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India's voters & Hindu nationalism

Just posted on the website: Columnist Jo McGowan on the end of the election cycle in India, the world’s largest democracy, where the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party, led by “the charismatic ideologue Narendra Modi”—who is “frequently compared to both Hitler and Mussolini”—is favored to become the next ruling party.

Modi is highly intelligent and politically astute. He is currently the chief minister of Gujarat, one of India’s most economically advanced states, and he offers its prosperity as evidence of what he is capable of. Campaigning around the country now as his party’s candidate for prime minister, he appears to be all things to all people. For traditional Hindu voters, he appeals to religious values and panders to sectarian insecurity. For middle-class educated voters, he stresses his commitment to “minimum government, maximum governance,” managing at the same time to sound secular. The corporate sector hears about the Gujarat model of development. And just about every audience is treated to his militaristic defense of the country against outside aggression. Anyone who disagrees with him “should go to Pakistan.”

The ferocity of Modi’s Hindu nationalist beliefs and his authoritarian leadership style are viewed with alarm by many observers here. Already members of his party have successfully tampered with the educational curriculum, rewriting history to suit Hindu nationalist ideology. In one ninth-grade social-studies textbook used in public schools in Gujarat, a chapter titled “Problems of the Country and Their Solutions” lists minority communities as the first issue of concern. In the same book, Muslims, Christians, and Parsis are all described as foreigners. A book by the noted Hindu scholar Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago has been withdrawn from the market by its publisher after threats by the BJP’s religious army, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Art exhibitions condemned by the RSS have been vandalized. And this may just be the beginning.

Read all of “Make Way for Modi?”