India takes troubling turn

Narendra Modi, BJP government transforming India into authoritarian Hindu regime.

By Sahil Venkatesan

Since its independence from Great Britain in 1948, India has been hailed as one of the largest democracies in the world by the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian.  However, the current  Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has taken a disturbing turn. 

 According to The New York Times, Modi’s BJP believes in “Hindutva:” the idea that India is a Hindu country.  However, India is not a Hindu country — over 20 percent of Indians in India are not Hindu, according to Al Jazeera.  

Recent actions in the states of Assam and Kashmir have shown that the BJP government is attempting to turn India from a secular democracy to a Hindu Nationalist country. 

When non-violent leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, helped liberate India from the British, the British Raj (British colony in India) was divided into two countries in what is known as the “Partition.”  The subcontinent was divided into a Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.  

While most of the territories clearly chose to align with either India or Pakistan, Muslim-majority Kashmir attempted to abstain from joining either. India and Pakistan fought over Kashmir, and eventually Kashmir was divided into Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, according to BBC News.  

India allowed local Kashmiris in Indian-administered Kashmir control over the state in order to preserve its Muslim-majority culture.  This was written as Article 370 in the Indian constitution.

India’s constitution also stated that there would be no official state religion and that India would welcome and protect all religions.  When the Congress Party (where Gandhi and Nehru belonged) ruled India in 1947, this secular view was one of the core values of the country.    

Fast forward to 2019: the BJP under Modi won a landslide election and is now attempting to implement a National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country where Indians must be listed as citizens to claim Indian nationality.  The BJP government has begun by implementing the NRC in Assam (a state that borders Bangladesh), affecting many Muslim families, some of whom have lived in India for decades. 

 Many of those families found themselves not listed on the National Register of Citizens, which means that unless they can produce paperwork proving that they legally came to India, they will be deported.

Other religious members — including Hindus and Christians — also found that they are not on the NRC. BJP lawmakers have proposed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides exemptions to religious groups other than Muslims. 

The BJP has forced Muslims into Assam in order to prove citizenship or face deportation. According to Vox, the Indian government is building 10 major detention camps where any Muslims not able to produce citizenship papers will be transferred. 

The BJP is clearly using the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC to discriminate against Muslims in India.  Because the Citizenship Amendment Act does not give exemptions to Muslims (even though it does give exemptions to almost every other religious group), the BJP can then use the NRC to confine these Muslims into detention camps because they do not have citizenship papers.  

The BJP government claims that it needs to implement the NRC to address illegal immigration among refugees entering Assam after fleeing previous wars and other tragedies. But the NRC is affecting families who have been in Assam for decades, and who identify as Indians. Moreover, the BJP wants to implement the NRC across the country, and not just in border states.   

“These infiltrators are eating away at our country like termites,” said Amit Shah, the BJP president and Minister of Home Affairs, according to Vox.  “The NRC is our means of removing them.”   

Treating India’s 200 million Muslims as “termites” reverses the secular democracy founded by Gandhi and Nehru. The BJP plans to implement the National Register all across India  implies that the millions of Muslims in India are not true citizens. 

The BJP’s Hindutva agenda does not end there.  It recently repealed Article 370 and ended Kashmir’s local control. According to The Washington Post, the BJP put many Kashmir leaders under house arrest, stationed thousands of troops in the state, cut off almost all internet access and prohibited journalists from entering Kashmir.    

Modi’s defenders claimed that the government needs to station troops to prevent unrest.  But the BJP’s arresting local Kashmir leaders, halting journalists from entering and censoring Kashmiris over the Internet are human rights violations.  

These actions are designed to hide the government’s suppression of civil liberties and peaceful protest — the hallmarks of an authoritarian government. Rather than increasing security, repealing Article 370 has led to increased tensions with Pakistan, raising the possibility of war between two nuclear armed countries, according to Business Today.  

The BJP’s actions in Assam and Kashmir are an attack on Muslims across India. It is clear that the BJP is attempting to overturn India’s history as a secular democracy focused on improving the lives of all people, and transform it into an authoritarian Hindu regime.