Brett Wilkins: ‘India Lurches Toward Full-Fledged Fascism’ as Modi Opens Contentious Hindu Temple

Published originally at Common Dreams on January 22, 2024 under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license

The executive body of Progressive International warned Monday of the accelerating erosion of Indian democracy as right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially consecrated a highly controversial Hindu temple on the former site of a 16th-century Muslim mosque destroyed a generation ago by a Hindu nationalist mob.

Modi heralded the “advent of a new era” as he spoke outside Ram Mandir, a temple to the Hindu deity figure Ram—who epitomizes the triumph of good over evil—in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The small city of approximately 55,000 inhabitants is known for its religious diversity and long history of peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims.

The prime minister, who exalted Ram as India’s “national consciousness,” claimed the temple’s construction reflected that harmonious history, and that “this construction is not giving birth to any fire, but to energy.”

“Today, the Modi government has made a decisive move to overthrow India’s secular constitution in the name of a new Hindu supremacist nation.”

However, it was extremist members of Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who, in December 1992, led a mob of Hindu nationalists in the destruction of the Babri Masjid Mosque, which they claim stood on the site of an ancient Hindu temple to Ram. The act sparked fierce communal riots in which more than 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims.

Celebrations of the new temple—much of which is still under construction—took part throughout India, with displays of Hindu nationalism prominent at many events. Emily Jones, a Christian Indian from Kerala state traveling in Goa, told Common Dreams that participants chanted slogans including “every inch of India is Hindu” at a car rally in Chapora.

In a statement, the Progressive International cabinet—whose members include National Federation of Indian Women president Aruna Roy—warned that “today, India lurches toward full-fledged fascism.”

“Today, the Modi government has made a decisive move to overthrow India’s secular constitution in the name of a new Hindu supremacist nation,” the statement continued. “As prime minister, Modi has pushed this Hindu nationalism as India’s dominant political force: banning the hijab in schools, introducing ‘anti-conversion’ laws, abusing municipal forces to demolish Muslim households and shops in cities, and pushing for a ‘uniform civil code’ in law.”

“Now, in open defiance of India’s secure constitution, Modi fuses ‘prime minister’ with ‘chief priest’ to conduct the consecration of this controversial temple,” the cabinet contended.

Shoaib Daniyal, political editor of Scroll.inwrote:

Modi’s image in the manner of a medieval Hindu sovereign, involved in a ceremony that melded state and faith, is the final sign that India is now a de facto Hindu rashtra or Hindu state. This moment has been decades in the making. The destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was its biggest victory. January 22 inaugurates a second republic for the Indian Union…

The outlines of the Hindu rashtra are, therefore, being sketched out before our eyes, fashioned by current events. However, a decade into the Modi age, we can discern its defining contours. For one, quite obviously, it means a drastic shrinking of rights for its religious minorities, especially Muslims, who are the principal Other for the Hindu rashtra. Even something as banal as canvassing for Muslim votes is now decried as ‘appeasement.’ In many states, basic law and order is a privilege for Muslims.

In 2002, Modi was chief minister of the western state of Gujarat and blamed Muslims for burning a train full of Hindu pilgrims, an act that sparked retaliatory massacres in which at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of Muslims were murdered, tortured, and raped. Hundreds of Hindus were also killed.

A U.K. government investigation found that Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” surrounding the massacre, although he was cleared by India’s Supreme Court a decade later.

Banned by the George W. Bush administration from entering the United States over his role in the pogrom, U.S. politicians subsequently courted Modi as India rose to the top tier of nations. Former President Barack Obama lifted Modi’s visa ban, while his and each subsequent U.S. administration has embraced the prime minister.

So have members of Congress from both parties, although progressive lawmakers have condemned what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) described as his administration’s “systemic human rights abuses.”

The new Progressive International cabinet statement asserted that “India’s fundamentalist turn is terrifying.”

“We call on progressive forces around the world to stand vigilant ahead of its general elections in April,” the statement added. “The people of India have struggled for decades to secure a democracy that is secular, just, and equal. Modi must not be permitted to rob them of it now.”

Observers noted the timing of the new temple’s inauguration coincides with the start of the 2024 election cycle.

“As Modi seeks a third term, his ruling Hindu nationalist BJP has signaled that the crux of its campaign will be anchored in the discourse around Modi’s leadership as a Hindutva icon, and how the party has delivered on its ideological, political, and economic commitments,” Haris Zargar, a doctoral researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, wrote for Middle East Eye, referring to the political ideology of “Hindu-ness” which advocates the dominant religion’s supremacy and the transformation of secular India into an ethnonationalist state.

“Through this historic ceremony, Modi fulfills a pivotal campaign promise to his Hindu nationalist support base, and solidifies the party’s connection with its core constituency in northern India’s Hindi heartland,” he added. “It also sets in motion a campaign aiming to polarize the electorate for political dividends.”