The Tyranny Will Get Worse

Hindutva’s consolidation of a varna autocracy is destroying the republic

Delhi policemen stand next to a giant billboard of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during a campaign rally during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Manish Swarup / AP Photo
30 April, 2024

WE HAVE NEVER had an election like this before, with the people split between elation and foreboding. The majority eagerly anticipates the result, with many among them unconcerned about what it would mean for India or for the compact under which the country came into being. The smaller fraction hopes for, at best, any possible reduction in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s numbers that might bring a temporary respite to its betrayal of constitutional values. Pre-election surveys, most notably the one carried out by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, as well as anecdotal reportage, point to the fact that there is growing unease with the state of the economy, particularly on the issues of unemployment and inflation. But, when faced with making a choice in the polling booth, it appears that the question of identity, in particular, an all-usurping Hindu identity, is going to prevail.

When Narendra Modi first came to power, in 2014, most people—including many liberals and all those who, even today, remain on the fence despite the prime minister’s rising concentration of power—did not think that the country was witnessing a radical departure from the past. They witnessed the overt Islamophobia, the lynchings of Muslims, the anti-intellectual environment in which all dissent was portrayed as “anti-national” and deluded themselves into believing that all this would not enjoy lasting popular support.

The 2019 results should have put paid to such delusions. Within months of the BJP returning to power with an increased majority, some key elements of the Hindutva agenda, such as the abrogation of Article 370 and the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, were immediately put into force. Despite this buildup to a Hindutva, or a Hindu, nation—no one has been able to clearly articulate the difference, but we are constantly told to avoid conflating them—the opposition, political or intellectual, has remained in denial.

Modi is most frequently attacked on his record of governance. It is, of course, the job of the opposition, as well as of an independent media and civil society, to continually monitor and criticise the policy failures of a ruling government. At any other time, these failures would be enough to unseat an incumbent government. But why is it that, today, almost no one believes that Modi will lose power?