LAST MONTH, in his first interview as prime minister, Narendra Modi told the CNN news show host Fareed Zakaria the blandest of truths: “Indian Muslims will live for India, they will die for India—they will not want anything bad for India.” Predictably, expectations from Modi on this score are so low that this made headlines. The pre-recorded interview left out an obvious follow-up question (somehow Modi’s interviewers always skip the obvious follow-ups): Your public life has largely been spent in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to which you continue to owe allegiance—how do you respond to Muslims who are understandably alarmed by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent claim that India is a Hindu nation?
On 17 August, Bhagwat, speaking in Mumbai, stated, “Hindustan is a Hindu nation. Hindutva is the identity of our nation. There are different communities in it. And such is its strength that it can incorporate these other communities in itself.” Commentators hoping this would prompt a rap on the knuckles from the prime minister expressed consternation. “Bhagwat statements last thing needed just after Modi’s pleasantly inclusive I-Day speech,” the editor Shekhar Gupta tweeted, “Anushasan needed.”
Perhaps Gupta had forgotten that the Sangh is the dispenser of anushasan—discipline—and not Modi. After all, Bhagwat, in Mumbai for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s golden jubilee, was echoing an idea that has long reverberated through the rhetoric of the Hindu right. The problem is not that Bhagwat and Modi do not agree, but that they do. For the first time in independent India we have a government that believes exactly what its backers in the Sangh believe: that a set of citizens has the right to lay down terms of national identity that privilege them over others.