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India Election Exit Poll: Modi Extends Majority, Flanks Congress, and Worries Muslims

As the mammoth Indian Election draws to a close, the culmination of almost two months of voting, it is Narendra Modi and his Hindu Nationalist party, the BJP, which has resoundingly beaten Congress. Mr Modi’s BJP led-coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, will likely win around two-thirds of the seats. This is a result that ushers in a third term of Modi’s Premiership; one defined by economic growth, islamophobia, desecularisation and antagonism with China.

If Westminster is the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, then India is her greatest son, the most populated country in the world, a rising economic powerhouse,  and alongside China and the United States, one of the three defining nations of the 21st Century. 

India is the most populous country in the world, home to some 1.4 billion individuals; the country is immensely diverse with over 780 languages spoken in the sub-continent. From Goa to Delhi, India is characterised by her complex network of cultures, her caste-system, and her economic potential. If it is China who has dominated the first quarter of this century, it seems likely that India could dominate the next quarter. 

To best understand India and her politics there are two key factors to comprehend; firstly, the failure of the historically dominant political party, Congress, to provide sustained economic growth amidst poor policy and accusations of corruption. Secondly, and importantly, the inherited trauma of the partition in 1947, and the subsequent animosity between India’s Hindu majority, and Muslim minority populations, which is increasingly weaponised by Mr Modi and his Hindu Nationalist Party.

India’s economic growth since independence from the British Empire in 1947 has been complicated. Inheriting an economic system dangerously underfunded and mismanaged by British policy, the historic ruling party, Congress, have, at times, struggled to deliver on their promises for a more prosperous India. Early industrialisation in the 1960s provided muted results, whilst progress was made in lowering child-mortality, the economy was still characterised by shortages of many consumer goods, throttled by the restrictive practice of the ruling Congress party’s issuing of industrial licences. Between 1966 and 1980, India’s per-capita income rose by an average of less than 1% a year, leading to the continuation of staggering levels of poverty and underdevelopment.

Partition is painfully seared into the Indian National consciousness; well within living memory, it remains the largest mass-migration in world history and one of the deadliest tragedies. It is conservatively reported that over 15 million individuals were displaced and between 1-2 million people are said to have lost their lives, with many more beaten or raped. For many in the Indian subcontinent, the partition is a source of trauma and fear as tangible as the Holocaust is for the Jewish community. The mismanagement of the partition by the departing British Raj has created deep and increasingly unassailable rifts in Indian society on the basis of religion. There are roughly 1 billion Hindus in India and 200 million Muslims; the relationship between the two religious groups has been marked by violent riots throughout India’s nascent independent history. Communal violence between the two religions has resulted in over 10,000 deaths since 1950, with riots in Calcutta in 1964, Bombay in 1992 and Gujarat in 2002, particularly violent examples.

The Gujarat riots of 2002 are a seminal point in Indian political history, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat was accused by many of allowing and enabling the continuation of Muslim persecution which resulted in around 2,000 Muslim deaths. The Chief Minister, known for his Hindu Nationalistic beliefs, born from his childhood spent in the right-wing group RSS, who were responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, was cleared of complicity in 2012. Two years later, Narendra Modi, the ex-Chief Minister of Gujarat, would sweep to power with the BJP. 

Mr Modi is an enigmatic figure; he is also a man whose politics are driven by his devout Hindu beliefs, beliefs which have propelled him and his party from obscurity in the 1980s to the dominant party of the last 30 years in India. Modi is a quintessential populist, he divides Indian society into two homogenous groups, on the one hand, the ‘pure’ Hindu majority and on the other the Indian Muslims who act, in his mind, as an existential threat to the Indian nation. 

Mr Modi’s intoxicating concoction of religion and populism has now led him to three consecutive victories in the Indian Parliament, the Lok Sabha. Some exit polls even suggest his National Democratic Alliance coalition may win a super-majority, enabling him to change India’s constitution. Written into India’s constitution is a commitment to secularisation. Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister was devout in his commitment to the separation of the state and religion, although the corruption and failures of his Congress Party mean that many Hindu’s in the country have lost faith in what many see as a Western notion of secularisation, inherited from the colonial period.

Mr Modi has campaigned vitriolically against Muslims in India. Under his premiership India has undergone what many consider a democratic backslide; accusations of electoral interference have hounded him this year and yet his popularity remains as strong as ever. Modi has successfully tapped into the anguish and pain felt by Hindu Indians as a result of partition, he has given a voice in particular to the poorer Northern provinces, and under his tutelage has led India past Britain into the worlds 5th largest economy (by 2027, India is predicted to become the 3rd largest economy, overtaking Japan and Germany). Aside from the economic growth, India’s economy grew 8.2% between March 2023-24. 

What has defined Modi’s premiership is his propagation of Islamophobic rhetoric and policy. There are ardent and very real fears amongst the Muslim community in India that if Modi gains a super-majority, he will change India’s constitution so that the country officially becomes a Hindu, rather than secular nation. 

Since being elected in 2014, Mr Modi’s party has overseen an Indian society where Islamophobia has surged, hate speech has risen profoundly, and cases of lynchings of muslims have risen as well. Earlier this year, the BJP implemented the amendment to the Indian Citizenship law, which enabled all those from neighbouring countries to become Indian citizens if they were fleeing persecution, unless they were Muslims. Both Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have criticised the bill for being Anti-Muslim. Whilst academics Varshney and Staggs have written a fascinating article comparing the bill and Hindu Nationalism to the implementation of Jim Crow Laws in the United States, the change of the Indian Citizenship law arrives in combination with the creation of a National Registry of Citizens, meaning that all Indians would need to provide proof-of-citizenship documents or risk losing their citizenship, residency, and right-to-vote. What the change to the Indian Citizenship law allows is for Indian Hindus to ‘side-step’ the need for proof of citizenship by claiming their origin was from a neighbouring persecuting country. This privilege is not extended to Muslims. The end result is that in a country where many do not have the necessary documentation to prove their citizenship, it will be Muslims who will be relegated to second-class citizens and have their rights further eroded.

As Modi toasts another, and perhaps his largest victory, 200 million Indian Muslims hold their breath, fearful that the next 5-years will be defined by a further degradation of their rights, desecularisation and demonisation by a Government defined by their devout Hinduism.

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