Radicalization of Modi’s India is National Interest Concern

June 22, 2023

Paul Marshall, RFI’s South and Southeast Asia Director, wrote an article published in Providence in light of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States this week. Marshall argues that while India is increasingly important to the U.S. strategically, militarily, technologically, and economically, we must also take India’s human rights and religious freedom concerns into account. In particular, he highlights the threat posed by “Hindutva,” a radical and growing ideology often referred to as “Hindu nationalism,” of which Modi is the titular head. Marshall writes:

The Prime Minister probably owes much of his electoral success not to a particular ideology but to his comparatively strong economic record. James Carville’s asseveration that “It’s the economy, stupid” also shapes Indian voters. But there are deeper and darker currents.

India’s Constitution enshrines secularity, but leaders in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) espouse an ideology of Hindutva (loosely ”Hinduness”).2 The Party is linked to groups such as the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, often collectively referred to as the Sangh Parivar. The RSS can be among the first to offer help after natural disasters, but its militants can also show extreme intolerance, including violence against religious minorities, and maligning writers and artists. Many senior officials, including current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are or have been RSS associates.

Hindutva ideology can be distinguished from Hinduism itself. It demands neither a theocratic state nor Hinduism as a state religion. It is national-cultural rather than religious, and self-identifies as the soul of India itself. Sangh Parivar militants maintain that religious minorities, including Muslims and secularists could support Hindutva and if they do not, they are betraying the nation.3

With rising intolerance, there have been attacks on Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs. The most horrific instance was the 2002 killing of some two thousand Muslims in Gujarat after Muslim mobs were accused of having set fire to a train carrying Hindu nationalists, killing 58 people. Modi was chief Minister in Gujarat and, whether he actively encouraged violence or was merely a passive observer, he was barred from entering the United States for 10 years over his governance.

Modi’s visit comes in the midst of this violence.

Is this then simply a conflict between human rights concerns and realpolitik, idealists vs realists? Must American national interest require turning a blind eye to the dangers of Hindutva?

Read the full article: “Radicalization of Modi’s India is National Interest Concern.”