November 15, 2019

The Promise and Peril of Modi

“Narendra Modi’s triumphant re-election as India’s prime minister may not have been a shock—ever since Indian forces retaliated in February against Pakistan-based attacks in Kashmir, the contest had been moving in his direction—but it does represent an important tipping point in Indian history, and therefore in world history.

As Tunku Varadarajan wrote in these pages last week, India is turning decisively away from the Western ideological foundations of its founding fathers. The secularist and liberal beliefs that grounded Indian politics during the long era of Congress Party domination have lost majority support. Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalism can do what the Congress vision no longer can: assemble a consensus that makes India governable.

A dedication to secular liberal values imported from abroad is weak tea for holding large political agglomerations together, and the Congress vision of India was dying long before Mr. Modi administered the coup de grâce. Before the new era of majoritarian Bharatiya Janata Party governments, India was turning into a country without a majority. Regional- and caste-based parties had eaten away at the Congress consensus. The complicated coalition building necessary to form a majority was frustrating effective governance. Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalism for now offers a collective identity that can mobilize Indians across the subcontinent, defeating both the dying secularism of the Congress Party and the more parochial visions of the regional and caste parties.”

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