Narendra Modi’s HOT strategy for a more Hindu-centric India

  • Public opinion is still on Modi’s side and he is expected to win the 2024 elections, despite the creation of a multi-party coalition aimed at opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 
  • Modi’s long-serving tenure as Indian Prime Minister and internal popularity is driven by his ability to ensure economic growth while fomenting internal polarisation between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority 
  • Modi has depicted Muslims as the internal ‘outsiders’ undermining India’s internal unity and adopted policies providing favourable treatment to Hindus

Why is Modi’s heat level HOT? 

Answer: Modi’s popularity is confirmed not only by increasing internal approval rates despite the recent creation of the INDIA coalition opposition, but also by the success of the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister since 2014, is enjoying increasing popularity among the Indian population. With internal approval rates soaring to 79%, Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are expected to win the 2024 national elections. Such success is confirmed by the victory of the BJP in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh regions, which were traditionally ruled by the Congress party, hampered by a decrease in consensus given by the recent accusations of dynasty, nepotism and corruption

Nevertheless, to oppose Modi in this year’s elections, a 28-party coalition called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) has been formed proposing a political agenda aimed at increasing the employment rate, improving the freedom of media and especially relieving social tensions between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. 

Indeed, social and political polarisation between the two religious groups has been a cornerstone of Modi’s agenda for internal politics. Among the different anti-Muslim measures adopted in his career as Prime Minister, on January 22nd Modi supported the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, a site contested by the two religious groups since Hindus claim it amounts to the birthplace of the deity Ram while Muslims affirm the historical presence of a mosque in the area, which has been built in the 16th century and destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992.  

What is changing Modi’s temperature?

Answer: The opening of the Ram Temple, together with the Indian Supreme Court’s confirmation of the legality of the withdrawal of autonomy to the Kashmir region, sustain Modi’s internal political agenda based on polarisation between Hindus and Muslims.

The high support rate Modi is receiving in internal polls confirms the success of his various measures as Prime Minister. Domestically, Modi has been trying to increase the internal cohesion of the Hindu population by ensuring significant economic growth, amounting to +7.9% in 2023, and systematically marginalising the Indian Muslim minority.

Through his political discourses as well as policies, Modi depicts religious differences between Hindus and Muslims as insuperable, exacerbating already-existing social hostilities between the two groups and contributing to the shaping of a Hindu-centric India that leaves little space – if any at all – for religious plurality. 

Coherent with this political agenda, Modi sustained the construction and blessed the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, not only failing to punish the Hindus who attacked the mosque in 1992 – as all his predecessors did, but also reinforcing the spirit of Hindu supremacy in the country through the curtailing of Muslims’ rights. 

Indeed, in 2019 Modi also revoked the autonomy of the Kashmir region, which is composed of a great majority of Muslim people and is neighbouring to Pakistan, a Muslim-majority state with which India has historically unfriendly relations. The Indian Supreme Court in December 2023 confirmed the legality of such withdrawal stressing how it was meant only to allow a smooth inclusion of Kashmir in the newly independent Indian state after the 1948 war against Pakistan.  

What is driving Modi?

Answer: While running for the third consecutive mandate as Prime Minister, Modi is continuing a century-long campaign against Muslim minorities that found its turning point in the 1948 partition between Islam-only Pakistan and the multi-religious India.

Modi has long been accused of aiming to marginalize the Indian Muslim population, starting since his early engagement in Indian politics. In the early 1970s, Modi joined the pro-Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organisation, which during time has performed several attacks against the Muslim population. In 2002, the organisation was involved in the pogrom of more than 1,000 Muslims in the Gujarat region, which at that time was ruled by Modi, who nevertheless has not been found guilty for any of these attacks. 

The tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India are part of a broader century-long conflict that finds its roots in the modernisation era, when the two religious groups developed different identities and political goals. Such religious, social and political discrepancies culminated in the articulation of the “Two Nations Theory”, which has been used to justify the violent war of 1947-48 that led to the partition between India and Pakistan, which was created as an Islam-only state. After the war, Nehru – Indian Prime Minister from 1947 to 1964, struggled to build a secular and multi-religious India, but such an effort was not continued by his successors.

Hence social, political and religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India remained, creating a situation of frozen conflict that persists nowadays

Modi can thus be identified among those Hindus who continued believing that Muslims are the ‘other’ inside that mine India’s internal unity. Such an anti-Muslim agenda has been welcomed by both the Hindu majority and the Indian Supreme Court, demonstrating how Hindu supremacy is not only a political campaign used by Modi to win the 2024 national elections but a broader political goal shared by large parts of the Hindu ethnic group.

Modi is thus following a different stance from Nehru, rejecting secularism and multi-religiousness while fomenting social and political divides based on religious differences. Simultaneously, such a political agenda could be interpreted as a strategy to better govern a country with 1.4 billion inhabitants, by reinforcing Hindu cohesion at the expense of the social and political marginalisation of the 200 Million Muslims currently living in India.  

What does it mean to you? 

Answer: Internal polarisation between Hindus and m Muslims could help grant Modi his third consecutive mandate as Prime Minister, but could also lead to dangerous tensions both inside India and with Pakistan.

From the internal point of view, Modi and the BJP party are expected to win this year’s elections. In the short run, such a polarising strategy backed with stable economic growth has proven to be efficient in guaranteeing Modi’s success among the Indian constituency, but in the long run, the constant discrimination of a minority of the population that amounts to 200 million people, could lead to harsh internal conflicts undermining both internal security and economic growth.

Thus, the question is how long will such a strategy continue being successful and when – and especially if – Modi will change it to avoid the possible unintended consequences arising from the exacerbation of internal cleavages. 

From the external point of view, the increasing discrimination of Muslim citizens, together with the Supreme Court ruling confirming the withdrawal of autonomy to the Kashmir region, is highly likely to worsen the relations with Pakistan, since Kashmir has always been and continues being a contested territory between the two states. Whether such evolution will cause an ulterior break – maybe violent – in the already frozen Indo-Pakistan relations remains to be seen.

For now at least, Modi seems not to be questioning the success and urgency of a political agenda focused on the marginalisation of Indian Muslim citizens. 

It is also unlikely that the opening of the Ram Temple or the Supreme Court ruling will attract international attention over the discrimination of Muslims in India since they amount to legal actions implemented by competent and legitimate actors. If there will ever be any, critiques would be more political and less based on alleged violations of Human Rights Law.