Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP)

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visibly embraced two distinctive approaches in an attempt to materialize “Hindu Rashtra,” or Hindu polity. Since Modi’s landslide victory in the 2014 election, many NDA politicians have repeatedly made public appeals advocating the transformation of the country into a Hindu Rashtra.

Hindu right-wing groups, including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal, have rapidly grown more powerful. They have been brutal in their campaigns for a Hindu social order: Between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people, mostly from Muslim backgrounds, were lynched in public areas by Hindu militant mobs in the name of so-called “cow vigilance.”

Police forces, most of the time, have been ineffective in preventing such ruthless violence. In fact, they sometimes even help cow vigilantes. A Human Right Watch report released early this year quoted a retired senior police officer in Rajasthan as saying, “Police face political pressure to sympathize with cow protectors and do a weak investigation and let them go free.” He added that “these vigilantes get political shelter and help” from high-profile Hindu politicians.

Gyan Dev Ahuja, a member of the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly, said last year, “Cow slaughter is a bigger crime than terrorism.” Giriraj Singh, a federal minister, and RSS leader Indresh Kumar have publicly supported such views on several occasions. Thus Shashi Tharoor, a leading Congress politician, tweeted, “It is safer to be a cow than a Muslim at some places in India.”

In the 2014 election campaign, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party again raised the issue of the Ayodhya dispute, over a plot of land claimed by both Hindus and Muslims to be their holy place, and promised to explore “all possibilities within the framework of the constitution to facilitate the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.” As a result, in 2018, tens of thousands of people led by hardline right-wing Hindu groups including Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Shiv Sena gathered in Ayodhya and demanded fulfillment the promise made by the BJP-led NDA.

To push the Hindu agenda forward, Yogi Aditya Nath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, controversially began to replace Muslim-related names of cities, stations, markets and airports within the state with Hindu titles in the name of decolonization.

An alarming rise in crime targeting religious minorities, intermarriages between various Hindu castes and religious communities has been seen in recent years, mainly in Hindu-dominated areas. Yogi Aditya Nath declared, “If one Hindu girl is converted, we will convert 100 Muslim girls…. If the government is not doing anything, then the Hindus will have to take matters into their own hands.”

A few days ago, in the midst of the current Indian general election, Giriraj Singh said, “My ancestors died at the Simaria Ghat and did not need a grave, but you [Muslims] need three handspans of space.”

Regarding these issues, the BJP-led government for the last four years has played a crucial role in creating a “Hindu Rashtra.” No doubt, for many NDA politicians, this must be a good card to play in their election campaigns or perhaps, for them, this is a real political utopia.

Still, that is not all there is to the NDA record of governance. From the economic perspective, Modi’s government has quite bravely, though sometimes unwisely, delivered various economic reforms, though some were not as successful as promised.

The implementation of a nationwide value-added tax significantly reduced the complexity of the tax system and has improved the economic conditions for small businesses and inter-state trade. Arvind Subramanian, the chief economic adviser to Modi’s government, has argued that the VAT “created a single internal market for the first time since independence in 1947.”

A crackdown on bank-loan fraud revealed the alarming growth in non-performing assets (NPAs) and visibly resulted in a reduction in the previously persistent back-door corruption in the banking industry. The strategy, luckily, has also attracted substantial foreign direct investment (FDI). A record annual inflow averaging US$52.2 billion in FDI for the last four years has marginally surpassed the performance of previous governments.

The most visible or, perhaps, the bravest attempt to reform the economy was the abrupt withdrawal of high-denomination notes from circulation in order to wipe out “black money,” but surprisingly, most of the notes found their way back to banks. In the same way, the attempted attack on inflation by limiting crop prices and removing some fuel subsidies has helped, to some extent. However, it also had a substantial negative impact on many poor people.

The Modi government has failed to enact reforms in some crucial sectors, including the land and labor markets, which has resulted in a struggling agricultural sector and high unemployment. Nevertheless, the overall economic achievements of the NDA in four years, in the assessment of many experts, are quite impressive. Moreover, in February, the International Monetary Fund declared India to be the fifth-biggest economy in the world and reported that the growth of India’s gross domestic product has been the fastest in Asia for the last four years.

While analyzing these social and economic phenomena, a quite rapidly growing faction of master architects can be seen under the wing of Prime Minister Modi, attempting to build the country in a way that can only be comprehended through “Modi’s India Model”: politically radical and fundamentalist, and economically Keynesian and reformist.

Using a window of opportunity opened by the political crisis in the Western world, under the shadow of populist movements, China has been tirelessly branding and selling its “China Model” everywhere. Though Modi’s government, so far, has not made any such claims, the peculiar approach of the BJP-led government, perhaps, can be termed “Modi’s India Model.”

Kunsang Thokmay

Kunsang Thokmay (aka Darig Thokmay) is a PhD scholar in Asian studies at the University of Oxford. He has worked at many research centers such as Oxford Socio-legal Studies and the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics. His work has appeared, apart from academic journals, at Asia Times, The Times of India, Asian Affairs and The Diplomat, among others.

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