Hindutva Ideology and its Impact on India’s Strategic Paradigm
Pakistan and India have been adversaries since the 1947 Partition. Both nations had divergent ideological foundations and religious grounds on which both were separated. Muslim minorities in the adversary state have been facing social and economic sufferings for over a decade; and so has Pakistan. Hindutva politics, nurtured by the government of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties with Hindu supremacist ideology, is booming in India where antagonistic, anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric has skyrocketed. The rise of extremism and nationalism disguised as Hindutva and feverishly propagated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP has introduced an additional flux of instability in the Pakistan-India relationship. It has sharpened India’s strategies against Pakistan, resulting in unparalleled animosity and opprobrium between the two nations. This, in turn, influences the India-Pakistan conflict at a grand strategic level and also affects Indian policy formulations vis-à-vis its Muslim minority. The comeback of BJP in government, supplanted by the RSS, has ultimately intensified the context of Hindutva politics.
Hindutva arose as an ideology in the 19th century and, over time, has attracted many religiously-driven political parties towards itself, especially the RSS and BJP. The ideological symbiosis between the two has been composed commendably. In the last two general elections in India, Narendra Modi garnered massive support and paved his way towards the leadership of India. Prime Minister Modi directed his country’s foreign policy towards the economy, and prioritized economic development in his policymaking strategy. He also invested heavily in building India’s image as a superpower aspirant, which has lately been exposed as a scheme to bolster his own image as a global statesman at the expense of India’s secularism and public welfare.
Harvesting hate during elections has been the principal armament of BJP’s politics.
During the 2014 elections campaign, Modi’s public speeches were rife with anti-Pakistan rhetoric. BJP also chose to capitalize on destructive episodes such as the demolition of the Babri Mosque to create the Ram Mandir. Their strategy for deflecting criticism during elections was to hide behind Hinduism and use it as a weapon, which has proven productive for them so far. BJP also figured out that an anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim agenda engendered by Hindutva would prove fruitful in elections, and that Hindutva ideology would help Modi gain mass popularity during elections. However, before coming to power in 2014, Modi pursued a ‘vertical and horizontal escalation’ strategy termed: he sought to intensify covert terror and sabotage operations in Pakistan while he kept all options open for conventional military strikes.
The 14 February 2019 attack in Pulwama took both Pakistan’s and India’s breath away. The disturbance this attack caused to the delicate peace in South Asia was not to be overlooked. In the middle of election season, Modi had a lot of mileage to gain from such an atrocious attack: BJP securing a majority in the Lok Sabha, winning ‘hearts and minds’ of the Kashmiri people, diverting international attention away from the atrocities being committed in Indian-occupied Kashmir, challenging the case against Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, and most deviously, lobbying the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to blacklist Pakistan for its alleged involvement in the Pulwama incident, are but a few of the opportunities Modi saw in the killing of 40 CRPF soldiers. Pakistan, on the other hand, sought no advantage from such a dreadful attack. But Hindutva politics aided the BJP in exploiting the Pulwama attack to its advantage, especially in selling its narrative to 800 million Hindus who went to the polls that year. A cabal of Indian journalists and media entities, now derisively labelled ‘Godi Media’, also mindlessly promote Hindutva ideology, trumpeting trivial successes of BJP’s governance, and portraying Modi as the ‘savior’ and ‘only hope’ for India.
Hindutva ideology is innately hateful of Muslims and Pakistan. Achieving hegemony in the region under the rubric of Hindutva politics has become an important – if not core – strategy of Modi’s India.
Modi has also fast-tracked the development of non-military strategies and policies against Pakistan, and is pursuing them relentlessly in order to succeed in his strategic designs. His ‘vertical and horizontal escalation’ strategy has amplified: he seeks to focus India’s power towards weakening Pakistan externally and internally, economically as well as politically.
India has redoubled its malign efforts to defame Pakistan at the international level and, more successfully so, among Indian Hindus. India is intent upon sabotaging the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by hatching conspiracies against it, with American blessing. India is known for its strong opposition to CPEC as a whole, and both India and America are particularly engrossed in attempting to interrupt and disturb development activities at Gwadar port. India has also been inexorable in taking measures to place Pakistan in the FATF blacklist, investing all of its lobbying capacity and diplomatic capabilities to achieve this aim.
In addition, India has involved itself surreptitiously in Pakistan’s domestic political affairs by portraying democratic opposition platforms as an insurrection against the armed forces. It has even stepped up its support of non-state actors against Pakistan in order to destroy peace and stability in the region at large. India has also modified its nuclear doctrine against Pakistan and China in its attempts to introduce imbalances in strategic deterrence of conflict, while it disingenuously pressures the international community to act against Pakistan as an irresponsible nuclear power and a threat to global peace and security. Meanwhile, the BJP amended India’s constitution in August 2019 to remove articles 35-A and 370, thereby annulling the de jure autonomy of Kashmir under its control, and effectively neutralizing all routes to an amicable dialogue with Pakistan. Though confidence-building measures, such as a letter from Modi on Pakistan Day, and Pakistan dispatching oxygen supplies to India is, have taken place, Modi’s incessant mala fide actions in occupied Kashmir – an intense military siege, media blackout, incarceration of political leaders, and cessation of internet services in the subjugated valley, to name a few – continues to nullify any and all attempts at bilateral rapprochement.
Increasing Indian animosity toward Pakistan, though deeply rooted in Modi’s Hindutva doctrine, is also a consequence of an opportunistic divestment from its ‘independent foreign policy’ of nonalignment.
India has become inextricably entwined with US motives to contain China, executing its role as America’s pawn in South Asia in return for the US and its allies mortifying Pakistan globally. To this end, India is also using Afghanistan’s territory to create disturbances in Pakistan, taking advantages of effervescent rifts between Pakistan and Afghanistan with a view to dismantle both countries’ social fabric. This is in line with the expansionist element of Hindutva ideology, which views all territory in South Asia – from Afghanistan to Myanmar, from Tibet to Sri Lanka – as an integral part of ‘ancient India’ that it seeks to recreate.
But India’s dreams of regional expansion and global power status have been irreparably damaged by the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic, which is inflicting atrocious casualties on a daily basis. Far from being in the ‘endgame’ phase of the pandemic and becoming the world’s vaccine factory, India’s healthcare system is under immense pressure and on the brink of collapse, while Modi appears far more concerned with his image as a popular leader at home and a global statesman abroad. As Indians blame Modi campaigning for state elections and approval for Hindu religious festivals as the reason behind the resurgence of the COVID pandemic, ‘Godi Media’ is at pains to pin the blame on anyone else as it loses credibility among its more rational viewers. While India needs to invest quickly and massively in its pandemic response paradigm, the BJP government remains busy directing the multi-billion-dollar remodeling of India’s central government buildings in New Delhi, including an exorbitant amount towards refurbishing the PM’s residence. Well before this ongoing debacle, the BJP also faced massive protests – in India and abroad – against three farm bills that were considered pro-corporations and anti-farmers. The Modi regime’s attempts to paint farmers fighting for their livelihood and economic security as traitors, separatists and enemy agents backfired immensely.
Though these failures could be blamed on BJP’s poor governance or Modi’s indifferent attitudes, Hindutva ideology remains at the core since it continues to rally Modi’s political base. But Hindutva is also damaging India’s credibility and standing in the world. While the international community may not reiterate it ever so often, it is fully aware that India’s media is not so free anymore, and Indian minorities are in greater peril of discrimination, marginalization and exclusion. The onus is on the Indian voter to correct course in the 2024 general elections, or to let India march forth on its self-conjured path of destruction.