Opinion: India’s General Election 2024: Everyday habits of democracy that resist authoritarian populism

Friday 7 June 2024, By Professor Mohan Dutta

Image credit: Naveed Ahmed – Unsplash.

The outcome of India’s 2024 General Election marks a significant moment in the nation’s democratic journey, punctuating the beginning of the process of democratic renewal since Hindutva’s take-over of institutional structures and democratic processes that started unfolding since the 2014 General Election. The renowned activist Harsh Mander describes it as “the most consequential in India’s journey of 74 years as a republic.” The critical question that lies ahead is: How does the 2024 moment form the pathway toward the renewal of India’s constitutional values that were born out of the anti-colonial struggle?

The results stand testimony to the power of those at India’s margins, Dalits, Muslims, and women, to stand up to the forces of authoritarianism that have worked over the past decade to destroy India’s fundamental democratic institutions. Amidst the jubilant celebrations of the power of grassroots democracy to halt powerful political and economic forces that have worked in tandem seeking to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation), we must critically reflect on the deeper implications of this electoral exercise for the future of democracy in India, and the broader implications for global geopolitics.

The elections witnessed overwhelming participation of Dalits and Muslims, with the election of Dalit and Muslim leaders into the parliament. Consider here the election of the Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad from the Nagina constituency, based on a campaign platform seeking to protect the Indian constitution, designed by the Dalit lawyer B. R. Ambedkar. Consider similarly the electoral win of the 26-year-old Sanjana Jatav who hails from a Dalit community, from the Bharatpur constituency in Rajasthan, among the list of the youngest members of the Parliament. Despite Hindutva’s organised strategies of suppressing Dalit and Muslim votes, those at the margins mobilised to exercise their democratic rights at the ballots, underscoring the power of democracy at the grassroots, secured through everyday struggle. It stands witness to the beautiful experiment on the global stage that is India’s democracy, resilient against the repressive forces mobilised behind the strongman politics of Narendra Modi.

Over the past decade, and more so since his election in 2019, Modi has carried out systemic attacks on democratic institutions. Opposition politicians, independent journalists critical of the Modi regime, dissenting activists, and a wide range of civil society organisations have been systematically targeted and harassed through raids by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the agency charged with fighting economic crimes, creating a climate of fear and intimidation.

The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), designed as an instrument to regulate activities that threaten the sovereignty of India, has been broadly interpreted to target dissenting voices against Hindutva, instrumentalised to label dissenting activists as “anti-national,” and incarcerating them. Salient here is the deployment of the law to target Adivasi (Indigenous) rights activists, human rights activistsenvironmental defenders, and journalists critical of Hindutva’s power grab. The large-scale attacks on dissenters have produced a chilling effect, creating an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship that has undermined democracy.

These repressive processes have been directed toward journalists and media infrastructures as well, while corporate interests aligned with the BJP’s right-wing politics have taken over mainstream media infrastructures, systematically turning them into the lapdogs of Hindutva.

Both the judiciary and the Election Commission of India, two critical pillars of India’s democracy, have been categorically undermined, with the BJP making wholesale political appointments into these institutions. Civil society organisations note the large-scale failure of these institutional structures to place checks and balances on the BJP as it has launched a full-blown assault on the constitution.

Note here the electoral bonds scheme passed by the BJP, allowing anonymous donations to political parties and undermining the transparency of the democratic process by facilitating the flow of undisclosed funds. The ruling BJP strategically utilised the electoral bonds to subvert Indian democracy, benefitting disproportionately from the bonds alongside vested corporate interests exerting undue influence on policies through this pathway.

Professor Mohan Dutta

Hindutva’s direct attacks on democratic institutions and institutional capture have been accompanied by its large-scale mobilisation of anti-Muslim hate, both offline and online, with television channels forming the critical infrastructure of hate. Termed India’s version of Radio Rwanda, these hate channels have manufactured and amplified the narrative of the Muslim infiltrator threatening the safety and security of India’s majority Hindus. Building up to the elections, BJP politicians, including its lead campaigner Narendra Modi delivered extreme Islamophobic speeches, referring to the Muslim population explosion, Muslim threats to Hindu property, and Muslim infiltrators, designed to evoke fear among the Hindu voter base. Critical observers have described the 2024 election campaign as the most hate-filled campaign, specifically highlighting Modi’s extremist speech. The violent rhetoric of Hindutva is juxtaposed in the backdrop of extreme violence directed at Adivasis, Dalits, Christians, and Muslims.

The discursive infrastructure of the “Hindu in fear” is mobilised alongside the propaganda of Modi as Godman, constructing him as a cult-like figure that has descended from the Gods to save India’s 1.1 billion Hindus and return India to its lost glory. Through various manufactured events, Modi has designated himself as the voice of God, reminiscent of fascist techniques of propaganda around Hitler and Mussolini. In a speech in the 2024 election cycle, Modi proclaimed himself as a divine essence who has transcended biological birth.

That the BJP was unable to secure the hegemonic position that would enable it to transform the Indian constitution along the lines of Hindu Rashtra speaks to the power of grassroots participation as a pillar of deliberative democracy. That the BJP candidate in Banswara where Modi labelled Muslims as infiltrators lost to Rajkumar Roat of the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP), by a margin of 2,47,054 votes, speaks to the power of India’s margins in challenging Hindutva’s hate politics. That the BJP lost in the Faizabad, the very constituency in which Ayodhya – the place where the sixteenth-century mosque Babri Masjid was located until it was destroyed by Hindutva mobs and where the temple consecrating Lord Ram was built, forming the foundation of Hindutva’s voter appeal to the Hindu majority – is located, speaks to the critical role of bread and butter issues such as unemployment and social welfare.

The 2024 General Elections offer hope for India. This hope lies in the participation of those at India’s margins who are often the targets of the techniques of authoritarian repression, as the very antidote to the rise of authoritarian populism. This process of constitutional renewal however has a long road ahead that requires sustained dialogues and collective organising around the rights to voice and democracy of the margins of India who have been systematically disenfranchised by Hindutva’s far-right politics. It requires the ongoing and careful work of building and sustaining civil society as spaces of resistance to Hindutva, both in India and in the diaspora.

It requires those of us who have risked our lives and livelihoods to challenge Hindutva’s onslaught over the past decade to bear witness to Hindutva’s excesses and to build broad coalitions in India and in the global community that work toward dismantling the pernicious ideology. It requires the mobilisation of the global community around the plights of India’s minorities, particularly its 200 million+ Muslims, developing mechanisms for international legal infrastructures to hold India to account on its human rights record. It requires global civil society to draw on this moment to secure the release of unlawfully incarcerated political prisoners in India.

Here in Aotearoa, it requires the Crown to recognise that Indian Dalis, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians form a significant proportion of the diaspora, and listening to their voices should be at the core of how Aotearoa engages India. It requires mainstream politicians and Crown ministers to educate themselves on Hindutva, recognising its presence here, and developing policy mechanisms to regulate Hindutva funding and Hindutva organisations.

It requires global civil society to draw on this moment to secure the release of unlawfully incarcerated political prisoners in India. It requires the global recognition that the state of democracy in India is vital to the security and sustenance of the international rules-based order.

As we move forward from the elections, let us commit ourselves to the task of strengthening and deepening democracy in India. Let us commit to uprooting the infrastructure of Hindutva seeded by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), including in the form of Hindutva organisations here in Aotearoa. What happens to India’s democracy matters to the global community’s journey in co-creating sustainable futures.

Professor Mohan Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication at Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right.

Cultural essence, cultural nationalism and the figure of the “Miya:” The frontiers of anti-Muslim hate in India

on April 11, 2023 by Prof. Mohan Dutta

The figure of the “Miya” forms the infrastructure of the anti-Muslim hate in Assam, the Northeast frontier of India. 

In this essay, I will argue that the genocidal hate reflected in anti-Muslim violence and anti-Muslim public policies in Assam is mirrored in the ongoing production of the “Muslim other” in the infrastructure of the fascist National Register for Citizens (NRC) carried out by the Hindutva regime. 

The rhetorical trope of the “Miya” depicts the power of cultural discourse in organizing violence through the turn to a monolithic cultural essence based on exclusion. 

The construction of the “Miya” as the Muslim other lies at the core of the cultural chauvinism that has historically mobilized the middle-class, upper-caste cultural nationalist movement in Assam. Elsewhere, I have described the communicative tools that actively produce “the other” to organize cultural nationalism, constructing the nation on the basis of a monolithic cultural essence.

The term “Miya” is rife with the racist fear of the Muslim illegal immigrant taking over Assamese land and culture, mobilized to build a movement of cultural nationalism. It is often used to describe Muslim migrants from the Myemensingh region of neighboring Bangladesh (which was part of undivided Bengal) who migrated in the early twentieth century, encouraged and in many instances forcibly moved by the British imperialists, settling in the riverine islands of the Brahmaputra river.

The activist-scholar Sooraj Gogoi powerfully describes the ways in which the cultural revivalism that shaped the Assamese nationalism underlying the Assam movement in the 1980s created the discursive climate of fear and hate around the illegal Muslim immigrant, classified as the foreigner. He further describes the role of middle-class caste Assamese cultural workers, intellectuals including academics, poets, lyricists, performers etc. in constructing the discursive ecosystem of cultural nationalism.

The basis of the cultural turn underlying the Assam movement draws on an Assamese essence depicted in linguistic and cultural artifacts. Simultaneously, this cultural turn as cultural nationalism is deployed toward the production of hate through the circulation of the image of the foreigner. Through songs, poems, and graffiti, the foreigner is crafted as a perpetual threat to the cultural essence, as a danger to a monolithic Assamese cultural identity. 

This discursive climate of hate is financialized by the political class, turning hate into the basis for mobilizing the movement and political participation. It is this ecosystem of hate seeded by caste Assamese political-cultural society that mobilized largely tribal and oppressed caste communities in participating in the violence at Nellie that resulted in the death of 3,300 Muslims. The Nellie massacre remains one of the most violent pogroms since World War 2.

The xenophobic anti-Muslim violence scripted into mainstream caste Assamese society as cultural nationalism flows seamlessly into the Islamophobic fascist laboratory of Hindutva. 

The chauvinism of Assamese cultural nationalism feeds directly into the cultural nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The threat of the illegal foreigner in Assam is mobilized into the concept of the registry, crystallized in the National Register for Citizens (NRC), sending Muslims into detention centers, stripped of the “right to have rights.” The violence of the NRC process, marked by the haphazard implementation of documentation, the arbitrariness of the Assam foreigners tribunal, the disenfranchisement of Muslims who have lived in India across generations through incarceration in detention centers (locally referred to as concentration camps), and the absence of access to juridical processes, have resulted in plethora of health challenges, including challenges to mental health and suicides. In a period of five years between 2015 and 2020, between 38 and 42 individuals committed suicide in Assam in the context of the revocation of their own or a relative’s citizenship status.

The discursive construction of Muslims as foreign nationals is built on the ideology of border-making that catalyzes the material construction of the border as the basis for othering. This process of othering Muslims as the basis of cultural nationalism in Assam reflects the organizing role of cultural essence as the organizing ideology that drives hate, violence, and fascist politics. 

Link to the blogpost on: https://culture-centered.blogspot.com/2023/04/cultural-essence-cultural-nationalism.html

Image source via google search: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-violence-idUSBRE86N1CE20120724

#CAREMasseyNZ #CAREDirectorsBlog #CulturalEssence #CulturalNationalism #Miya #AntiMuslim #Hate #India #NationalRegisterForCitizens #NRC #SoorajGogoi #MasseyUni #Aotearoa #NewZealand

CARE Director, Prof. Mohan Dutta’s research article on experiences with Islamophobic hate among Indian Muslims covered in TIME magazine

CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation Director, Prof. Mohan Dutta’s research on experiences with Islamophobic hate among Indian Muslims covered in this article in The TIME magazine.


“The thing with a message like Hindu Lives Matter, is that it has to be read within this broader infrastructure of messages that are calling for Muslim genocide,” says Mohan Dutta, professor at Massey University in #NewZealand, who has researched anti-Muslim hate in #India.

Dutta worked on a 2021 report about the experiences Muslims in India have with Islamophobic content on digital platforms. It found that, since Modi’s election victory in 2014 and 2019, “the hate on digital platforms in India and in the Indian diaspora has proliferated exponentially.”

“The content of digital hate driven by Hindutva,” the report notes, referring to an ideology promoting Hindu hegemony, “has been directed at India’s religious minorities, Muslims and Christians, as well as oppressed caste communities.”Dutta says using language mirroring the Black Lives Matter slogan, which is rooted in organizing against racist structures, falsely suggests that Hindus are systematically oppressed in India. “It’s ironic that a majoritarian structure takes that hashtag to deploy hate towards India’s Muslim minority community, which has consistently been targeted by hate,” he says.

#Islamophobia #HinduLivesMatter #India #Hindutva #DigitalHate #CAREMassey #MasseyUniversity

CARE PUBLIC TALK- A Strategic Silence: Hindutva Blindness In India’s Security Community with Amit Julka

CARE PUBLIC TALK- A Strategic Silence: Hindutva Blindness In India’s Security Community with Amit Julka

Thursday, 7th October 2021 @ 9 PM NZDT

Watch the PREMIERE on Facebook @caremassey

Watch the premiere on : https://www.facebook.com/CAREMassey

Talk Abstract:

The antecedents of India’s security community – comprising academics, policy analysts, and ex-officials from the diplomatic core and the armed forces – can be traced back to the late colonial era. Over the course of its history, it has focused its attention on numerous actors and movements, including Maoist insurgents, ethnonationalist groups, Islamic fundamentalists, and external rivals such as Pakistan and China. Curiously absent from this list however are Hindu extremist groups. This absence is particularly noteworthy given their long history of challenging India’s constitution, orchestrating pogroms, as well as systemically perpetrating acts of violence that would otherwise be labelled domestic terrorism if performed by non-majoritarian groups or individuals. In this talk, I argue that this absence is not accidental – it arises from disciplinary socialization, and a denial that is rooted in what Gramsci calls mass common-sense. This invisibilization of majoritarian extremist violence and its subsequent effects is also exacerbated through the material precarity that junior researchers face in terms of limited employment opportunities and low wages, should they want to speak up about such ‘controversial issues’. As a result of these ideational and material pressures, the security imaginary that is produced through this discursive silencing is one that aligns with interests of dominant groups both within and outside the nation. By decoupling the two and questioning the ‘object’ of what is being securitized and against whom, I intend to conclude the discussion by showcasing the invisible impact of this silence, namely, how it makes us (the strategic community) complicit in furthering majoritarianism, both at the state and the societal level.

#HindutvaBlindness #India #Hindutva #CAREMassey #MasseyUni

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