The origins of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Islamophobia stretch back further than his election in 2014. Further, even, than his time as chief minister of the state of Gujarat.
Modi’s Islamophobic worldview can be traced to his enrollment in the volunteer paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at 8 years old.
The RSS, founded in 1925, is an organization advocating for India to be, first and foremost, a country for Hindus. The group’s Hindu nationalism has resulted in countless acts of violence over the years, mainly targeting Muslims. Modi’s election as prime minister emboldened RSS members and those sympathetic to Hindu nationalism, resulting in a significant spike in hate crimes against Muslims by Hindus.
In 2013, such instances numbered nine. By 2017, the number reached 74.
At age 37, Modi made the move to the RSS’s political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In 1996, by the time Modi was 46, the BJP was the largest party in Parliament. The BJP’s political project is to establish Hindu domination over other religious minorities, specifically Muslims. As prime minister, Modi placed RSS workers in schools and is seeking to do the same in the judiciary.
Before becoming prime minister, Modi served as chief minister of Gujarat, India’s westernmost state. Five months after Modi’s appointment to the position, a passenger train in Godhra, Gujarat, carrying mostly Hindus, was set on fire. Chaos ensued. RSS retaliation spread across the state. Members attacked Muslim neighborhoods, driving thousands from their homes.
For nearly three months, as violence careened out of control across his state, Modi sat on the sidelines. He never mobilized the Indian Army to control the situation, and a senior police officer alleged he never received orders from superiors to stop the riots.
When the dust settled, nearly 2,000 were dead and 150,000 were displaced. An investigation revealed that Hindu mobs followed leaders who received instructions from government officials.
The stench of the Gujarat riots followed Modi throughout the rest of his tenure as chief minister, but was not enough to stop his BJP party and its allies from winning a sweeping victory in 2014. The BJP captured 282 of the Parliament’s 543 lower house seats, securing a majority and making Modi prime minister.
Two of Modi’s most controversial policies as prime minister are his revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted special status to Muslim-majority state Jammu and Kashmir, and the passage of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), which allows religious minorities from neighboring countries to become Indian citizens, excluding Muslims.
Article 370 granted Jammu and Kashmir autonomy and prohibited Hindus from settling there, largely to maintain its unique ethnic and cultural identity. Following the article’s revocation in August, Modi effectively made the region a police state, sending thousands of troops in, detaining prominent Muslim leaders and cutting off internet access.
The CAA, passed last month, means millions of Muslim migrants could find themselves at risk of being detained or deported. They could end up in India’s largest detention center, which is currently being constructed in the northeast region of the country.
Modi’s action on Article 370 and his support of the CAA come as no surprise. In fact, they are in line with his past, both politically as chief minister of Gujarat, and personally, as a longtime member of the RSS. So far, Modi has exhibited textbook fascist tendencies. Using the state to exclude a minority group, suppressing unfavorable media coverage and seeking to create international support through foreign investment opportunities and market liberalization policies are all hallmarks of fascist regimes. Modi’s Islamophobic fascism must be stopped.
The Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), passed in December 2019, allows religious minorities from neighboring countries to become citizens, but excludes Muslims from the list of minorities.
Article 370 granted Jammu and Kashmir autonomy and prohibited Hindus from settling in the area, allowing it to maintain unique ethnic and cultural identity until Modi’s revocation.