How religious is Narendra Modi

India under Narendra ModiReligious nationalism on the rise

Jan Ross, correspondent for the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" has lived in the Indian capital New Delhi for years. As a religious expert, he asks himself: How has interreligious dialogue developed since the victory of the BJP and Modis? Although Hinduism is a thousand years old religion, the politicization and nationalization of this religious tradition is a recent phenomenon. "That did not arise from an internal development, but based on the European homogeneous nation-state, a foreign and imported matter."

The religious tradition of India is extremely plural, says Ross. Many Hindu epics have come down to us in different versions and languages. But religious practice in everyday life is also diverse. "Indian polytheism is something like a selective monotheism. Believers themselves choose the deities from the religious offering that they personally most understand." Trimming this diversity nationalistically in line is illogical, says Ross. "India continues to have a high degree of cultural and religious pluralism. In a country of this diversity, it is completely impossible to govern with an ideological agenda."

Many religious Indians miss the religious identity of the state

But where does this modern Hindu nationalism come from? The founding elite of Indian democracy - including the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru - could not do much with religion, explains Ross. Therefore, many religious Indians feel that this state does not properly reflect this cultural identity. However, Ross adds: "The basic decision that India would not have been given a Hindu religious identity was correct, because if it had been done India would have become a Hindu Pakistan."

Wanted a secular India: Former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru - taken on March 3, 1959. (picture alliance / Homai Vyarawalla)

The religious minorities are particularly affected by Hindu nationalist ideology, not least the country's 160 million Muslims. India is not on the way to an anti-Muslim apartheid state, says Jan Ross, but the Muslims are becoming more and more alienated from the state.