Book Review: The Majoritarian State - How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India

Majoritarian State, a comprehensive book written on Hindu Nationalism in India. The editors, Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot, compile a set of 21 essays that critically analyze the opposition of multiculturalism present in the Indian political system, and how the governing system permits violence to promote its nationalist dialogue.

Introduction

Many books and scholarly pieces were written on Hindu Nationalism and right-wing politics. However ‘Majoritarian State’ has done a seminal effort in describing the majoritarian sentiment in India. The Majoritarian State published in 2019 and edited by Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, and Christophe Jaffrelot, is a scholarly work that deeply entails a comprehensive analysis of the rising Hindu majoritarianism in India. The book explores India’s post-2014 political dispensation. Moreover, it elucidates the majoritarian sentiment in India and its impact on the country’s institutions, social and domestic structure. The complied essays hold a multidisciplinary dimension including Hindu Nationalistic politics, history writing, political hegemony, culture, and gender politics.

Collectively, the book depicts an image of a democratic state with adherence to democratic norms, and secularism. Meanwhile, it also views the advancement of the Hindutva ideology by non-state actors affiliated with the far-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These actors mainly aim to terrify the minorities, particularly the Muslims.

BJP, and Rising Majoritarianism

Till now, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not manipulated the constitution. Rather, it has relied on the existing legislation by Indian National Congress to ratify the notion of free speech. The real threat to liberties emanates from mob violence. Editor Thomas Blom Hasen, mentions this situation, arguing that; “Violence is indeed a foundational element of Hindutva as an ideology and as a political action”. This statement contradicts the very notion of Hinduism as a philosophy of peace, and prosperity. Violence is necessary for the BJP Government to sustain its control of the domestic structure of India. However, it also can not be accepted as a way to lose control over the law-and-order apparatus.

Actions Against the Muslims

Muslims in India accused of cattle smuggling, and consumption of beef face vast scale lynching. Moreover, couples of interfaith marriages face harassment, especially, when a Hindu woman marries a Muslim man. Reportedly, their husbands and boyfriends are beaten up on the narrative of ‘Love Jihad’; a discourse explaining the alleged Muslim strategy aiming to the conversion of Hindu women into Islam. In reference to this, as narrated, the vigilantes from the far right with the help of the Police stormed into a birthday party in Mangalore city because according to them the unmarried couple was involved in “ugly activities”. This very act when protested by the Forum of the Atrocities Against Women, received a letter from Sangh Parivar mentioning that the forum should stop its anti-Hindu activities before ‘we slap you in a well-planned manner’.

All these actions ultimately echo the statement of Ashok Singhal; ‘all minorities residing in India should shape their behaviour according to our tradition otherwise the wave of Hindu nationalism will sweep them away and no institution or political force will be there to protect them.’

Modi’s Hegemonic Designs

Suhas Palshikar in his essay “Towards Hegemony: BJP beyond the electoral dominance” states that Modi’s actions are indicators of the construction of hegemonic designs in which Modi and the BJP needed to combine the acceptable and controversial”. He refers to a 2017 report that indicated that more than half of the Indian public opinion desires an autocratic rule. The situation is however surprising due to the Indian claim of the largest secular democracy in the world. Moreover, the scenario also questions the rise of majoritarianism legitimacy by moral forces, and virtues in a secular democratic state.

Kashmir and BJP

The book also entails a deep insight into Kashmir, considering the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by the BJP Government. Mridu Rai in his part “Kashmir in the Hindu Rashtra” argues that the Kashmiri Muslims are seen as a symbol of violence and illicit religious whims which contends the formation of the Hindu nation. Furthermore, Rai asserts that the BJP pulling out its coalition with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alliance is a political move to pave the way for counterinsurgency operations in the valley. Rai further states that the abrogation of Article 370 makes it evident that Kashmir’s worth in BJP’s corridors cannot be measured through the electoral turnover. Rather, it is the BJP’s image as a defeater of terrorism.

Current State of Indian Democracy

Hansen in the chapter “Democracy Against the law” distinguished the ‘rule of law’ and ‘force of law’. He reiterated that the marginalized communities residing in India are a victim of ‘Force of Law’. This thereby paints the Indian democracy as ‘less liberal, more antagonistic, and more violent’. This suggests that the civil liberties of people, who hold differing ideologies or are socioeconomically underprivileged, in India are under threat. Furthermore, Jaffrelot also asserted that Prime Minister Modi led India as an “Ethnic democracy”. The Modi Government opposes secular multiculturalism. This situation compels the minorities especially the Muslims to gain representation in the assemblies.

Similarly, on the other hand, India’s political forces, and institutions are serving as a threat to the rising majoritarianism and Hindutva. Therefore, the Hindu Nationalists are attempting to keep the minorities out of the mainstream. Moreover, the law enforcement is openly aiding these nationalists. Hence, the recurring violence is the defining eye of the majoritarian Hindu Nationalism in India.

Gaps in the Book

The book portrays an in-depth analysis of the intensified majoritarianism in India, however, it does contain few gaps. There is no mention of the role of the Hindu women in the RSS, and BJP cadre in the book. Likewise, it has not mentioned the movements supporting the Uniform Civil Codes, and aiming to replace the religion-based laws used by Modi’s Government as a legitimate weapon against the Muslim community. Moreover, the book should have included the Hindu Nationalist politics of misinformation and their regulation in universities and other sectors. Nonetheless, it is indeed a thorough critique of the majoritarian politics in India.

Conclusion

Lastly, Majoritarian States serves as a good read if one is looking to understand the rise of Hindu Nationalism. It also provides a detailed insight into the changing dynamics of India after the BJP’s rise to power. The political disparities and the multidisciplined approach of the book explains the majoritarian sentiments present in India in a seminal way.

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