New Delhi

Paradigm Shift

As India continues to navigate its role on the global stage, it must balance its commitment to its cultural heritage with the need to uphold its reputation as a diverse, inclusive, and forward-thinking nation.

By Salis Malik | October 2023

In the annals of diplomacy and statesmanship, the actions of leaders often shape the perception of their nations on the world stage. India, a land of rich diversity and pluralism, has had a legacy of leaders who championed unity in diversity. However, the tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has witnessed a paradigm shift in India’s diplomatic approach, one that embraces Hindu nationalism, and in doing so, raises serious questions about the nation’s global image. The world has witnessed India’s rise as an economic powerhouse, a thriving democracy, and a nation with immense growth potential. But the Modi government’s overt embrace of Hindu nationalism, often referred to as Hindutva in candid terms, has cast a shadow over these achievements. It is a paradox that a nation known for its secular constitution and religious diversity is now led by a racist regime that frequently espouses a Hindu-centric ideology.

India’s commitment to secularism and pluralism was enshrined in its constitution, reflecting the vision of its founding leaders. For decades, India stood as a symbol of unity in diversity, admired worldwide for its ability to harmoniously accommodate diverse religions and cultures. This foundation has contributed significantly to India’s global image as a multicultural and inclusive nation. However, with Narendra Modi’s rise to power in 2014, there was a noticeable shift in India’s political landscape. Modi’s association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), both closely aligned with Hindu nationalist ideology, raised domestic and international concerns. India’s Hindu nationalist diplomacy has led to tensions with neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan and Bangladesh, which have significant Muslim populations. These tensions have hindered regional cooperation and stability, impacting India’s ability to play a more prominent role in South Asian affairs.

One of the most evident impacts of Modi’s tenure has been the erosion of secularism in India. The Modi government’s promotion of Hindu symbols and practices has raised questions about the nation’s commitment to secularism. A Pew Research Centre survey carried out in 2017 found that 60% of Indians believed that the government should favour one religion, indicating a shift in public sentiment towards religious favouritism. The rise of Hindu nationalist rhetoric coincided with increased communal tensions within India. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) reported a significant increase in religiously motivated terrorist incidents in the country from 2014 onwards. Russell would likely disapprove of the polarizing effects of such policies, as communal strife threatens social harmony and damages India’s image as a nation where people of all faiths can co-exist peacefully.

Many critics believe in the importance of tolerance and free speech. However, India has witnessed incidents of stifling dissent, censorship, and attacks on journalists and activists. According to Reporters Without Borders, India ranks 142nd out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index for 2021, reflecting concerns about freedom of the press and expression. India’s foreign relations have not been immune to the effects of Modi’s Hindu nationalist diplomacy. In 2019, India faced international criticism for its handling of the Kashmir issue. Several countries, including the United States, raised concerns about human rights violations and restrictions on movement and communication in the region. Such issues have strained India’s relationships with its global partners.

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