Right-wing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed a decisive re-election victory on Thursday, raising fears that his government’s assault on minorities in the world’s largest democracy is just beginning.
Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is headed to a clear majority of seats in the Indian Parliament, tweeted that “India wins again!” as results came in Thursday. At press time, the BJP had strong leads in 299 parliamentary districts; 272 seats are needed for a majority in the parliament.
In an analysis, The New York Times said that the BJP has built a “cult of personality” around Modi, who refers to himself in the third person in speeches, like one noted by the Times in a recent rally where the prime minister exhorted the crowd by bringing up an airstrike on neighboring Pakistan in February.
“Are you happy that Modi kills by entering homes?” said Modi. “Doesn’t your chest puff out with pride?”
That bellicose rhetoric is regularly backed up with action, whether toward surrounding countries or toward India’s 170 million strong Muslim population. Modi’s election in 2014 begat a string of violent incidents from the Indian Hindu majority against minorities, particularly against those who slaughter cows, which are considered sacred to Hindus.
Reaction from progressives across the world noted the potential for damage that another Modi win could unleash India.
“This is real bad news for a lot of people and also the environment,” writer Jaya Sexana said in a tweet.
“Modi is a far right extremist who has suppressed civil society, marginalized minorities and supported candidates who want to ban all Muslims from India,” tweeted leftist British magazine Momentum.
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British activist Aaron Bastani, the co-founder of left-wing outlet Novara Media, pointed to the threats to civil society from both Modi and the movement Modi represents.
“The ultra-nationalist politics of hindutva, championed by Modi and the BJP, are poison and at odds with tolerant, pluralistic values,” said Bastani.
The concerns and critiques notwithstanding, Modi has a number of allies at home and abroad. In the U.S., the prime minister can count both Republican President Donald Trump and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) as vocal supporters.
On Thursday, Modi received warm congratulations from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Trump.
“Together we will continue to strengthen the close friendship between India and Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted in Hindi. “Very good, my friend.”
Despite its Hindu majority and the recent political dominance of the BJP, India’s government is ostensibly a secular democracy. But Modi and his allies have used the religious/nationalist ideology of “Hindutva” to hold onto power and exacerbate tensions between ethnic and religious groups in the 1.2 billion population country.
“He is very divisive,” newspaper columnist Arati Jerath told the Times, speaking of Modi. “He believes in the politics of polarization: us against them, Hindus against Muslims, rich against poor, poor against rich.”
Critics say Modi is using “majoritarian democracy,” another term for hindutva, to push an agenda for, by, and benefitting the nation’s Hindu 966 million strong majority. By manipulating Indian democracy, critics charge, the prime minister and his right-wing allies are destroying the fabric of the country’s society.
“Modi is going to be ruthless and vindictive, and we don’t have civil society to counter it,” Shiv Visvanathan, a professor at OP Jindal Global University, told HuffPost. “Majoritarian democracy is the death of democracy.”
“Elections are no longer a solution,” Visvanathan added. “We are left with caricatures of democracy.”
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