Despite rising intolerance, India’s economy remains unaffected

Despite rising intolerance, India’s economy remains unaffected

Since 2014 India has seen rising levels of intolerance. However this disruption is not yet reflected in the country’s economic performance.

With the election of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general elections, the Indian government has effectively become a Hindu Nationalist administration. Since 2014, the treatment of non-Hindus within the country has steadily declined. This is not necessarily surprising given the history of both Modi and his party.

However, what is surprising is the lack of negative effects on India’s relations with other countries, and on India’s overall economic performance; especially given the poor foreign relations Modi himself had prior to his election. Overall it seems his promise to extrapolate his economic success in his home state of Gujarat, to the entire country is enough to give him time and leeway, for now.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist roots

The background of Modi and the BJP does much to shed light on why rising tensions are occurring in India; particularly between the majority Hindu population, and the large minority Muslim population. The BJP is a right wing Hindu nationalist party which emerged in 1980 and has since been associated with the promotion of India as a purely Hindu country, raising controversy in a country which is officially secular.

Modi himself come from Hindu nationalist origins, having joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the effective parent organisation of the BJP – at age eight. The right wing parties as a whole have created tensions on numerous occasions throughout India’s history, sometimes portraying Indian Muslims as aliens to the Indian nation. Modi has a chequered history, most notably during his time as Chief Minister of Gujarat when in 2002 large scale Hindu-Muslim riots erupted in which more than 1000 people were killed.

Modi is accused of allowing – or at least being complicit in – the riots which mainly targeted Gujarat’s Muslim population. Therefore it is not surprising that inter-religious tensions have arisen in the wake of the 2014 elections: it is a logical reflection of the BJP and Modi’s history and background.

Rising religious tensions in India

Evidence of this rising intolerance has been seen in numerous clashes and events in India in the past several years. For example, in March 2015 the government banned the sale and consumption of beef in Maharashtra. While the rules concerning the consumption of beef had been unclear in the past, this new ruling made it explicit. Since the cow is seen as a sacred animal in Hinduism this ruling is not surprising, but it has caused tensions especially with the Indian Muslim community.

This beef ban has led to negative actions elsewhere with a Muslim man in Delhi, Mohammed Akhlaq and his son being attacked by a mob for supposedly eating beef.

Modi and his government have been criticised for failing to condemn this attack, even after it was widely circulated in India and globally. A more subtle example of intolerance was seen when an online campaign called ‘Remove Mughals From Books’ was launched in an attempt to remove references to the historical (Muslim dominated) Mughal empire.

This followed comments from India’s Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani (BJP) claiming that a history book misrepresented religious tensions in the country and insulted Shivaji, a historical Hindu warrior who fought against the Mughals.

While this is more of an intellectual debate, the fact that the Mughal Empire is seen as a Muslim invasion by Hindu nationalists suggests an underlying growth in anti-Muslim attitudes. All these events taken together clearly demonstrate that the lives of Muslims in India have become more treacherous.

Further evidence of rising intolerance in Modi’s India is the government’s inconsistent relations with Pakistan, as well as certain comments with regards to its neighbour and long term rival. For example in June 2015 Modi accused Pakistan of promoting terrorism in India. Furthermore, after Muslim Bollywood actor Aamir Khan made comments arguing that there was growing religious intolerance in India, the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, another Hindu nationalist party, said that Khan should either convert to Hinduism or go to Pakistan.

Munna Kumar Shah’s comments are indicative of the growing anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric emerging in India. Seeing as Pakistan is officially an Islamic republic, these two strands often go hand in hand. While it is true that Pakistan is equally responsible for tensions with India and that India-Pakistan relations have never been very good, attitudes towards Pakistan do provide an insight into current religious attitudes in India.

India’s economy not suffering the consequences

However, this changing atmosphere has not yet had a negative effect on India’s economy. In a sense Modi is delivering on what he promised to do when elected. This is seen in the figures which show that India’s economy grew at an average rate of 7.5% in 2015, faster than the 6.9% of China.

Furthermore in the near on two years since he was elected, Modi has travelled all around the world, including to the UK, U.S and Japan, striking trade deals wherever he went and attempting to open up India’s economy to foreign investment. Thus far, controversies at home have not yet hurt Modi’s overall reputation.

As the chart shows India is closing in on China and looks set to outperform it in an overall context in the future. From a political risk perspective India is still a safe place to invest and given its economy is growing faster than China’s, a location which should be considered seriously.

It is clear that India under Modi is reflecting the outlook that many predicted during the election campaign; namely an India with an improving economy but with murky social consequences as a result.


About Author

Rayhan Chouglay

Rayhan Chouglay is a GRI Analyst. He holds a BA in History from the London School of Economics with a particular focus on Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia. His main political risk interests concern relations between India and Pakistan.