The Gita enables Modi to legitimise his violent erosion of India’s constitutional fabric

Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveils a three-metre long Bhagwad Gita, at the ISKCON temple, in Delhi, on 26 February 2019. Over the past seven years, the Modi government has been heavily invested in advertising the Gita as a panacea for India’s suffering, as well as that of the world, through various events, government programmes and publications. PIB
29 August, 2021

“The Bhagwad Gita has been the sole source of India’s tradition of vaicharik swatantrata and sahishnuta”—freedom of expression and tolerance—Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a packed room of senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, at his residence, on 9 March this year. “It has guided our nation since the time of Mahabharata,” he continued, referring to Hindu mythological epic about a war. During this widely televised address, Modi released a collection of 21 new commentaries, published by Dharmarth Trust—a Jammu and Kashmir-based organisation that backs Hindu religious efforts.

Modi took long pauses among his enunciations, and ensured that his language was pock-marked with archaic Sanskrit terms and verbose Hindi. By mid-March, the prime minister was also sporting a flowing white beard, and the entire performance seemed to pull heavily from the depiction of sages that had become a hallmark of Hindi mythological television soap operas. The goal was self-evident. Modi’s image was undergoing a make-over, a volte-face from Modi the economic reformer, and Modi the firebrand nationalist, to one that defined him as a Brahminical philosopher.

A careful viewing of the remainder of the 9 March address, however, shows that this was not simply a philosophical or academic exercise. Modi’s speech often veered sharply into validations of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, or the “self-reliant” India mission. These were couched in references to the Gita and justified on its basis. In a previous essay for The Caravan, I argued that at the core of this policy is an attempt to privatise public resources such as coal and agriculture, and to deregulate banking through changes in the law.

My previous essay also explores how Modi’s economic plan, and that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has a forbearing influence on his policies, seek to consolidate an economic system based on caste and will mold the social order into the chaturvarna system—a pyramidal division of humans based on their birth. This is the end goal of Brahminism: a social order that gives special privileges and immunities to Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas; that degrades women and Shudras; that links one’s merit with one’s birth; that perpetuates an anti-social feeling among different castes; and that forges a system of graded inequality.

The 9 March speech was also replete with justifications of Modi’s other political projects, including the Indian government’s crackdown on democracy in Kashmir, and the discrediting of dissenters to Modi’s Hindu nationalist vision. “Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister lauded the work done by Dr. Karan Singh”—the chairman trustee of the Dharmarth Trust—“on Indian philosophy,” a news update of the event on Modi’s personal website notes. “He added that his effort has revived the identity of Jammu and Kashmir, which has led the thought tradition of the entire India for centuries.” This must be seen against the backdrop of widespread fear among Kashmiris of demographic and cultural destruction following the Modi government’s reading down of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution—which gave Jammu and Kashmir limited autonomy.

In what seemed to be a veiled reference to other dissenters of Modi’s regime, the prime minister said in his speech, “Today there are such people around, who are always trying to subvert the dignity of constitutional institutions.” He continued, “Whether it’s our parliament or judiciary or even the Indian army, all of these are the target for such people. They are always ready to attack these institutions out of their own political interests. Such tendencies harm the country.” Both before this section, and after it, Modi justified his critique of “such people” with references to the philosophy of the Gita. It was a pattern that continued throughout the speech. A mention of the Gita’s universality, followed by an advertisement of Modi’s policies or criticism of his detractors, both justified on the basis of the Gita.

Over the past seven years, the Modi government has been heavily invested in advertising the Bhagwad Gita as a panacea for India’s suffering, as well as that of the world, through various events, government programmes and publications. To understand this investment, a critical reading of the Gita and other Brahminical texts is necessary. A study titled Revolution and Counter Revolution in Ancient India, by BR Ambedkar, India’s first law minister, is among those rare theses that approached Brahminical texts, such as the Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Manusmriti and Vedanta, as a source of historical literature, aiming to analyse them instead of treating them as a gospel. Ambedkar was also a scholar of history and sociology, and built his thesis using both Sanskrit sources and scholarship about Indian history by European historians.

Ambedkar’s thesis notes that between the sixth and second century BCE, Buddhism arose as a social revolution bringing about equality, liberty and fraternity to a society that was hierarchical, aristocratic and morally corrupt. During this period, Buddhism became the predominant faith of much of the Indian subcontinent, and Brahminism was not seen as a philosophy, but merely as a crude collection of rituals and deeply discriminatory laws. The reign of Pushyamitra Sunga, between 185 and 149 BCE, is often regarded as the first regnal period of a Brahmin king, and saw the reestablishment of orthodox Brahminism in northern India through the promulgation of various laws, such as the Manusmriti—the laws of Manu, which define caste and gender codified behavior and punishments in Hinduism. Ambedkar argues that to legitimise this counter-revolution against Buddhism, Pushyamitra needed the Gita, which itself was built on a broad plagiarisation of Buddhist philosophy, to give the crude ritualistic and discriminatory code of Brahminism a philosophical and intellectual sheen.

Ambedkar notes that since Pushyamitra, several other leaders who worked to protect Brahminism used the Gita as a tool to legitimise their violent and casteist crackdowns. He writes that numerous Brahminical theologians used this technique, including Sankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Nimbarkacharya, Vallabhacharya, and more recently by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a Congress politician from the early 1900s. I applied Ambedkar’s thesis to understand the role the Gita plays in Modi’s political life and government. My reading revealed that Modi, like many before him, has needed to popularise the Gita because it is a key tool in legitimising policies that are violent, undemocratic and seek to establish a hierarchical, casteist social order.

The frequency with which Modi’s government has advertised the Gita cannot be understated. For example, in February 2019, Modi released a three-meter-long, 800-kg copy of the Gita, at a function in Delhi. The temple, and event, were managed by International Society for Krishna Consciousness, an international cult built around Krishna, a deity of tribal origin who is currently part of the Hindu pantheon. His speech at the event was similar to the one he delivered this March. Amid ISKCON members repeatedly chanting his name, Modi spoke of how the Gita was “the source of all knowledge and the core symbol of our culture.” Both the supposed universality of the Gita, as well as its centrality to Hinduism and India, were constantly emphasised.

Here too, he used the Gita to justify his government’s policies and further justify his crackdown on social activists. Modi quoted a passage from the Gita where Krishna tells Arjuna that he would return to kill the wicked every time Asuras—demons in Brahminical mythology—try to destroy the Hindu dharma. The lord has clearly said pritranaye sadhunaam, vinashaye chadustrinam, dharmsthapnaye arthye, sambhavami yuge yuge.” Modi followed this with his explanation of the line: “We always have the power vested by god to protect our land from miscreants and enemies of humanity.” Modi’s audience laughed.

He did not specifically mention the names of the demons he had been fighting with, but everybody seemed to understand. It is hard not to see the comments as a dog whistle about the recent arrests of Dalit activists, following an event commemorating the military victory of a Dalit battalion against the Brahmin-ruled Maratha empire, at the village of Bhima Khoregaon. Modi’s use of the term Asura arose at a time when Ambedkarite activists from around the country were re-appropriating the term as a marker of their indigeneity in the subcontinent and as a marker of a historic opposition to Brahminism.

A week before the 9 March event this year, the National Institute of Open Schooling introduced the Gita, Ramayana and Vedas to the syllabus of those in the third, fifth and eighth standard, under a section titled “Indian Knowledge Tradition.” This would apply to over 40 lakh students, who are enrolled under the union education ministry’s open schooling system, including those enrolled in 100 madrasas. The Gita has also been, either fully or partly, included into the state school curriculums of BJP-ruled Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. Since 2016, the Haryana government has celebrated the Gita Mahotsav—a carnival to celebrate the Gita—for a week, every December, at the government’s expense.

Outside of the borders of India, and even the borders of the planet itself, Modi has taken his role as an ambassador for the Gita very seriously. Modi has gifted copies of the Gita to world leaders such as the president of the United States and to the emperor of Japan, among others, on official diplomatic trips. In February 2021, the Indian Space Research Organisation sent a digitised copy of the Gita alongside a photo of Modi engraved on the top panel of the spacecraft, to space. The organisation that engineered the satellite was quoted as saying, “This is to show solidarity and gratitude for his (PM’s) Aatmanirbhar initiative and space privatization.” The advertising of the Gita in foreign relations has become nearly an unwritten rule since 2014, when Sushma Swaraj, then the external affairs minister, argued that the Gita should be declared India’s national book.


Modi’s claims about both the universality and historicity of the Gita do not hold up to scrutiny. In the 9 March event, at his residence, Modi claimed that the Gita is a very old book, and that it was written “in the middle of a battleground.” This is bereft of any historical evidence. The Gita is a narration happening between a warrior and his charioteer in a battleground, after he becomes indecisive about needing to kill his own relatives for property. Ambedkar writes that the belief of Hindus that their sacred literature is very old is nothing but “an article of faith.” In Revolution, Ambedkar argues that the Gita was not one book written by one author, but rather a collection of several books, written by different authors at different times. Based on historical evidence, he reasons that the Gita might have been composed between 400 BCE and 467 CE. Most modern historical scholarship backs his argument of multiple authors and time period.

Revolution and Counter Revolution in Ancient India, by BR Ambedkar, India’s first law minister, is among those rare theses that approached Brahminical texts, such as the Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Manusmriti and Vedanta, as a source of historical literature, aiming to analyse them instead of treating them as a gospel.

In Ambedkar’s scholarship, the Gita was originally a “ballad recited by bards [nomadic singers],” about a war between brothers. “It may have been a romantic story but there was nothing religious or philosophical about it,” he writes. The Brahminical “doctrines,” a major part of the book, that the Gita defends, were composed between 200 CE and 467 CE, which is following the decline of Buddhism in northern India. Ambedkar refers to the period of its writing as the “triumph of Brahminism.” This dating is likely accurate, because he points to other texts such as Jaimini’s Purva Mimammsa and Badarnarayan’s Brahma Sutras, which were composed after 200 CE, and their doctrines are referred to in the Gita.

Buddhism was the state religion of multiple empires in northern India between 642 BCE and 185 BCE, including the Nagas, the Nandas and the Mauryas. Ambedkar argues that the Mauryans and Nandas were Shudra kings. Multiple modern works of historical scholarship also reach the same conclusion about the Mauryans being recognised as Shudras during their regnal period, including RK Mokherjee’s Chandragupta Maurya and His Times and HS Kotiyal’s Sudra Rulers and Officials in Early Medieval Times. Multiple ancient texts, and modern studies, also conclude that the Nandas were Shudra kings.

In Ambedkar’s understanding, the Nagas were non-Aryans, though he does not make the same claim about the Mauryas and the Nandas. In his understanding, the Aryans were not a race, but a culture, and only the Asuras who rebelled against that culture, like the Nagas, could be non-Aryans in a true sense. While modern historical research does not draw such an exact correlation between caste and racial or cultural origin, DNA research by the American geneticist David Reich, among others, shows that caste endogamy limited genetic diversity. Reich’s research also suggests that present-day oppressed-caste communities are less likely to have central-Asian-steppe ancestry—which is where Aryans are believed to have migrated from—than present-day Brahmins. Other works, such as Tony Joseph’s Early Indians, suggest similar conclusions, but argues that genetic admixture actually ended around the period of the fall of the Mauryan empire—the same period Ambedkar called the “triumph of Brahminism.”

Ambedkar describes how, during the Nanda and Maurya period, the basic tenet of Buddhism, non-violence, had become “a way of life” for everyone “except Brahmins.” He called Buddhism a “revolution” in the history of ancient India that build rational thinking among people and brought equality to Shudras and women in the society. To back this characterisation, Ambedkar draws extensively from historical records including Ashokan rock edicts and other contemporaneous texts. He also use the Oxford History of India by Irish historian Vincent Smith, while exploring this period.

Ambedkar also describes Brahminism, or Aryan culture, in that period, as representing “superstitions, sacrifices, stratification among humans which gave special rights to three classes: Brahmins, Kshatriya and Vaishya.” The doctrines, in bare form, were rituals to perform several kinds of sacrifices as required by orthodox Brahminism. A critical reading of Brahminical texts such as Jamini’s Purvamimamsa, and Badarnaryan’s Brahma Sutras, supports this view. Under the system, only a Brahmin has right over knowledge, a Kshatriya over keeping arms and a Vaishya over trade. The system stipulates that Shudras must serve the upper three varnas. Purvamimasa, Brahma Sutras, Manusmriti and the Vedas advocated this form of social stratification.

Ambedkar argues that this form of worship and social stratification made Buddhism far more appealing to the masses than Brahminism. “People who had come to believe in non-violence as a principle of life and had gone so far as to make it a rule of life—How could they be expected to accept the dogma that the Kshatriya may kill without sinning because Vedas says it is his duty to kill?” he writes. “People, who had accepted the gospel of social equality and who were remaking society on the basis of each one according to his merits—how could they accept the chaturvarnya theory of gradation, and separation of man based on birth simply because the Vedas say so?”

The Mauryan dynasty ended with a coup, in 185 BCE, by Pushyamitra, a Brahmin military commander. Pushyamitra’s rise to the power was documented in Buddhist literature from the early third century CE, such as the Aśokāvadāna, Indologist Eugène Burnouf’s, Introduction to the history of Indian Buddhism, and later by Smith, in his twentieth century book, the Oxford History of India. All three texts note that after seizing power, Pushyamitra ordered the persecution of Buddhist monks, even putting a price on the head of each Buddhist monk.

Ambedkar notes that during Pushyamitra’s reign, new laws were passed that gave special rights to Brahmins to rule. Revolution quotes the poet Banabhatta, a contemporary of Pushyamitra, to show the hurdles Pushyamitra faced in ruling his realm. “On three points, the Aryan law, at the date of Pushyamitra’s revolution (against Buddhism) was well settled,” Ambedkar lists. “The then Aryan law declared 1) that kingship is the right of the Kshatriya only. A Brahmin could never be a king. 2) that no Brahmin shall take to the profession of arms and that 3) that rebellion against the king’s authority was sin. Pushyamitra in fostering the rebellion had committed a crime against each of these three laws.” Ambedkar argues that the Manusmriti was promulgated during this period to justify Pushyamitra, a Brahmin, taking the throne.

The legal changes were as necessary as they were revolutionary,” Ambedkar notes, in Revolution. “Their object was to legalize and regularize the position created by Pushyamitra by killing the last Maurya King. By virtue of these legal changes, a Brahmin could lawfully become a king, could lawfully take arms, could lawfully depose or murder a king who was opposed to Chaturvarna and could lawfully kill any subject that opposed the authority of the Brahmin. Manu gave the Brahmins a right to commit barthalomeu”—a term referring to being skinned alive— “if it became necessary to safeguard their interests.”

Ambedkar argues that Pushyamitra did not counter the existing political atmosphere alone but hoped to change the people’s spiritual beliefs too. All three of Ambedkar’s supporting texts note that during the Buddhist period, all sacrifices were banned, which seriously affected Brahmins, whose occupation primarily relied on sacrifices. After seizing power, Pushyamitra performed a ritual called the ashwamedha yajna—where a horse is sacrificed. Ambedkar claimed that Pushyamitra sacrificed the horse only to defile the people’s belief in non-violence. In Revolutions, Ambedkar notes that by far the most important tool Brahminism used to regain power and destroy Buddhism, was the Gita.

Ambedkar argues that the Gita was formalised during this period to add philosophy to the meaningless rituals of Brahminism and legitimise it in the eyes of the public. Ambedkar contended that, “without the help of Bhagavad Gita” Brahminism would have died and the Purvamimamsa forgotten. He reasoned that the Gita was only able to legitimise Brahminism by copying wholesale the philosophical concepts from Buddhism. Two philosophical theories that the Gita employs, and which are often used by upholders of Brahminism to call it a non-sectarian book, are the theories of Karma and Jnana. Jnana, Ambedkar argues, was a concept taken from Buddhism and then twisted in meaning. In his 9 March 2021 speech, Modi called the Gita a symbol of India’s “Karma-nishtha”—devotion to one’s karma. He said that “even god can’t live without doing his karma.”

Modi, like other upholders of Brahminism before him, used the word karma in the sense of referring to one’s actions. Ambedkar, however, notes that “By Karma yoga, the Bhagavad Gita means the performance of the observances, such as yajnas as a way to salvation.” He wrote that, “the religion of the Aryan consisted of the Yajna or sacrifice. The sacrifice was a means to enter into the godhead of the gods, even to control the gods.” Ambedkar writes that there were 21 traditional forms of sacrifice in Aryan culture, the most holy of which was the sacrifice of humans and horses. He contends that the sacrifice giver was also supposed to eat the flesh of animal after the sacrifice. Ambedkar maintains that the Gita defended Karma yoga “by removing the excrescences which had grown upon it and which had made it appear quite ugly.”

Most writers on the Bhagvat Gita translate the word Karma yoga as ‘action’ and the word Jnana yoga, as ‘knowledge’ and proceed to discuss the Bhagvat Gita as though it was engaged in comparing and contrasting knowledge versus action in a generalized form. This is quite wrong,” Ambedkar notes. His analysis is based on the historical context in which these texts were written. “The Bhagvat Gita is not concerned with any general, philosophical discussion of action versus knowledge … By Karma yoga or action Gita means the dogmas contained in Jaimini’s Karma kanda and by Jnana yoga or knowledge it means the dogmas contained in Badarayana’s Brahma Sutras. That the Gita in speaking of Karma is not speaking of activity or inactivity, quieticism or energism, in general terms but religious acts and observances cannot be denied by anyone who has read the Bhagvat Gita.”

Ambedkar blamed Tilak—who published a volume of his interpretation of the Gita, in 1915—for wrongly assigning meanings to karma and jnana in the Gita. He said Tilak did so as part of yet another attempt to paint that Gita and Hinduism as philosophical, at a time when European colonialism posed a possible threat to Brahminism. Ambedkar argued that orthodox Brahmin writers such as Tilak had a “mean mentality” in not crediting Buddhism for the philosophy that the Gita had borrowed from it.

The same verses which show how the Gita defended sacrificial rituals, were also mentioned by Modi. His interpretation, though, was different. Modi quoted the fiftieth verse of the second chapter of Gita in saying, “Yogah karmahshu kaushala.” The full verse is, “Buddhiyukto Jahatih Ubhe Sukrutdrushkrute, tasmaudyogay yujyasab yogah karmasu kasushalam,” which literally translates to—“endowed with wisdom, get rid of both good and bad deeds in this life, therefore strive for yog, the art of working skillfully.” The verse asks the devotees to apply their mind—and have no blind faith—before doing karma, and to get rid of the self.

Ambedkar argued that the Gita strategically borrowed two philosophies—Sthithaprajna and Anashakti—from Buddhist philosophy to justify the concepts of yajna and karma. Sthithaprajna means befitted with buddhi, or intelligence, and Anashakti means “selflessness.” Ambedkar wrote, “The Gita tries to remove it (excrescences) by introducing the principle of Buddhi yoga as a necessary condition for karma yoga. Become Sthithaprajna, there is nothing wrong in the performance of karma kanda. The second excrescence on the Karma kanda was the selfishness which was the motive behind the performance of the Karmas.”

In the 9 March speech, Modi quoted another popular verse to show how the Gita teaches selfless action. He said, “Gita has taught us at every step, karmanye vadhikarashte maa faleshu kadachan.” The verse means that one has the right to perform one’s duty, but not a right over its results. The teaching of selflessness in the verse is the concept that Ambedkar argued was taken from Buddhist philosophy.

The sleight of hand through which karma has come to be interpreted as action, or the duties that are socially expected of an individual, has helped Modi justify decisions that are against the interests of toiling communities. This was most noticeable in Modi’s 9 March speech. “Karm aur vicharon ki ye swatantrata hi Bharat ke loktantra ki sacchi pehchan hai,” he said—karma, or duties, and freedom of expression are the true identity of India’s democracy. He continued, “Whenever we talk of our rights, we must remember our duties. Today there are people who are always attempting to strike this dignity.”

The speech came shortly after the farmers’ protests, against three farm laws that Modi’s government had passed, entered its fourth month. Modi painted those opposing his farm laws not only as dissenters, but as failures in upholding their own divine purpose. This draws not from Ambedkar’s understanding of karma as the sacrificial obligations of Brahminism, but as a divine duty to do the hereditary work that the caste system imposed on you. This draws from Jamini’s theory of karma, which was the interpretation chosen by Tilak.

Ambedkar, in his study of the Gita, is quick to point out that despite centuries of attempts to white wash the most heinous aspects of the text, the structural framework for a rigid caste hierarchy is still visible in it. He points to two injunctions which demand that believers follow the chaturvarna system. He wrote, “The first injunction is contained in Chapter III verse 26. In this Krishna says: that a wise man should not by counter propaganda create a doubt in the mind of an ignorant person who is follower of Karma kand which of course includes the observance of the rules of Chaturvarnya.” Ambedkar further wrote, “The second injunction is laid down in Chapter XVIII verses 41-48. In this Krishna tells that everyone do the duty prescribed for his Varna and no other and warns those who worship him and are his devotees that they will not obtain salvation by mere devotion but by devotion accompanied by observance of duty laid down for his Varna.”

In Ambedkar’s understanding, the purpose of Gita’s composition, during Brahminical rule, cannot be understood in isolation. The philosophical aspects of the Gita which justified Brahminical dogmas were composed following the collapse of Buddhism. Its composition, he argues, should be seen as a part of an ongoing project by Pushyamitra and his descendants, who were upholders of Brahminism, and wanted to change the spiritual belief of the masses. This was not possible by only enforcing laws such as the Manusmriti. It also required the use of ancient folklore and storytelling to convince their subjects about these new violent social and moral codes.

Modi’s regime has been able to weaponise a similar story-telling and symbolism when they pass laws that strike at the fundamental rights of disadvantaged communities. A recent example is the weaponisation of the suffering of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which was used to legitimise the Citizenship Amendment Act. While the CAA nominally expedites citizenship for non-Muslim refugees from India’s neighboring nations, alongside the National Registry of Citizens, it could work to completely disenfranchise India’s Muslims. The story of Hindu victimhood in Afghanistan or Pakistan, was effectively used to garner support from Hindu Indians who would turn a blind eye to what this could mean for their own neighbors.


In Ambedkar’s historicist reading of the Gita, what emerges is not either an unchanging holy book, or a secular manifesto about how to conduct one’s life—the two ways in which conservative and faux-liberal thinkers have attempted to paint the text. Instead, backed by historical records, Ambedkar describes a text that has been added to, deleted from and transformed, to serve the narrow interests of the upholders of Brahminism during each time period. Ambedkar notes that it was particularly useful in legitimising and popularising counter-revolutions against popular movements that attempted to break the caste system. This is true of Tilak using it to ward away the upward mobility that Bahujan revolutionaries like Jotiba Phule and Ambedkar brought to Bahujan communities in Maharashtra.

Modi too, is only another messenger of Brahminism, in a long line that stretches from Pushyamitra through Sankaracharya and Tilak. The first step of this is to deify the Gita and mark it as a guiding text for social and political change. Modi has already done this. In Modi’s February 2019 speech, at the ISCKON temple in Delhi, he told his audience that “all his policies” and “his every decision” have been based on the philosophy of the Gita. In his 9 March speech, he reiterated that his policy of Atmanirbhar Bharat, too, was based on the Gita. In both instances, he let his audience know that his personal behavior and his government’s political administration are guided by the Gita.

There is an uncanny resemblance between Pushyamitra and the role that Modi, and the rise of modern Hindutva, have built for themselves. The Hindutva of the last few decades owes its rise into the popular imagination from the 1992 rath yatra—chariot march—that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a sixteenth-century mosque in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad. Many political commentators note that the Brahminical frenzy that was kicked up leading to this event, arose not only from the blatant Islamophobia that has been a core tenet of Hindutva from its inception, but also because of the implementation of the Mandal Commission report—which recommended affirmative action for socially and economically backward communities. The report, and its implementation, were a revolution against the Brahminical hold over power in India, and the rath yathra that catapulted the BJP to power, its counterrevolution.

Modi’s policies, since he assumed power, could also result in similar ends to those sought by Pushyamitra—the disenfranchisement, degradation and continued enslavement of Bahujans and religious minorities. In Modi’s own words, the Citizenship Amendment Act, amendments to agricultural and labour laws, and the abrogation of Article 370 are “historic.” They break away from the rights-based secular values that India claimed to stand for, despite often failing in practice. The farm laws and labour-law amendments are antithetical to how the Indian state sought to remain constitutionally socialist. The CAA conclusively steps away from Indian claims of secularism and the abrogation of Article 370 shows a fundamental break from the diplomatic internal policy India hoped to achieve with the many linguistic and national communities it claims to represent. Finally, Atmanirbhar Bharat, as I described in a previous essay, seeks to redefine India’s liberal economic present with one based on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s India of Hindu economics.

Apart from the legal changes Modi’s regime has brought, the past decade has also seen an equally marked social and spiritual change in the country. Despite bigotry and violence being something that was common even before Modi’s rise, the widespread cheering on of, violence against Muslims, the demolition of mosques and stripping of representational rights from Adivasis and Dalits, was not something that was visible to the same extent before Modi. An increasing stranglehold over largely Bania-controlled media messaging has allowed Hindutva in government to incubate a widespread bigoted Brahminical mindset in the country. This is much like Pushyamitra’s own symbolic degradation of the spirituality of Buddhism, through violence against Buddhist monks and the tradition of pacifism. The media have taken on the role of Jamini or Sankaracharya in advocating the spread of caste bigotry among the majority.

This calls for Indian intellectuals to begin questioning Modi’s use of the Gita. The use cannot continue to be understood as merely the advocacy of Indic philosophy or one symbol in the plethora that the Indian government use to gain international soft power. The Gita must instead be understood as a tool, a key ingredient in guiding, disguising and legitimising a fundamental reshaping of India’s promised secular fabric with one that has a rigid Brahminical caste hierarchy at its core. The Gita is not new. It is not non-sectarian. And Modi and his government use it towards the same purpose many have before—a counterrevolution against Bahujans demanding their social, economic and political rights.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly translated the concept of Anashakti in Buddhist philosophy as “selfishness.” Anashakti actually translates to “selflessness.” The Caravan regrets this error.