Savarkar’s writings and admirer of him and concerned by the inability of Indian society to throw away the British rule, he decided to take action to organize the Hindu national movement. In the autumn of 1925 he founded the political nationalist organization National Volunteer Society-RSS (in Hindu). His ideology was influenced by fascism and Nazism.
By the late 1930s the activities of Hindu nationalists had been intensified. In 1948, with the Indian independence, their activity did not cease. The reasons were national – the islamic state of Pakistan that was threatening India, the heritage left behind by the British and the Indians who had embraced foreign religions mentioned above. But Indian Army’s victories over Pakistan under the leadership of governments that were friendly to all minorities, temporarily diminished the nationalists’ resonance.
The 1960s would have found Hindu nationalism to be reborn. Then the Vishva Hindu Parishad political party was established to promote and protect the Hindu religion. Nevertheless, the nationalist movement’s action was reduced. The ongoing victories against Pakistan and social serenity did not allow it to grow.
The change came in the 1980s. In April the Indian Peoples’s Party- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was founded. Its program was in favor of the Hindu nationalist and it was a right wing political organization. On the second half there were some events that would resuscitate the nationalist movement. On the one hand, there has been an uninterrupted flow of Bangladeshi migrants heading to India to secure better living conditions. The fact that the two countries were allies favored this migration. The immigrants were mainly concentrated in the city of Assam and due to their large number, problems arose with the local community. On the other hand, in the Punjab province, on the border with Pakistan, an Islamist militant movement was born with the help of the enemy, Islamabad. The frustrations of Hindu-Muslims frightened the former that they were vulnerable, so they found refuge in nationalism. The explosive situation intensified in the late 1990s when Muslim gunmen killed several dozen Hindus. However, there was no general intra-Community conflict between supporters of the two dominant religions.
In the post-war era, Hindu nationalism took the following forms: protection of Hindus, protection of India’s heritage, restriction of the spread of Urdu spoken by the Muslim part of Indian society, and unification of the religiously divided society. The above ideology would soon make Modi a prime minister.
In the 2014 election campaign, Modi as the head of BJP nominated Hindu identity, and his program generally included much of the agenda of Hindu nationalists. He even worked with the nationalist RSS party. His rhetoric gained popularity and, along with its overall image, granted him the electoral victory and the prime ministership of the Indian subcontinent. At the same time, it raised skepticism and concern among minorities as well as international organizations. Although the nationalist groups were well known, they had not been able to promote their demands by this high political office. With the election of Modi, their activity increased and some of their members were absorbed in public administration. BJP and RSS collaboration continued in the post-election period as well. The concerns would not prove groundless. In the period 2014-2017 there were numerous Muslim killings charged to far-right Hindu nationalists. Implementation of the “Hindu Agenda” has raised further concern, and there has been a comparison of Modi with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who implements the same policy “using” Islam.
Prime minister by chance? interpreting the phenomenon
Modi and some of the nationalist factions did not come to power by chance. Processes had begun from the previous century; it was only in the second decade of the 21st century that they allowed Hindutva’s domination on the political scene.
Of course, the Modi’s rise can be interpreted. One of the reasons that led to his victory was India’s dire economic outlook. In favor of nationalism and the demand for development, he succeeded and won a large number of voters. Still, the rise of radical Islam, not as an organization that merely carries out terrorist attacks, but as a caliphate in 2014 with ISIS in Syria, intensified the fears of the Hindu part of Indian society. Modi and his associates exploited the state of fear of the Hindus. The consolidation of a nationalist leader was the best guarantee of confronting radical Islamists and of course controlling the Muslim community in the country. A third reason was the existential threat, namely Pakistan. It is well-known that the Pakistani governments are using Islamic terrorist networks to hit Indian targets both inside the country and abroad. At the same time, Indian Muslims can act as a “Trojan horse” for the unity of India, given the opportunity to be propagated either by Islamabad or by ISIS. Consequently, a conservative Hindu prime minister would secure the country against external threats, and in particular against a Sunni Islamist milieu, Pakistan.
However, there is a peculiarity in Modi’s policy. As for the interior, his policy has actually downgraded the religious minorities to some extent. On foreign relations, the Indian government has maintained a peaceful and cooperative attitude. It promotes the green development, the maintenance of good neighborly relations and take initiatives to upgrade the status of Indian society. Even with Pakistan, despite the February 2019 crisis when Pakistanis shot down Indian aircrafts and captured a pilot, New Delhi hold an alternate stance and did not move dynamically, let alone launch hostilities. Eventually, with the achievement of Modi-Imra Khan cooperation, the crisis was eased.
Modi still rules. His policy is provoking more and more backlash, but he won again in the 2019 elections. As it is evident, the Hindu nationalism will survive and it will continue to exist. The fact that it will hold an alternate stance or will be transformed to something “militant” is going to be obvious.