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Like Pakistan, Israel, India today is as polarized as during Independence: "The Economist"

Modi with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat
By Our Representative
Influential British weekly “The Economist”, in an unsigned analysis, has regretted that, as India approaches the general elections, the country today is “looking as polarised as at any time since Independence”. Pointing out that the “visions confronting India’s 900 million voters have rarely been so sharply defined”, the paper, in its print edition dated March 2, insists, “Hindu nationalists regard India as a nation defined by its majority faith, much like Israel or indeed Pakistan.”
Noting that while one observe in India today “extraordinary diversity as a source of strength”, a legacy that has prevailed for the last seven decades of “multi-coloured, secular vision”, the weekly, in its article “Orange evolution: Narendra Modi and the struggle for India’s soul – How India’s prime minister uses Hindu nationalism”, insists, under Modi, “the orange-clad Hindutva strain has grown ever bolder.”
“The Economist” states, “Modi’s strident brand of Hindu nationalism, which pictures Pakistan less as a strategic opponent than a threat to civilisation, puts him at the fringe even of his own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)”, even as contending, “Under Modi, the project to convert India into a fully-fledged Hindu nation has moved ahead smartly.”
Predicting that “the pace would undoubtedly accelerate if, carried on a surge of patriotism brought by the clash with Pakistan, he sweeps into another term”, the weekly wonders, “But given that in 2014, the BJP grabbed its big majority with just 31% of the popular vote, how far would Modi be able to push the Hindutva project, even if he does get a new mandate? And if he loses, can a secular India be rebuilt?”
Seeking to measure the “Hindu nationalist movement” under Modi, “The Economist” says, RSS’ claim of being “the world’s largest volunteer organization” is to be seen against the backdrop of its “all-male membership of around 5 million” with “60,000-odd self-financing cells, or shakhas, which meet daily for communal exercises and discussion, typically on a patriotic theme”, with harder core of the RSS consisting of “some 6,000 full-time apostles known as pracharaks.”
Further pointing towards RSS having the “largest trade union as well as unions for farmers, students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, women, small businesses and so on”, the weekly reports, “RSS progeny run India’s two largest private school networks, educating some 5 million children”, with one of these, Ekal Vidyalaya, having “grown by targeting remote regions where Christian missionaries have made inroads.”
All of this has led to “some RSS groups exercise quiet influence, lobbying for more ‘nationalist’ economic policy”, the weekly says, adding, this is backed up by “the 2 million-member Bajrang Dal, a youth branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an RSS offshoot”, which has a “reputation for beating up Muslim boys who dare to flirt with Hindu girls.”
Calling BJP “a loose affiliate of the RSS”, “The Economist” underlines, “Under Modi, who served as an RSS pracharak before being assigned to the party, ties have been tighter. The RSS has thrown its full organisational weight behind his campaigns. In return, Modi has inserted RSS men – or like-minded ones – into every part of Indian politics.” It adds, “RSS influence also extends to university deans, heads of research institutes, members of the board of state-owned firms and banks.., the police, army and courts.”
According to the weekly, efforts by Modi to push through RSS agenda has made Muslims – accounting for 14% of the population – suffer. Thus, his Hindu nationalist approach “has alienated Kashmiris and also tempted meddling by Pakistan”, it says, adding, “After the longest lull in three decades of violence, it has spiralled again under Modi.” Further, there has been a running “campaign in BJP-run states to apply stringent laws against the slaughter of cows, sacred beasts to Hindus”, leading to killing of “44 people, 36 of them Muslim, by cow vigilantes.”
The weekly thinks, “There seems limited conviction among Indian liberals that the Hindutva tide can be stemmed. Outside big cities, the roots of secular, inclusive India remain shallow. This lack of a strong and attractive liberal alternative matters more in the long term than the coming vote.”

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