Despite Modi, India Has Not Yet Become a Hindu Authoritarian State


India’s constitution guarantees democracy, civil liberties, and secularism. But fears of India becoming a Hindu authoritarian state have been voiced after Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in New Delhi in 2014. The party’s Hindutva philosophy—the creation of a great Hindu state—envisages a Hindu state where citizens with other religious beliefs are tolerated but have second‐​class status. It lauds military toughness. Earlier governments were reluctant to retaliate militarily against Pakistan for fomenting terrorism in Kashmir, but Modi has responded twice with military strikes, gaining popularity as a strongman. In Muslim‐​majority Kashmir, which is claimed by Pakistan, Modi has abolished the state’s constitutionally guaranteed autonomy, arrested top local politicians and activists, and locked down the state. Meanwhile, a Pew Research Poll in 2017 suggested that most Indians would support military or authoritarian rule.

However, fears of India becoming a Hindu autocracy are overblown. Despite the rising misuse of laws on sedition and unlawful activities to arrest peaceful dissenters, India is still a lively democracy, where a multitude of political parties, courts, media, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide checks and balances. India’s constitution gives state governments considerable jurisdiction, including over the police, courts, and general administration. Non‐​BJP states have revolted and refuse to implement BJP proposals that could render millions of Muslims stateless. Without the cooperation of all states, laws adopted by the central government cannot be implemented. So, Modi has been forced to back down. India is not currently a Hindu state, but it is becoming less secular; while it is far from becoming authoritarian, it is becoming a more illiberal democracy.