It’s the largest democracy in the world. It’s also one of the most fragile, one in which dissent has often been curtailed and communal divisions inflamed. At no time have the vulnerabilities of India’s democracy seemed more exposed than they are now.
The return to power last year of the Hindu nationalist BJP, under the leadership of prime minister, Narendra Modi, has polarised politics. Modi clearly now feels empowered to pursue unyieldingly reactionary policies. The revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the military lockdown of the state, the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which openly discriminates against Muslims, and the unleashing of thugs on to streets and campuses to intimidate dissenters all bear witness to this agenda. At the same time, opponents of the BJP have discovered a new voice in recent weeks, millions taking to the streets in protest, defying the violence, official and unofficial.
It’s easy to see this turmoil as the product primarily of local politics. Some root causes are unique to India, but many have wider resonance. The electoral success of the BJP has been smoothed by trends familiar across the globe: resentment of a liberal elite, the implosion of the old order (represented in India by the Congress party), anger at the impact of globalisation and inequality, the rise of radical nationalism and the exploitation of sectarian divides. [Continue reading…]