What is Narendra Modi's brother doing
The rise of right-wing populism in India
Less than 20 kilometers from the capital New Delhi, 15-year-old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death on a train on a public holiday and his two brothers were beaten by a mob. The group insulted them as “Muslims”, “terrorists” and “fraudsters”. Their only crime was that they were Muslims and wore beards and prayer hats. When Junaid lay bleeding in his brother's lap, who pleaded for help, the crowd just watched him. Since 2014, a wave of similarly brutal attacks spread across India.
Right-wing populism is in the air
When Narendra Modi led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) to victory in 2014, his campaign was mostly about vikas - or economic development. Since then, however, lynchings of Muslims, the BJP's beef ban, the establishment of a private Hindu military and the continued instrumentalization of national resentment fueled by empty slogans such as “India first” or “New India” have dominated the headlines. One thing is clear: populism is in the air. Populism per se is nothing new in Indian politics, but right-wing populism has never existed in this form.
The current wave of populist politics is fed by growing injustice, corruption scandals and protests by citizens against the political class and has very special characteristics.
Political style, ideology and identity politics merge and interact with each other
For one, because it was washed to the surface by elections and the political style of Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to drive his rise, Modi is a Hindu hardliner who can talk well and who likes to try new ways to connect with the masses to step. In addition, he always emphasizes his “male” management style.
Second, right-wing populism is based on the idea of a Hindu majority society representing the extreme right. This is especially true of the idea of the nation. Indian populism offers a number of ideological points of contact such as the Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation), the common opponents (Muslims, to a lesser extent Christians) and a “macho” Hindu masculinity that protects the vulnerable nation.
Third, Modi's populism in economic policy differs from other right-wing populisms, which tend to rely on markets and business people for economic progress. Instead, Modi relies on a pro-business approach-Attitude with market-friendly elements (new insolvency law; reform of indirect taxation) and combines these with elements close to the people (bank account for the poor; modern toilets for everyone, loan waivers in agriculture).
Even if he described the devaluation of 86 percent of the money in the country as a welfare campaign, in the end it hit particularly poor people. So current populism is not just about ideology. It is a phenomenon in which political style, ideology and identity politics merge and interact with one another.
Modi's populist political style: speeches, tweets and the personalization of power
The linchpin of the new Indian populism is Modi's politics. He knows how to address the masses, to stand against elites and to bring the rights of the national majority into the political focus. During his campaign, Modi distinguished himself from the corrupt elites in Congress by portraying himself as a simple man (aam admi) and a former tea seller (chaiwala). He declared that as a guardian (chowkidar) he would protect the state's assets against the stealing Congress and accused former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of inaction by calling him the "silent, silent" Singh.
At the same time, he set a counterweight to Singh's demeanor with his consciously masculine leadership style. Modi himself embodies efficiency, dynamism and potency and promised to dissolve all political blockades solely through his personality and willpower and to crack down on both external opponents (Pakistan and China) as well as against the internal threat ("Muslim terrorists").
Modi: "I am the new India"
No question about it, his 1.40 meter wide chest should show that he is capable of lifting the toughest burdens for “Mother India”. He also invoked this again and again during the elections. After becoming Prime Minister, Modi proclaimed the slogan "I am the new India" and presented himself as the voice of the people and the embodiment of the nation.
This claim is very dangerous because it places the Prime Minister above all institutions (including the judiciary) and disqualifies any opposition. As a result, non-governmental organizations, academics, artists, students, opposition parties or anyone who questions the Modi government have been branded as an opponent of the people, the nation or a foreign agent. In India this led to a personalization of power and a rejection of all pluralism.
For Modi, and for most other populists, democracy is primarily about winning elections - and he wants that at all costs. In order to make political profit from it, citizens are pitted against each other according to their religion, caste or class. A battle rhetoric is used or the money suddenly devalued by 286 percent, although 93 percent of the work takes place in the informal sector and is dependent on cash payments. But how does this populist contact the masses?
Direct communication via radio and social media
Modi's political style is related to his use of mass media, which he relies on to get his messages across. The Prime Minister shies away from the press (which his ministers disparagingly call "Presstitutes") and prefers to communicate directly on the radio or on social media. Modi learned early on to use these media for himself and his approach is a key factor his political style and the populist leader Modi.
On the one hand, the Prime Minister communicates directly with the people on a monthly basis via a radio program called “Heart Talks” (Mann Ki Baat), via social media, holograms and public speeches. He also uses this media to delegitimize his political opponents.
This became evident when he said things like “I am a Hindu nationalist”, “If I find black money, I will distribute 15,000 rupees to every citizen”, “India first, an all-embracing nation”, “Secularists, vote the banking Party! ”(A cynical allusion to the Congress Party and other parties trying to win voters through secularism).
On the other hand, the virtual space is monitored by the organized cyber wing of the BJP, which systematically silences critics online. They threaten them, calling them “libertards”, communists and British mercenaries (alluding to the former colony) and urging them to leave the country. This creates a simplified, binary conflict that distinguishes between "us" and "the others". Hindus against their opponents - Muslims, Christians, intellectuals who stand up for the minorities, and the English-speaking, liberal elites.
The specter of the Hindu Rashtra and his opponents
Another distinctive feature of this period is the resurrection of aggressive Hindu fundamentalism (Hindutva) in society and politics. This poses a double threat to India's secular democracy. The BJP's rise to power instilled new confidence in its sponsoring organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its sister organization, the Sangh Parivar. Since then, they have appeared more vigorously in civil society, mobilizing especially at the local level, and are implicated in acts of violence and intimidation directed against minorities such as Muslims and Christians and against anyone who opposes them.
On the political level, the BJP works openly and covertly from within the government to ensure that the activities of the RSS / Sangh receive support. They exchange the heads of public educational institutions all over the country in order to influence these institutions in their favor. They are ordering history books to be rewritten to match the RSS history narrative and they are proposing changes to the Indian constitution to undermine its secular spirit.
The essence of the Indian republic is to change to a Hindu nation
This is an attempt to radically change the socio-political discourse in India by attacking secularism, minority rights and equality. The essence of the Indian republic is to change: away from a secular, pluralistic, democratic republic - as it is anchored in the constitution - towards a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation), according to the ideas of the right wing in India.
Such a state would then be conceived as a non-egalitarian Hindu hegemonic state, which only includes those citizens who belong racially and culturally to Hinduism. Religious minorities would be degraded to second class citizens.
Forced conversion of women as a propaganda accusation
In this context, two campaigns by the Hindutva units are of particular importance as they reveal the far-reaching effects of right-wing populism on gender, minority rights and democracy. The former is an aggressive campaign by Daharam Jagran Manch (Forum of Faith Awakening, a subsidiary of RSS) against interfaith marriages. With their term “Love Jihad” they accused the Muslim and Christian youth of luring young Hindu girls into marriage in order to then convert them.
Correct love affairs, especially across religions and castes, still cause great discomfort in many parts of Indian society. Coupled with propaganda accusations of deliberate conversions, this turned into an effective campaign that mixed patriarchy with communitarianism.
Not only were Muslim and Christian men married to Hindu women targeted, but they sought to force women into Hinduism through the use of violence, intimidation, emotional blackmail, insincerity and the use of drugs. Muslim (and Christian) men have been portrayed as traitorous outsiders - an enemy who is "different" and seeks to seduce women and thereby wipe out the Hindu nation.
By stoking a perceived threat to Hindu women and the nation that engenders feelings of fear and passion, the campaign systematically sought to spark hostility along different lines of society.
Ghar Wapsi campaign forces minorities to convert
The second campaign was jointly launched by Dharam Jagran Manch and groups affiliated with RSS to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, a process they called Ghar Wapsi, or homecoming. They claimed that every Indian was a Hindu and that Christians as well as Muslims got lost or were brought to India by missionaries.
The Ghar Wapsi campaigns recur across India. Large numbers of minority members are then forced to convert. Both of these campaigns led to more intolerance, more insecurity among minorities and communal disputes.
Although both campaigns violated the wording and spirit of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the enforceable right to “practice one's religion and spread one's beliefs” and violate existing laws such as the Special Marriage Act of 1954 (which regulates marriages of girls over 18 and over Boys over the age of 21, regardless of religion or caste), the government has not taken any action to stop such operations.
Government supports hate campaigns
On the contrary, these hate campaigns were even supported from within the government. A number of BJP members of parliament and also ministers expressed their support and circulated hate speech in parliament. Despite protests from intellectuals and civil society actors, the Prime Minister remained petrified about these events.
While the implications of the Hindutva ideology for minorities are clear, the implications for gender issues remain more complex. As noted above, gender is an implicit part of the construction of a Hindu nation that typically, in the name of honor, places restrictions on women and girls or requires them to have more children.
The role of women in Hindu populism
It is interesting to note that misogynist positions provoke strong condemnations against women from all walks of life in India, including within the BJP. There are a number of eloquent women and ministers in the BJP who often advocate more progressive gender roles. Yet their views on issues of religion and minority rights remain reactionary and they support the idea of Hindu supremacy.
At the same time there are just as many women who are against the Hindutva project. There are also those who take an active part in Hindutva activities - including incidents of violence against Muslims. The case of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who was indicted for the 2008 Malegaon terrorist attack, is just the best known of many others.
As there is currently a lack of studies on gender and right-wing Hindu populism, general statements cannot be made, but these incidents raise questions about the place of gender in religious Hindu extremism and expose the common notion that politically active women always stand for pacifism, equality and justice.
"Not in My Name" gives the resistance a voice
Indian democracy is clearly at a crossroads today. Even if a policy for the majority society is creeping up, it meets with resistance from justices of the Supreme Court, journalists, writers, artists and large parts of the academic world as well as progressive and secular civil society organizations.
Campaigns like “Not in My Name” give this resistance a voice. The rejection of government policy is visibly increasing, because now the rural population and students are also taking to the streets. For the parliamentary elections in 2019, the decisive factor will be whether the various leaders of the opposition parties are really able to seriously challenge Modi's disruptive policies and offer a better alternative.
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