India’s Rise And The Security Architecture Of South Asia – OpEd


India’s rise from a regional to global power is marked by a growing wave of Hindutva fundamentalism. India has come to a crossroad where it is struggling to preserve the spirit of its secular constitution. Contemporary play of identity politics in India based on religion is a clear indication of instrumentalist use of religion by political elites as an effective path to gain power.

Resultantly, the country is more divided than it ever was. It is paramount to understand the dynamics behind escalating majoritarian aggression and religious polarization in one of the largest secular democracies, India. Growing right-wing extremism in the key state of South Asia will increase extremist tendencies of the region overall as it can have spillover effects. The emergence of Hindutva mindset in India can imperil the peace of South Asia.

The surge in communal violence and hate crimes in the key state of South Asia is alarming the regional states and many blame the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) of emboldening hatred against Muslims of India. The data shows that restrictions on following one’s religion and the number of social hostilities towards targeted minorities in India has drastically increased under the Modi regime; making India the fourth worst state for religious animosity. Experts say that the state is on the brink of a larger pogrom.  Recently at a discussion at the Chatham House, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a ‘secret society’ and a fascist organization that has been capturing all the state institutions.

BJP is one of the major political parties in India whose key motive lies in wielding more power as compared to Indian National Congress (INC).  BJP is strongly affiliated with RSS whose prime idea is that “to be Indian is to be Hindu”.  For attaining political benefits BJP with the help of RSS use the rhetoric of national pride based on a chauvinist version of Hindu culture; this rhetoric helps BJP mobilize fanatic Hindu masses across the state. BJP also use its national security mantra coupled with promises to end crony capitalism to gain vote; however, after assuming power BJP doubled down on its Hindutva politics rather than tackling the economic challenges for the sake of staying in power.  

Hindutva ideologues constantly try to inculcate their own version of Hindu identity and Indian history given that identity is not entirely rigid.  According to Paul R. Brass, an American political scientist, the elites select certain aspects of culture of an identity and fabricate them or assign value to them to mobilize masses to meet their own political or economic motives. BJP is a party built around Hindutva ideology and its political rise is built around its ideological mission, which is making India a Hindu Rashtra. Hence, identity politics is a noticeable feature of BJP’s government. In 2019 the home minister of India, Amit Shah, while speaking at a university in India stated that “putting together our history…re-writing it is the responsibility of the state, its people and historians.”  Moreover, creating and recreating history to set Hindutva narratives has played a huge part in the development of Hindu nationalism. Sangh Parivar have always attempted to teach their version of history to the young Indians. 

India is a Hindu majority post-colonial state whose independence has been marked by religious conflict. Typically, religious or identity differences are activated in practicing democracies to protect the nation-state from enemies inside the state. This idea is being manipulated and used by the BJP government as a tool to impose brute majoritarianism to maintain its status quo. BJP’s violent rhetoric against Muslims have stirred up communal violence to dangerous level.  Although the Ministry of home affairs of India stopped providing data after 2017 and blamed the state government for not providing any numbers, it is an open secret that India has been jolted by communal violence. A deeper wedge between Hindus and Muslims is induced because of the Hindutva propaganda in the state. The anti-Muslim speeches by BJP officials, and the discriminatory verdicts passed by saffronised Indian courts have successfully criminalized Muslims in India in turn causing extreme frenzy of hate crimes in once world’s largest democracy. Vigilante violence and lynching of Muslims through a nexus between police and vigilante groups under the cow protection laws is an utter example of brutality resulting from rise of right wing extremism.

Two consecutive tenures of Modi government (2014 – Present) has institutionalized Hindutva ideology in Indian polity. Laws like Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and abrogation of articles like Article 370 and 35 (A) prove that India’s domestic and foreign policy is guided by Hindutva ideologues. Therefore, the rise of India on regional and global level is marked by a rise of militant nationalism. Hindutva driven government is making India assert its aggressiveness in the region which in turn has made it the least connected state in the region.  India has always remained at the center of South Asia yet it fails to integrate the region economically. A recent US annual threat assessment report has listed the disputed valley of Kashmir as a potential ‘flashpoint’ and has warned that the conflict can provoke direct conflict between India and Pakistan. India is exacerbating its relations with regional states as its aims to expand its hegemony following the notion of Hindutva ideology. If India, the great power in South Asia, aligns with extremism then it can have disastrous impact on South Asia as it is already a conflict prone region. 

A rise in extremist tendencies within South Asia can be predicted amid the resurgence of Hindutva as this ideology is a doctrine of extremism and exclusion. South Asia is one of the most complex yet important regions. From the past several decades this region has been plagued by various extremist militant groups which have hindered its growth. The main causes for terrorism in South Asia range from religious fundamentalism, left-wing extremism to desire for secessionism. Amid the events of 9/11, the region became more significant in countering terrorism because US led a war on terrorism and made coalition with two main South Asian states that are Pakistan and India. The concept of Global security was also introduced after the 9/11 incident which further signified the need of understanding dynamics of extremism in South Asia. The current rise of militancy in India is a potential threat to regional peace. It is important to highlight the causes and effects of emerging saffron militant tide in the core state of South Asia. The world needs to understand the potential threat of terrorism emanating from instrumental use of religions other than Islam.  

Security architecture of South Asia is seriously undermined because of the expansionist designs of India. India does not enjoy good relations with its neighbors, even its working relations are questioned today. Bhutan today is not happy with India as it feels like it has been dragged in India’s territorial conflict with China, on the other hand, Sri Lanka established enmity especially after Indian intervention in its territory through terrorist outfits like LTTE, and conflict in Laddakh with China is also not presenting a great picture. Pakistan is a popular rival to India.

Considering the hegemonic designs of India and the long pending issues in the region like Kashmir, which has now turned into a flashpoint, if India and Pakistan, two nuclear states, came face to face it can lead to a bigger disaster. This disaster will not restrict to South Asia rather the whole world may feel the brunt of this situation. Hence the extremist ideology emanating from Hindutva is posing a grave threat to the peace and security of South Asia. This hegemonic posture, “race for armament, and weaponization of Indian forces will pose threat to the stability of South Asia”.

Fajar Nadeem is an independent researcher based in Islamabad, Pakistan, with areas of expertise in South Asia and the Middle East.

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