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Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing at the 85th Annual Conference of Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha, at Sibasagar, Assam on February 05, 2016.

The electoral success of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 parliamentary elections marked a turning point in India’s electoral history. Under the slogan “Achhe din aane waale hain” (“good days are coming”), Narendra Modi led the party to its biggest win since the Indian National Congress (INC) swept the 1984 elections with his promise to build a more prosperous India. Today, in 2022, the party has power in 18 states, with another six in governing coalitions with allies; only 12 states are not under BJP control. However, under Modi’s governance for two terms, India has embraced a communal and authoritarian regime supported by a vast network of Hindu nationalist organizations known as the Sangh Parivar

Rising communal violence against religious minorities has threatened India’s secularism and made India a more intolerant country. This has been the case particularly in Assam, where the BJP has successfully fused Hindu nationalism with Assamese ethnonationalism. There have been frequent attacks on journalists, and the Modi government has altered the independence of the judiciary, making it difficult to challenge the regime on its divisive policies. To end the violence, the judiciary must play a more active role in safeguarding India’s secularism and the constitution.

Communalism in Full Swing

Since coming to power, much of the BJP’s political discourse has exacerbated communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Their actions have followed suit, with the abrogation of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019. The party has generated fear among Muslim minorities by portraying them as second-class citizens and dissuading Hindus and Muslims from living together. By redefining and remanufacturing Indian citizenship on the principles of Hindutva, the BJP government has broken the fate and legacy of India’s secularism enshrined in its constitution.

Under Modi’s governance for two terms, India has embraced a communal and authoritarian regime supported by a vast network of Hindu nationalist organizations known as the Sangh Parivar

In December 2021, the BJP’s incitement of violence took an uglier turn. The three-day “Dharam Sansad” held in Haridwar, Uttarakhand – a poll-bound state controlled by the BJP –saw a series of hate speeches targeting Muslims and calls for genocide, with several prominent BJP members in attendance. In the month since the incident, no BJP leaders—including Modi himself—have condemned the speeches. However, in a press conference, the BJP’s spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi avoided implicating or associating the BJP with the event. Moments like these have demonstrated the BJP’s complicity in hate speech, with its explicit endorsement of those championing Hindutva rhetoric and policies.

In a U.S. congressional briefing organized by 17 American civil society organizations, the president of Genocide Watch, Gregory H. Stanton, sounded alarm bells about a possible genocide against Indian Muslim minorities. Stanton describes early warning signs in India that could signal an impending genocide reminiscent of the widespread mob violence against Muslims in India during the 1947 Partition. Stanton also advocated for the U.S. Congress to pass a resolution warning India of its risk for genocide and urged the Indian government to pass a law to specifically outlaw genocide.

The BJP has also advanced its communal agenda by targeting other minorities, leading to a sharp rise in attacks on Christian minorities as well. The BJP’s affiliate Bajrang Dal, in particular, has been demonizing and terrifying Indian Christians from Karnataka to Uttarakhand. During Christmas season, violent attacks on Christians were reported throughout the country. The increasing hate attacks on Christian minorities are due to deepened communal polarization, continuing their previous attacks on Muslims to other religious minorities in India.

Assam: A New Communal Hotspot

Hindutva politics are in full blossom in Assam, which has had a long history of ethnonationalism with the Jatiotabad movement. The BJP has capitalized on existing nativism to portray the Muslims as the greatest threat to “Assamese” culture, merging their philosophies with xenophobic Assamese ethnonationalism to exacerbate hatred towards Muslim minorities. This led to an easy victory for the BJP in the 2021 Legislative Assembly elections, marking their second winning term in the state.

Since Himanta Biswa Sarma was sworn in as Assam’s Chief Minister, the BJP has furthered the smooth saffronization of the Assamese culture by assimilating with the state’s local Hindu culture with the BJP’s Hindu nationalism. Through associating itself with Assamese Hindu saint and scholar Sankardev and campaigning against Bangladeshis as illegal immigrants, the BJP in Assam, Sarma has used anti-Muslim rhetoric to build a communal political base.  

BJP Home Minister Amit Shah (center) and then-Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (left) attending an election rally, April 2021

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) has further deepened the communal polarization in the state and has rendered Muslim minority populations in Assam stateless. Invoking the legacy of Assam’s general Lachit Borphukan, who defeated the Mughals at the Battle of Saraighat in 1671, the BJP in Assam has sharpened Hindutva politics by portraying Muslims as outsiders. Since then, the Assam Government has taken a series of “encroachment drives” to force Muslim occupants from its land.

Sarma also has a stronghold in the region’s politics, heading the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the sub-regional group of Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In Assam, he has successfully weaponized citizenship to alter the state’s demography and woo voters for his electoral victory. With the BJP’s long desire to take hold of the Northeast region of India and NEDA under his convenorship, Sarma could use similar strategies to alter the region’s demography. NEDA could fracture the pluralism and the region’s rich ethnoreligious diversity by favoring Hindu voters, which would have severe consequences for the entire Northeast region.

Secular India, not Hindutva

While India has aspired to be a secular democratic country since gaining independence in 1947, the Hindutva ideology adopted by the BJP has become a driving force in dismantling India’s secular ethos. The BJP has worked to promote Hindu nationalism with various affiliated civil society groups, which have given rise to those in the party that hold political power today. Their ideology has disturbed India’s basic constitutional order and its long commitment to unity in diversity and pluralist democracy.

The BJP has capitalized on existing nativism to portray the Muslims as the greatest threat to “Assamese” culture, merging their philosophies with xenophobic Assamese ethnonationalism to exacerbate hatred towards Muslim minorities.

It is time for the opposition parties and regional challengers of the BJP to unite for a broader secular alliance to defeat the BJP’s Hindu majoritarian agenda. For this, the alliance must strategize to present an alternative ideology that revolves around cultural plurality and religious equality to gain people’s confidence. There is an immediate need for a coalition of oppressed minorities, classes, and gender across religions to support such an alliance.

Despite the active role played by the judiciary in safeguarding secularism, India’s judicial process has not protected the civil liberties of India’s minorities. Their lack of action has  legitimized systematic violence against minorities perpetrated predominantly by Hindus. The judicial process should be based on holistic thinking—not majoritarian politics—to safeguard India’s secularism.

To address the growing calls for the genocide of Muslims and the rising attacks on other religious minorities, opposition parties and human rights groups must pressure the BJP to uphold secularism enshrined in the constitution. The judiciary must punish the perpetrators of violence to end the normalization of Hindutva politics.

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Image 1: Narendra Modi via Flickr

Image 2: Wikimedia Commons

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