The Duality of Modi

In the largest democratic exercise in history, India has elected Narendra Modi to the helm once again. Those who choose Modi's form of development are also choosing Hindu nationalism.

Meghna Rao

May 23, 2019

The Duality of Modi

Today, India voted in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for a second five-year-term, and Narendra Damodardas Modi became prime minister once again. The party won a sweeping majority of 303 of 543 Parliament seats, even higher than the record setting 282 it won in 2014, and second only to Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress in 1984, which cinched 414 of 514 Lok Sabha seats.

The vote for “NaMo,” which is sometimes used to signify namah, or “to bow” in Sanskrit, is a vote for Modi’s dual agendas: the promise of economic development and Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, the belief that India is a Hindu country.

Though some believe that they are voting for one or the other, the two ideologies are part and parcel with choosing Modi. Those who choose Modi’s form of development are choosing Hindutva, and vice versa. “Let’s start with the premise that the BJP is a Hindu national party,” said Milan Vishnav, a senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It’s the political affiliate of a broader social movement, and people lose sight of that. It’s under a larger Sangh Parivar movement, which involves groups of women and farmers who are operating under the aegis of the Sangh.” The Sangh Parivar is the family of Hindu nationalist organizations started by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and includes the BJP. Many fear that the Sangh’s government presence in Hindu-majority (81%) India is part of a global movement toward populism, from Erdogan in Turkey, to Trump in the USA, to Orban in Hungary.