The rise of Modi’s ‘Muscular Nationalism’ in India

India is going to see a Hindu extremist leader and sworn enemy of Muslims and Pakistan taking an oath as prime minister

Mansoor Jafar

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India is going to see a Hindu extremist leader and sworn enemy of Muslims and Pakistan taking an oath as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy for the first time next week.

Narendra Modi is the prime minister designate of the radical Hindu nationalist Bhartia Janta Party (BJP) that won a decisive majority in the just completed electoral process in the country.

The BJP achieved historic success as a result of fanatic anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim campaigning but the real intentions of Modi’s government will become clear in the coming weeks.

It is no secret that Narendra Modi received his political grooming by spending his early career in BJP’s parent Hindu ideological nationalist organization, Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He is considered a hard-line Hindu nationalist and an anti-Muslim leader. Modi has remained a controversial leader all through his career and earned notoriety for being tagged an enemy of Muslims and a butcher of Muslims, especially after he was accused of masterminding the anti-Muslim riots in Ahmadabad during his stint as the chief minister of Gujarat state.

This time, Modi government

His party won the recent elections under his leadership on his personal slogans and not those of his party’s. The most popular slogan in this campaign was “Ab ke bar, Modi Sarkar,” (This time, Modi government). People now ask if Indian people have voted for the government of an extremist majority, or for a Hindu democracy?

People now ask if Indian people have voted for the government of an extremist majority, or for a Hindu democracy?

Mansoor Jafar

During his campaign, Modi untiringly called himself as “Muscular Nationalist.” His overemphasis on this term forced some leaders of the rival Congress party to ask one another if their party had been taking a “too soft” a stance towards Pakistan in the affairs of national security and foreign policy.

The question of Modi’s Muscular Nationalism turning into fascism is the subject of a heated debate in India, with the Muslims and other minorities are feeling serious concerns that Modi’s win could bring radical changes in India’s secularism. Many Muslims are asking if India is transforming from a secular democracy into a Hindu democracy?

The impression was supported by the fact that BJP, known as a Hindu nationalist party, hardly gave an election ticket to any Muslim candidate. Only 18 Muslims candidates won in the 543 seat parliament which forms less than four per cent of the House, a poor contrast to Muslims’ 22 per cent share of the population. This is the worst electoral performance of Muslim candidates in the country’s history.

The most surprising is that for the first time in history, not a single Muslim candidate could win from Uttar Pradesh, the state with maximum Muslim population in the country.

Relations with Pakistan

About 16 years ago, another prime minister of the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, tried to improve tense relations with Pakistan in a rare display of what observers called “statesmanship.” If Modi wants to remove the tag of “butcher of Gujarat” he should match the initiative of Vajpayee and align his foreign policy narrative and internal policy with the present day requirements.

Modi is in a much stronger position to take the initiative of friendship towards Pakistan, and the opposition would not be able to accuse him of compromise in this regard. One may recall that a prime minister of Israel, Menachim Begin, who enjoyed the notoriety of being a terrorist and butcher of Palestinians, took an unusual initiative of striking a friendship treaty with Egypt and some Arab countries.

One may not ignore the fact that Narendra Modi has always been a regional leader throughout his career and emerged at the top office of the central government for the first time. Foreign policy is a completely new avenue for him. During his campaign, Modi hardly spoke on foreign affairs except regarding Pakistan. However, his key aides and colleagues in the BJP have made it clear on several occasions that no constructive talks could take place with Pakistan until Islamabad addresses the security concerns of Delhi.

This situation makes one think as if the upcoming government of India wants to proceed with its foreign policy regarding Pakistan on the basis of the joint declaration of 2004 where Islamabad had assured that it would not allow its territories to be used for terrorism against any other country, including India.

Muscular Nationalism

We have to wait and see what shape Modi’s “Muscular Nationalism” will take since all these statements were made during election campaign and may not hold any significance in practical terms. However, history provides some scary examples of those who rose to political heights on the slogans of “Muscular Nationalism.” Adolf Hitler is another one who rode on the philosophy of “Muscular Nationalism” and pushed the world to World War II.

One may say, for the sake of argument, that Modi might be a novice in foreign affairs but his team is comprised of seasoned politicians like Arun Jaitly - tipped to be next finance minister and known for his hard-line stance against Pakistan. One of Modi’s advisors is the former army chief VK Singh who is known for his extremely hard stance towards Pakistan.

In July 2001, the then prime minister Vajpayee invited Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf for holding peace talks in city of Agra. But General Musharraf returned home after only having a photo shoot with his wife at the site of the historic Taj Mahal because the Indian Cabinet Security Committee resisted Vajpayee’s plan tooth and nail.

Those pinning too much hopes of promoting “Amn Ke Asha” (desire for peace) with Modi’s government must keep in mind that if such elements succeeded, it might cast sinister effects not only on the future of Indian Muslims but also on the peace of the entire region.


Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.