India’s democracy faces a crisis unprecedented in its 75-year-old history. An ethnocratic imagination undermines the inclusive Indian nationalism that imbued its founding movement and that aims to consolidate its Hindu majority as the dominant ethnos.
Not only do religious minorities find themselves identified as internal enemies, but members of the historically oppressed Bahujan communities who do not conform to the image of a good Hindu are sought to be marginalised.
In recent years, the list of internal enemies has come to include liberals and leftists, activists who have raised issues of the environment and human rights, and anyone else perceived to be “anti-national”.
Dissent is muzzled, increasingly through official edicts. Old controversies over temples and mosques are reignited, as in Mathura and Varanasi over the last few months, where claims that mosques were built upon the demolition of temples have resurfaced.
Local compromises negotiated by Hindus and Muslims over centuries are challenged, and new religious flashpoints threaten to rent asunder the social fabric knitted together by India’s diverse communities.
India shares its democratic degradation with many other countries across the world. This process has been variously described as authoritarian, populist, ethnocratic, exclusionary and fascist. I have argued elsewhere that such moves signal India’s transition to an ethnocracy in which “a dominant ethnos…