Modi government ruined India

India is wavering

At least 34 students and professors are injured, and numerous rooms in three student dormitories are vandalized. "I was brutally attacked by the masked men," said Aishe Gosh, president of the JNUSU student union, which was hospitalized with head injuries. "Mainly students from left-wing unions, but also five teachers were injured."
In the days that followed, more worrying facts emerged. Apparently the security service of the university and also the police let the rioters have their way. Aishe Gosh accuses the JNU Chancellor and some professors associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of inciting violence against left-wing students.
The next day, the police started an investigation against Gosh, of all people, who allegedly broke into the university's server room in order to manipulate data. The president of the right-wing Hindu Raksha Dal had long since confessed to the attack. "The JNU is a hotbed of anti-national activities, we cannot tolerate that," says Bhupendra Tomar in a video on Twitter. Former finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram of the opposition Congress Party calls the incidents "an example of India's decline into fascism". Nationwide, students take to the streets in solidarity with the JNU.
Is this still the country that we know as the “largest democracy in the world” and which in recent years has been hailed as the “fastest growing economy in the world”? The India that, despite great social, cultural and religious differences, managed to remain relatively peaceful, democratic and tolerant? The troubling answer is, we don't know. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected by an overwhelming majority in early 2019, while the economy slid into severe crisis, some constants of Indian politics have been shaken - and there is no telling whether this change will last.
One of those constants has been that Indian voters will reliably vote their government out at the slightest sign of dissatisfaction. This is the so-called "anti-incumbency factor" which ensured that in the past hardly any government could do what it wanted. A second constant was that India chooses economic development rather than ideology. Modi gave the lie to both. His party now interprets the overwhelming mandate as a free ticket. Interior Minister Amit Shah, a Hindu hardliner, sees the tremendous victory as a sign that India is ripe for a Hindu majority rule (Hindi: Hindu rashtra) to which minorities such as the more than 200 million Muslims have to adapt.
In the first five years of Modi's government, the number of incidents of community violence against Muslims increased. The man who came to power in 2014 with the slogan “Sabka sath, sabka vikas” (Together with all, development for all), launched a veritable firework of initiatives in 2019 that laid the foundation for India as a secular multi-ethnic state to question. Critics of these measures are regularly defamed in the best populist manner as "enemies of the nation" or "tukde-tukde gang" (band of splitters), while the top posts in public institutions are filled with BJP partisans who try to neutralize critics of the government.


Muslims as second class citizens

The fact that India’s economic growth has simultaneously fallen below 5 percent of GDP, the lowest level in six years, may be the function, cause or effect of this development. But as the nationwide student demonstrations show, serious resistance is forming for the first time. In addition to the attacks on politically dissenters and the right to freedom of expression, there are two main initiatives that are currently driving people onto the streets.
On the one hand, there is the introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, a law that claims to want to solve the problem of illegal immigration, but which is understood by Indian Muslims primarily as a message that they are second-class citizens. Because the CAA grants refugees from the neighboring countries Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh naturalization within six years, provided they are Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsees or Jews - but not Muslims. The Indian government argues that Muslims are not persecuted in the named countries because they belong to the majority religion; but the argument is threadbare and wrong too.
There is currently no official state persecution of religious minorities in either Afghanistan or Bangladesh. In Pakistan, on the other hand, followers of the Ahmadiyya sect who see themselves as Muslims face massive discrimination. The Pakistani state does not accept them as Muslims and on this basis even forbids them to call their places of worship mosques or to say the greeting “AsSalamu Aleikum” (peace be upon you). There are also repeated attacks on Shiites and Sufi shrines in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Shiite Hazaras were persecuted under the Taliban government.
The United Nations Office in Geneva rightly described the CAA as "fundamentally discriminatory in nature" and expressed the hope that "the Supreme Court of India will examine very carefully" whether the law is compatible with India's international human rights obligations. But the Supreme Court now seems to be leaning towards Hindu nationalism. In November, in a dispute that had been pending since 1992 over the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, it decided that a temple for the god Ram could be built on the site of the former mosque, although it recognized that the demolition of the Muslim house of worship was illegal. The government in Delhi celebrated the verdict as a victory. Various Muslim organizations objected.


A chaotic census

The introduction of the CAA followed a long controversy over a second initiative, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which began in the northeastern state of Assam. The NRC is about determining who is an Indian citizen. In a country that has relatively open borders to the north and has been divided twice in the past, this is not easy, especially since there were no birth certificates or identity cards in South Asia for a long time. In northeastern India, where there is a lot of illegal population movement on the border with Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and Myanmar, the requirement for many people to prove their Indian citizenship on the national register has become a disaster.
It was expected that especially Muslims from Bangladesh and the also Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar would fall through the cracks. But at the end of the chaotic census that began in 2015 and ended in 2019, 1.9 million people were left without citizenship. This included both veterans of the Indian army who had defended their country in several wars, as well as many Muslims and Hindus whose families have never lived anywhere other than India. After massive protests, the government announced that it would repeat the whole exercise. The planned ten internment camps for illegal migrants in Assam will therefore probably not be completed for the time being.
But Interior Minister Amit Shah announced in November that he wanted to carry out a census for all of India. It is more than questionable whether this will ever come. Nine states (including large states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh) are already refusing to hold an NRC, including even the former coalition partner of the BJP, the Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena, who worked in Maharashtra with Uddhav Thackeray Prime Minister poses. Congress politician Balasaheb Thorat, who is state minister under Thackeray, emphasized: “Maharashtra has always believed in secular ideology. The state was never divided along by caste or religion. Today Maharashtra stands on the side of the righteous to save our constitution. CAA and NRC are hurting the soul of this country. We won't let the BJP get away with it. "
For the first time since Modi came to power, the opposition is united and determined not to miss the chance to drive the government on. Because so far Modi and his team have also benefited from the weakness of the Congress party. The pale former party leader Rahul Gandhi resigned after his devastating election defeat; but the Congress Party lacks staff, ideas and a concept against the charismatic modes. When the government revoked the autonomy status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in August of last year, the Congress party waved in the face of widespread support for the measure.


Difficult situation in Kashmir

The fact that the only state with a Muslim majority should no longer receive special treatment was well received by many Hindus, because they see the armed resistance raging there for decades and supported by Pakistan as an attack on India. But the measure, from which the BJP expects to pacify Kashmir, went hand in hand with massive restrictions on freedom of information. The internet was shut down for six months and all relevant opposition politicians were placed under house arrest without charge or trial. The impression is increasingly emerging that the government in New Delhi has no concept of how to get the humiliated Kashmiris on their side. The EU Ambassador to India, Ugo Astuto, expressed "concern" about the situation in Kashmir and called for "freedom of movement and normalcy to be restored". Astuto told the CAA that he hoped the "Indian Constitution would be upheld". He is not the only observer friend who is watching developments in India with concern.
C. Raja Mohan, professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore and one of India's most renowned foreign policy thinkers, gave the government a clear warning at the beginning of 2020. "India will need some decisive domestic policy adjustments to prevent serious foreign policy challenges from crystallizing," he writes in his column in the Indian Express. "When a country decides to encourage social division, it not only disappoints its friends, but also offers enemies a huge opportunity to take advantage of it," said Mohan.


Weak economic growth

Nor does it help that the economy is grumbling. The disappointing growth is primarily due to a lack of domestic demand and a lack of investment, which in turn are the result of serious bad economic policy decisions. Due to the de-monitization in 2016, all larger banknotes lost their validity overnight. The government wanted to track down black money owners, but it also ruined the country's vast, cash-based informal economy. The introduction of VAT in 2017 also created many new problems.
All of this had led to surprisingly little criticism so far. But at the end of 2019, one of the country's leading business captains, Rahul Bajaj, broke the silence. In the presence of Interior Minister Shah, Bajaj said there was "an atmosphere of fear" in the economy. "We don't think the government appreciates criticism." The founder of the biotechnology company Biocon, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, agreed: "The government does not want to hear any criticism of economic development."
But now India is economically in a downward spiral that is difficult to get under control. The weak economic growth leads to less tax revenue, which leaves the government less room for the necessary investments in infrastructure, education and health. It is therefore possible that the ambitious middle class, which has previously been one of Modi's main supporters, will turn away from the BJP again.
But the opposite could also happen. So far, the party has done quite well by stoking anti-Muslim resentment and fueling the conflict with its unloved neighbor, Pakistan. Bilateral relations have seldom been as bad as they are today; but Pakistan's internal weakness makes saber-rattling a cheap way of scoring points domestically.
Whether this is the beginning of a permanent majority rule by the Hindus in India or the beginning of the end of the Modi government has not yet been decided.

Britta Petersen was a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a think tank in New Delhi, until January 2020. She has been working at GIZ in Bonn since February.

Please log in for full access.