Posted by: John Elliott | March 24, 2016

“BJP’s swing to jingoism does not augur well”

“Misinterpreting nationalism – BJP’s swing to jingoism does not augur well”, said a headline earlier this week in the Business Standard, one of India’s leading newspapers. It reflected concern in India and abroad over what the paper called the governing BJP’s “disturbing drift towards hyper-nationalism”.

The only word slightly wrong there is “drift” because there is a growing suspicion among observers that this is not some gradual meandering, but a determination to develop divisive politics, driven for vote-catching reasons by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, notably Amit Shah, the party’s hardline president, Rajnath Singh, the government’s rather stern looking home minister, aided occasionally by Smriti Irani, the voluble minister for human resource development.

The latest example of their drive has come with a strident demand for people to prove their patriotism by declaring “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, which means “Victory to Mother India” (or the motherland).

Bharat Mata.jpgOriginally triggered a couple of weeks ago when a Muslim member of a regional assembly refused to recite the line, this is really a non-issue because a wide spectrum of the population (including some Muslims) have no problem with saying it (nor with others not saying it). It is also the slogan used by the Indian army. Some Muslims resist it because of the representation as a Hindu goddess (see illustration, left). Many people would prefer the conventional “Jai Hind” which means “Praise be to India”.

Narendra Modi, the prime minister, has led chanting of the Bharat Mata slogan at his big overseas Indians’ rallies in places like London’s Wembley Stadium, and this could have been a harmless debate until Shah and others said that not chanting it was “anti-national”. After a week of growing controversy that dominated the media, a meeting of the BJP’s national executive last weekend passed a resolution that said “refusal to chant victory to Bharat is tantamount to disrespect to our Constitution itself “.

The BJP ministers seem to believe that polarising opinion around such Hindu-driven nationalism, especially the word Bharat (Hindi for India), will be a vote winner for various assembly elections next month, followed by a key election in Uttar Pradesh state next year, and then the next general election that is due in 2019. For them, even opposition to the government is anti-national.

Modi presumably agrees, though he and they know that the BJP won the general election almost two years ago because of his image as a leader who would bring development and efficient government, not rampant nationalism. The BJP has lost key state elections in Bihar and Delhi in the past 15 months because Modi and others pushed the nationalist anti-Muslim agenda, but that has not deterred the hard-liners.

Modi and development

Modi is now stressing development. “Vikas, vikas, vikas (development) is my only focus and it is our country’s solution to all problems,” he said at the party’s executive meeting. He does not however seem to have tried to rein in Shah and the others, so maybe he and Shah will each run their own lines so as to broader the party’s appeal to voters.

That gels with reports that the RSS, the BJP’s ideology-driven parent organisation which steers the behaviour of the party’s leaders and government ministers, wants development to be included in the message. (The RSS has also recently softened its image by replacing its uniform of khaki shorts with long trousers). Arun Jaitley, the government chief spokesman and finance minister, said last weekend that both nationalism and development could proceed together – which is of course correct if the nationalist angle is not turned into social divisiveness.

It seems however as if the Hindu hardliners are continually seeking new ways of polarising opinion. This started late in 2014 when a government minister soured the government’s image by implying that non-Hindus (ie Muslims) were illegitimate. It continued through 2015 when eating beef, or rather not eating it, became a cause célèbre.

BJP's National Executive meet

Prime minister Narendra Modi (centre), BJP president Amit Shah (left), and finance minister Arun Jaitley at the BJP’s national executive meeting last weekend. (PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore)

A 50-year-old Muslim farm labourer was killed in September by a mob at Dadri, a town in Uttar Pradesh 56 kms from Delhi near the Noida satellite city, after the local Hindu temple broadcast a rumour that he had killed and eaten a cow. There have been other outrages over beef since then though, like the Bharat Mata, this need not have built up into a crisis because many many Indians have never eaten beef, including those who would never vote for the BJP.

Around the same time, a 76-year old renowned Kannada writer and prominent academic in southern India, was shot dead, allegedly by right wing extremists who objected to his rationalist views on idol worship and Hindu ritual and had frequently issued death threats. Lack of official concern for the writer’s killing (and two earlier murders of rationalists) led to country-wide protests, with many writers returning awards they had received in the past.

Last month there was a row at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University between left-wing leaders of the university students union, and the ABVP, the BJP’s student organisation that wants to gain control of the union. That led to violent protests and arrests on charges of alleged sedition and has now spilled over into unrest at other universities. There have been more violent scenes and arrests this week at a university in Hyderabad over unrest that was triggered by a student committing suicide in January after clashes involving the ABVP.


The intolerance of the hardliners was demonstrated a week ago at India Today magazine’s annual conclave in Delhi where the opposing sides in the JNU debate appeared together. The JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar, a left-winger who was jailed for three weeks last month for alleged sedition, and his deputy Shehla Rashid, were calm and rational, whereas the representatives from the BJP’s the right-wing ABVP leaders, bellowed their messages and did not make a sound case.

Alongside these high profile campaigns, there is a more insidious invasion of freedoms, especially in academia which has always been a target for Hindutva activists. The most recent include reports of Urdu books being specially vetted to ensure they are not anti-government “For Urdu Publications, the Government’s Default Setting is Suspicion”, said a recent headline on The Wire website. Lecturers in a Delhi college were recently reprimanded by the university management for signing a petition supporting the JNU students.

It was inevitable when the BJP came to power in 2014 that there would be an onslaught on academia – for example with attempts to rewrite textbooks to reflect Hindu nationalists’ views of history and patriotism, and to remove the dominant narrative of the Congress Party’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. That happened during the last 1998-2004 BJP government, even though Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a moderate, was prime minister.

What was not foreseeable however in 2014 was the extent to which divisive ultra-nationalism would become a primary aim of the BJP and senior ministers. Shah and his colleagues seem to want to change society so that India’s becomes a strict Hindu nationalist nation, and dissenters are given short shrift. But that is not what the government was elected to do!


  1. 30 comments from the Newsweek site where this blog also appears –

    Babu Marley
    John Elliot, you are absolutely spot on, what’s happening in India right now is dangerous and is taking India as further and further away from being a democracy. You will find a lot of similarities between BJP’s and Donald Trump’s followers. India is beyond help, let’s hope the US isn’t.
    Like · Reply · 1 hr

    Musa Fir · Works at Self-employed
    “What was not foreseeable, however, in 2014 was that divisive ultra-nationalism would become a primary aim of the BJP and senior ministers”……..John to whomever this was not foreseeable actually lacked foresight.
    Like · Reply · 5 hrs

    Srinivas Dharani · JNTU Hyderabad
    India under Modi is giving the heebie-jeebies to the western world.They cannot digest the fact that their population is a victim of Islamic terrorism, India is free from such incidents and recording a good economic growth, despite prophets of doom predicting otherwise.This is one such attempt from this moron of an author who has got his facts wrong and takes pride in it ! A presstitute, no doubt
    Like · Reply · 7 hrs

    Sanjay Kulkarni · I Y College ( Jogeshwari)
    His speak is double-standard.
    Like · Reply · 8 hrs

    Sanjay Kulkarni · I Y College ( Jogeshwari)
    The writer oh this article has no knowledge of Indian culture. He is looking at India through Western coloured glasses. His writing is biased. It is nothing but trash.
    Like · Reply · 8 hrs

    Purna C Nayak · Scientist at National Institute of Hydrology (NIH)
    As election is approaching awardwapsi gang will bark again as they donot have any issues to play. These people are becoming mad day by day.
    Like · Reply · 8 hrs

    Satyaprakash Krishnarao
    Caricaturing the opposition, shutting down alternate opinions, muzzling the independence of press, abusing iconic presspersons etc. are a gradual and systematic move for destruction of democracy in India. What people must realise is that without “opposition” there cannot be democracy. The government of the day wants to change history, impose their version of nationalism and patriotism on an electorate that voted them in for controlling corruption and speeding development. On both counts the government has very little to show. The effort is to divert public opinion to divisive, emotive religious issues to win state elections and remain in power. If possible, absolute power.
    Like · Reply · 9 hrs

    Bala Balaguru · President (title) at Athreya, Inc.
    John Elliott should do more original research and write rather than lend his name to what is fed to him by the badly exposed Anti National Indian Media. My recent visit to India sowed no such incidences of INTOLERANCE. I visited 8 different cities and small towns and found to my surprise that UNLIKE what the media is projecting, India and Indians are very harmonious and do not show any signs of the divisiveness mentioned. Sad that all these so called Authors and writers are hell bent on DESTABILISING INDIA and INDIA’s IMAGE internationally.
    Like · Reply · 9 hrs

    Roger Willeke · University of Colorado Boulder
    What did you expect? a fundamentalist, of any religion, is a bad choice to lead a country, espcially when jingoistic nationalism is added-India had the good sense to reject this Hindutva crap when it was being peddled by the old Jana Sangh and RSSS-too bad Congress went down the all-too-familiar path from dominance to irrelevance through greed and corruption-incidentally, the decision by the USA to deny Modi a visa was not taken gratuitously-us ke haaton saaf nahin hain
    Like · Reply · 10 hrs

    Jarnail Singh Dhillon
    Aggravated the problem rather than solving for peaceful co-existence. Right thinking leaders and intelligensia should join hands to end the menace of intolerance and other ills in the society so that the people can live peacefully
    Like · Reply · 11 hrs

    Vinay Hegde
    Load of crap. India lead pluralistic society for thousands of year. Western media and this kiddo John Elliott would not understand Indian concept of surva dharma samabhava. Let him go get some education while Indians should not tolerate these subversive cult followers and western morons forcing themselves in an attempt to break India to pieces.
    Like · Reply · 12 hrs

    Raksha Rakshitha
    Hundreds are being slaughtered in neighboring pakistan and bangladesh. Several Sanatanis/Hindus are being butchered in India by muslims and leftists. And this guy has the audacity to blame Modi government. How do scumbags like this live with themselves?!!!!!
    Like · Reply · 1 · 12 hrs

    Kanu Kangal · B N Bandodkar College of Science
    I see all these intolerance ranting in press and paid media which is far from reality.
    1. Why no one writes about lynching of a Hindu man for marrying a Muslim girl in Hazipur, Bihar? which has a so called “secular” non-BJP government.
    2. How come no one writes about propagation of communism in JNU and NDTV journalist’s using false propaganda.
    3. How no journalist from oldest democratic country like USA not write about how Congress(supposedly secular but believes in creating votebank on religion) supports Afzal Guru a terrorist who attacked parliament that is a symbol of democracy. A religio…See More
    Like · Reply · 12 hrs · Edited

    Namasivayam Chokkalingam
    There is nothing wrong in being deeply aware of one’s own religion but not hating other religons. Why should Hindus not be deeply aware of their religion especially in the land where it evolved thousands of years ago?
    Like · Reply · 1 · 14 hrs

    Namasivayam Chokkalingam
    For blank-brained people’s information: The word ‘India’ was the work of the British people. For thousands of years before the whites had the slightest glimpse of civilization, the landmass now known to most people in the world as ‘India’ used to be called by the inhabitants by the name ‘Bhaaratham’.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 14 hrs

    Whitchurch Muthumani · Cross platform mobile app developer at MBSi/Agero
    Well, nothing new here. BJP == Hindu supremacy, which is not bad as long as they don’t force others to adhere to their practices. Christians and Muslims will be kicked out and persecuted, which has not happened too widely but can happen eventually. Unfortunately being an “Indian” and a “Christian” does not bode well. Nowadays “Christian or once Christian” countries like US are closing their doors to outsiders, so Indian Christians will need to find other Christian countries to immigrate to as long as the chance is left.The most horrible situation will be when all Western countries stop immigration and Indian Christians start getting sent to an Indian version of concentration camps. This is a crazy world anything can happen, and Trump might even win the election in the US.
    Like · Reply · 15 hrs

    Kanu Kangal · B N Bandodkar College of Science
    Cite one example or fact to support your imagination. When Girish Karnad said Bangalore airport should have been named as Tipu Sultan…. not one “Christian” came forward to remind Girish karnad that Tipu Sultan masacared Christians in Mangalore and nearby Kerala in thousands because he was scared they are with British and conspiring againt him. As late as 1785, the Dutch missionary Christian Friedrich Schwarz describes Tipu’s alleged abduction of 12,000 children from the region.According to James Scurry, a British officer, who was held captive along with Mangalorean Catholics, 30,000 of them …See More
    Like · Reply · 12 hrs

    Romi Singh · Yoga Instructor at Yoga by Romi
    Modi is a guy who is all for himself and doesn’t care for anyone but now he is coming his senses little bit and soon loose the rest of elections
    Like · Reply · 16 hrs

    Kalpesh Desai · Elgin, Illinois
    This article is clearly an opinion of someone who doesn’t know and love the democratic country of Bhaarat (India). Also, this writer doesn’t know and understand the history and universal culture and universal philosophy of Bhaarat’s Sanaatan (Hindu) Dharma. The word dharma is not translated in to english as religion. Dharma means duty and right thing to do in someone’s life, and duty and right thing to do is different things for different people. My suggestion to the writer is to first try to understand the culture and philosophy of Bhaarat, then give your opinion about the politics of Bhaarat. Until, then please stop writing your one sided opinions about India’s politics, because you don’t understand what it means to be Bhaaratiya (Indian).
    Like · Reply · 6 · 18 hrs

    Krishna Upadhya · Karnataka University
    This John Ediot doesn’t know Indian psych. They high light aberrations as norm. Nationalism is portrayed as despotic rule. Modi don’t have majority in Rajyasabha to carry out reforms, you idiot, then there are boneheads like Rahul and Lalu and their ilk, pulling down any reforms.
    Like · Reply · 3 · 18 hrs

    Girish J Kotwal
    It is grossly unfair to be making a moutain out of a molehill. The incidences of religious intolerance occuring in India since the Narendra Modi came to power are unfortunate and should be avoided in the future. Overall nothing can undermine India’s performance under Modi. He os the best leader for India at the current time. there is no alternative.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 19 hrs

    Jack Patel
    Like · Reply · 2 · 19 hrs

    Devendra Singh · New York, New York
    Author considers Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as the most tolerant countries and ISIS as the humanitarian wing of civilized Islam.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 20 hrs

    Srinivas Suryadevara · Andhra University, Visakhapatnam
    All this farce started with the rape of a Christian nun by a Bengali Muslim….our patriotic leftists blamed it on Hindus and won the propaganda war.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 20 hrs

    Sanjay Kumar · Works at Self-employed
    Only Christian missionaries whose religious conversion business by fraud and inducement is stopped by the Modi government feels the intolerance.

    NGOs funded by these missionaries are manufaturing outrage using left-wing terrorits, paid-media and radical students..nothing else.

    Infact communal tensions have gone down dramatically in India in last two years other than the media outrage created over it.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 21 hrs

    Babu Marley
    How many times are you going to repeat the same thing? And you are wrong. I am a Hindu. I feel the intolerance spreading in the country rapidly. Democracy is dying in India.
    Like · Reply · 1 hr

    Raj Victor · Sunnyvale, California
    Things are very simple if you look at it close enough. The problem is nobody sees. They are blinded by their Faith or their convictions in case of non believers.

    One we need to distinguish the religion (its principles, rituals, theologies, practices ..) and the acts of the people claiming to follow the religion. For there is a large gap between the two in all religions.

    Two when one is evaluating somebody, it can be on a relative scale or a more absolute scale.

    In this case the BJP may ( ‘may’ because a little communal could be far more dangerous than a lot of minority appeasement and large…See More
    Like · Reply · 1 · 21 hrs

    Neville Carvalho
    Nothing like a air matuered beef steak done medium rare. The very best disk.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 21 hrs

    Mike Patel · Clinton Township, Michigan
    Nothing like nice meat balls on good friday, for that matter on any fridays.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 21 hrs · Edited

    George Alton
    Mike Patel Nothing is better than your Mother and Sister together having *S*E*X* with me. All style, free Style KAMASUTRA STYLE.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 20 hrs

    Krishna Upadhya · Karnataka University
    George Alton What a culture you depict? Pl observe some decorum while commenting if not total tolerance.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 15 hrs
    Show 1 more reply in this thread

    V Raja Bandaru
    this article is written by anti Indian Christian journalist. What else you expect from such people. They wan tot see India undeveloped so that the can control the destiny of India. These people already looted India for over 1000 years and still they wan to continue to do. Christian population and the number of churches have increased in India from 0.05 % in 1947 to over 6% now and Muslim population has increased from under 4% in 1947 to over 16% now while Hindu population has decreased from over 94% to under 80% dung the same period. Hundreds of Hindu temples have been looted both by Christians and Muslims and Hindus Killed in large numbers. Western papers do nor care what happens to Hindus. this is the state o affairs of Western Media.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 22 hrs

    Mathai Thomas · No trabajo solo estudio at Does it matter?
    Since 1947 Indians enjoying the freedom and Independance . India is a very perfect example for the communal harmonies where millions of Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and other relgions can exists peacefully. Now and there there are isolated incidents reported from India on communal restlessness. All of a sudden a right wing religious based party came into power, and they want to teach 1.2 billion people of India about Patriotism and nationalism. They want to dictate to Indians what to eat and what not to eat. they want to impose the religion upon people from different faith. …See More
    Like · Reply · 6 · 23 hrs

    San Man
    Rubbish – for the past 7 decades since independence, the Congress Party has degenerated into a kleptocratic One Party state which has sought to maintain its power by hook or by crook.
    Like · Reply · 8 · 22 hrs

    Mathai Thomas · No trabajo solo estudio at Does it matter?
    San Man Be reasonable San Man. If BJP is trying to impose more agendas based on religious ideology , I can assure you, India will be a worse than Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just allow people to live free. You dont have any right on quiestioning other fellow Indian’s patriotism or nationalism. I fully agree with you , Congress is partly responsible along with BJP.
    Like · Reply · 3 · 22 hrs

    Rajendra Rao
    Mathai Thomas You should read Malhotra’sn ‘Breaking India’, it will be good for you, open your eyes to the larger conversion schemes of the white people for India. Indian Christrians happen to be the MOST intolerant cultists on the planet. Congress party is the one that divided India based on religion, and promoted mass conversions in South India. In NorthEast, Mozoram, for example, 99% are now Christians and they force Hindu students to pray to Jesus! Do you know that? What are you preaching to Hindus who were tolerant for 5000+ years and get run over by people like you? I bet you will be the…See More
    Like · Reply · 4 · 21 hrs · Edited
    Show 10 more replies in this thread

    Rudz Dean
    Intolerance is there by Muslims and opposition party of India. I am amazed at Double Stamdards of the west. When terrorism bleed and fear the wast, the West strongly condemns and when it hurts, India or Myaanmar they some what defend the terror groups hurting India, Myaanmar…….this is called pacifying the terror producers at the cost of non Christian societies ?
    Like · Reply · 6 · 23 hrs

    Kirti Patel · South Gujarat University
    More left-wing drivel from anti-BJP presstitutes
    Like · Reply · 10 · 23 hrs

    Sanjay Kumar · Works at Self-employed
    Only Christian missionaries whose religious conversion business by fraud and inducement is stopped by the Modi government feels the intolerance.

    NGOs funded by these missionaries are manufaturing outrage using left-wing terrorits, paid-media and radical students..nothing else.

    Infact communal tensions have gone down dramatically in India in last two years other than the media outrage created over it.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs

  2. A big problem with the BJP and its supporters seems to be that they do not want to listen to any constructive criticism.For them,everything is a conspiracy to malign them and anybody who criticises them is usually shouted down or abused at with the result that many people who were on the fence or even voted for BJP in the elections for development,have gone to the other side.The BJP needs to realise that development is not possible without social harmony and they need to take a good hard look at themselves before blaming others.

  3. John, why would a muslim on any part of the indian sub-continent chant “bharat mata ki jai”? Mind you, this is not a psychological question but a logical one.

    Regarding JNU and others, it is not extra-ordinary. The media(particularly, NDTV, cnn-ibn et all) is obsessed with modi and everything related to thesangh. The medias ideological fixation with them is so intense that it refuses to let go of the so called “intolerance” debate which was a non-starter to begin with and now the JNU slogans and the recent drama from a hyderabad radical politician.

    Meanwhile the BJP govt does understand polarization. All it has to do is 1) let bollywood celebrities make over the top statements on intolerance, 2) let JNU leftists make anti-india comments 3) let muslims politicians speak against slogans praising india.

    All above three incidents connect with the indian youth. The videos of these incidents are being circulated tirelessly via facebook and whatsapp. Now ask yourself the question, how does the BJP benefit from all this?

    Its not so grey now is it?
    Who is the real player and who is actually getting played?

  4. India’s youth are a disillusioned lot now with no jobs or “Vikas” in near sight. Chanting slogas does not fill anybody’s bellies. The BJP has lost the game and is now on the backfoot in barely two years of its rule!

    Instead of focussing on mobile call drops or ensuring working broadband speeds , it is sad that the PM is more concerned over other issues. Which MNC would like to set up shop here when their guys can’t even have a proper uninterrupted mobile phone conversation even in the capital city Delhi ?

  5. “What was not foreseeable however in 2014 was that divisiveness ultra-nationalism would become a primary aim of the BJP and senior ministers.” Not so.

    Not only was this foreseeable, John, but it was foreseen. And it was the central reason why many (not enough, obviously) among us were wary of voting Mr. Modi into power. Despite the absolute hash that the Congress-I led coalition had made of things in the preceding 5 (or, depending on the narrative, 10) years.

    It was, very clearly, Intolerance vs. Incompetence. We chose the former. Jai Ho. (

  6. thanks Nikhil – what I meant was that it was of course ‘foreseeable’ that some of this would happen, but not with such a single-minded high profile focus, Many people thought/hoped Modi and the others would concentrate, at least for some years, on governing! je

  7. Time will tell whether John’s reaction is a vilification or orchestrated by the fourth estate and congress. Wisdom, in my opinion, lies in sensing the ground realities and carry out a course correction. Extremism of either kind or any ideologies, in today’s world is uncalled for. There is enough destruction being caused all around. Why can’t economy or Vikas be the agenda dharma or mantra of any sirkar, living no time for these extraneous activities. The so called demographic dividend is just idling. Let them be engaged. That is not being done. Syngal

  8. John, I don’t agree with what you have written. You are purveying what a certain section of the political class is spreading with the active assistance of the media. Minor incidents and odd statements are being blown out of all proportions and an attempt is being made to project the ruling party as anti- Muslim and anti-Dalit, the two constituencies that have been the electoral backbone of the Congress.

    Nothing in India compares to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment and statements in the US and Europe and the refusal of many countries and constituent states to receive Muslim refugees despite the moral high ground the US and Europe have been taking on humanitarian issues.

    Why is the mounting intolerance in western democracies being overlooked and the BJP vilified?

  9. ” Where have all the flowers gone …. ” ” When will they ever learn ” etc

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