COVID-19 and the Deepening of Federalism in India

Linguistic map of India. Image used under Creative Commons License.

By Siddharth
Graduate Fellow Editor

Winston Churchill once advised to never let a good crisis go to waste. In the same vein, the present COVID-19 pandemic is a great opportunity for India to utilize this crisis by presenting itself as an alternative to China in the manufacturing sector. However, under the radar of the news broadcasting focused on COVID-19, there is another ongoing phenomenon manifesting itself in the Indian polity which is going unnoticed—deepening of Federalism in India. 

Continue reading “COVID-19 and the Deepening of Federalism in India”

BJP: The reincarnation of the NSDAP in India

Image by Al Jazeera English

By Amrita Roy
Staff Writer

Indian national politics consist of two leading political parties – the Indian National Congress (referred to as Congress) and the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). To put it into the American context, Congress can be likened to the Democrats, and the BJP to the Republicans. The 2014 national elections placed the BJP in power for the next five years in a landslide victory. This was the first time in the last 30 years that any political party was able to occupy office without having to form coalitions with other smaller political parties. After ten years of incumbency, the loss crushed the Congress revealing much internal strife within the party and making it unable to contest recent regional state elections successfully, either.
While lack of competition is in itself a serious problem, it becomes more concerning when the political party in power and its leader share uncanny resemblances to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the Nazis, and its former dictatorial leader.


Like many other Asian societies, India has historically valued collectivism over individualism. Both have their own pros and cons, but one of the primary cons of collectivism is it forces you to take decisions that please others around you. There’s a popular phrase in Hindi which sums up this sentiment, “Log kya kahenge?” which translates to “What will people say?” You can hear this phrase being uttered anytime of the day, anywhere in the country. The concept is deeply ingrained within the people of the nation and extends its influence beyond people’s personal lives and into India’s national identity and to how its perceived worldwide. This perception took a massive hitting during the ten year Congress rule from 2004 – 2014. People were embarrassed by the slowed growth rate which beat some of the lowest predictions by leading economists, and firmly placed India second to China. The feeling of humiliation worsened as India only appeared on international news in relation to corruption charges were being imposed on top Congress bureaucrats.

There was little to no contemplation over domestic events which did not have international implications. Muzaffarnagar riots erupted in August 2013, half a year before the national elections. There’s still no substantial evidence on what started the riots, with reports varying from a traffic case to an eve-teasing (public sexual harassment) incident [1]. The only thing recently verified rape cases in India have triggered are candle light vigils. One such eve-teasing led to a riot that killed 60 people and displaced 50,000 others. You can argue that Uttar Pradesh (a north Indian state) has been plagued by communal forces and that is true. And it could be perfect coincidence that these forces chose to erupt into a massacre so close to the placement of a senior leader of a national party within the state. Amit Shah (current President of the BJP) had been posted in Uttar Pradesh for BJP’s Uttar Pradesh’s national election strategy in June 2013, just two months before the riots. There is ample evidence to suggest that certain local BJP leaders and BJP affiliated organizations fueled communal sentiments in the state which led to the massacre [1]. But people did not care too much and gave a decisive mandate to BJP for “economic growth and development.”

Something similar happened in Germany after WWI. The Treaty of Versailles imposed a wide range of rules where Germany lost territory, was forcefully demilitarized, and had to pay large amounts of reparations. The war guilt was placed squarely on Germany and the psychological effect was profound. Germans were furious at the perception of being citizens of a warmongering nation. This national sentiment reached a tipping point in 1929 when the Weimar republic signed the Young Plan to lower the reparation amount [2]. People interpreted this as the German government officially accepting “total blame” which tipped the scale in favor of the Nazis who won 18.3% of the votes in the 1930 elections, emerging as the second largest party [2]. While their anti-Jew racial policies were becoming evident, people still voted for NSDAP as it represented stability and honor with many of its leading party members being accomplished military men. Germans saw the hope of regaining their national honor through the Nazis. They felt similarly to how Indians felt during the Congress regime – hopeless and desperate for change at any cost. And by 1933, Hitler had been appointed as the Prime Minister of Germany.


Hitler never made any policy decisions himself. He had mastered the art of promoting competition among the lowers ranks to see which idea survived the hierarchy to reach him. This meant that the most radical ideas were implemented. Hitler did not speak in favor or opposition to any of the ideas in public and he never signed off on them, personally [3]. Through this method, he distanced himself from all implemented policies, many of which were very polarizing and caused outrage. But since there was no official proof of Hitler authorizing them, his cult remained unscathed.

The Modi led BJP government has functioned in a very similar manner so far. “Love Jihad”: these two words have been popularized by various BJP affiliated organizations and have received widespread coverage, and criticism, within the nation. They accuse Indian Muslims of trying to seduce unsuspecting Hindu girls into marriage, thereby converting them to Islam. Love Jihad spiraled from a case filed by a girl who alleged that she had been kidnapped, beaten up and gang-raped by men who were attempting to convert her to Islam. Within a month of investigation into her case, it was revealed that her family had received a payment of Rs. 25,000, approximately $380, from a local BJP leader.

The BJP also recently imposed a ban on beef in many parts of the nation, with anyone caught eating or serving beef having to pay a hefty fine. Even though the Hindu religion believes cows to be sacred, many Hindus eat beef, as do Muslims, Christians and people of other religions. In fact, many Hindu legends portray Hindu gods and kings also feasting on beef. On September 28, 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in the town of Dadri by a mob on suspicion of having consumed beef. A local temple used its public announcement system to spread the rumour that Akhlaq and his family were storing and consuming beef. Soon a mob gathered, armed with sticks and swords, broke into Akhlaq’s home and killed him and injured his son. There has been nothing but silence from the Prime Minister’s Office, choosing to refuse acknowledgements of these events.


Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS (Nazi secret police), led the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. He was fascinated with Hindu culture and kept Walther Wüst, a leading German Sanskrit scholar, always by his side [8]. During the initial phase of the Holocaust, the SS squad was ordered to kill Jews in mass shootings which left the common people who had enlisted in the SS traumatized. To assuage the mental effect, Himmler used the concept of killing people for the greater good presented in the Bhagwad Gita (a Hindu holy text). In the Kurukshetra War as narrated in ancient Hindu texts, Krishna forced Arjuna to fight for the greater good of the land and its people, even if that meant murdering some in the war [9]. Himmler utilized the same narrative to brainwash the SS into believing that it was their duty to exterminate Jews for the greater good of creating a racially superior Aryan Germany. It then doesn’t come as a surprise as to why much of Nazi symbolism and imagery is drawn from Hindu symbols and scriptures. The infamous Nazi swastika is a Hindu symbol of strength and good fortune.

RSS (a paramilitary political wing) members were known to be admirers of Hitler and Mussolini as they reorganized their respective nations from the wreckage of war to build powerful economies and militaries under the banner of patriotism and nationalism. Marzia Casolari, an Italian scholar who studied Indian politics, once wrote of RSS’ connections with European fascism: “The existence of direct contacts between the representatives of the [Italian] Fascist regime, including Mussolini, and Hindu nationalists demonstrates that Hindu nationalism had much more than an abstract interest in the ideology and practice of fascism” [9].

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a leading member of the RSS, in 1938 during a time of accelerating anti-Jewish legislation in Germany, suggested a similar fate for India. “A nation is formed by a majority living therein,” he declared. “What did the Jews do in Germany? They being in minority were driven out from Germany.” Another senior RSS member, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, wrote “There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race” [9]. Religious polarization has been an essential element in the BJP. Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, was a member of the RSS who believed that Gandhi made too many generous concessions to Muslims.

Unfortunately, this belief still runs deep into today’s RSS, which is often described as being BJP’s “ideological fountainhead” [11]. The RSS has adopted a modified version of the Nazi salute and perform it at all RSS gatherings. (This also begs another question, why does a national political party in 2015 have a paramilitary wing in the first place?) Every now and then, one berserk leader from the BJP releases a statement ordering all Muslims to leave India, which is again met by absolute silence from the Prime Minister of the country.


The Nazi regime published an “enemies of the Reich” list and ran Intelligenzaktion which aimed to eradicate Polish intellectuals in order to ensure a successful invasion and prevent an uprising against the Nazis in Poland. On July 1941, 25 Polish academics in the city of Lviv (now in Ukraine) were killed by Nazi German occupation forces along with their families. By targeting prominent citizens and intellectuals for elimination, the Nazis hoped to prevent anti-Nazi activity and to weaken the resolve of the Polish resistance movement.

Two intellectuals in India, Govind Pansare (shot on February 15, 2015) and M.M. Kalburgi (shot on August 30, 2015) have been murdered by unidentified men in 2015. Both stories follow similar patterns. Both men criticized certain Hindu practices. Both men were shot by unidentified men on motorcycles near their residences. And once again, there has been complicit silence from the Office of the Prime Minister. In protest, many top Indian scientists, artists, actors, directors, have returned prestigious national awards in light of the intensifying intolerance of free speech and reason.

In 1930, the Berlin premier of an American film, All Quiet on the Western Front, was disrupted by smoke bombs and members of the audience were beaten up. Ultimately, the film was banned for not being in alignment with a particular point of view. That point of view was Joseph Goebbels’, Hitler’s right-hand man in Nazi Germany. In India, a student-made film named Caste on the Menu Card was banned by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, recently. The film dealt with the beef ban imposed by the government.


Before the 2014 general elections took place, The Economist published an article elaborating on why he is unfit to become the Prime Minister of India [10]. Modi acted as the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat for more than a decade (2001 – 2012). Anti-Muslim riots took place in Gujarat in 2002, under his governance, which led to the death of 2000 Muslims and created small isolated communities of Muslims within the state, echoing the Jewish ghettos in Nazi occupied Europe. When asked by reporters if he regretted anything about the riots, Modi replied that he wished he had managed the media better.

Beyond these similarities, Modi shares a personality reminiscent of a variety of dictators. He wore a pinstriped name suit to meet the US President Barack Obama, who ironically gave a speech on religious tolerance on his trip to India earlier this year. Which other dictator wore clothes decorated with his own name? Hosni Mubarak. Modi does not keep in contact with his family and in order to showcase himself as celibate, he hid his wife’s name from public records until it was brought out into the open by the media. Which other dictator did all of this? Hitler.

So where does this leave the immediate political future of the world’s largest democracy?



2) Peter Fritzsche, ‘The NSDAP 1919 – 1934: From Fringe Politics to the Seizure of Power’ in Jane Caplan, Nazi Germany, (Oxford Press, 2008)

3) Kershaw, Ian. Hitler. Abridged ed. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

4) Ian Kershaw, ‘Hitler and the Nazi Dictatorship’, in Mary Fulbrook, (ed.), Twentieth-Century Germany – Politics, Culture and Society 1918-1990, (London, 2001)








Image by: Al Jazeera America


 photo ProspectIndiaElectionsPhoto_zpsf33e7d08.jpg

by Rashika Rakibullah
Staff Writer

Early last week, Indian authorities began preparations for the country’s 2014 general elections, a nine-phase, month-long event that will break records as the largest election in history. 814 million Indians are eligible to vote this year in a country that traditionally sees about 55 percent of its population turn in ballots, meaning that hundreds of millions of people will be flocking to the polls in the upcoming weeks to elect 543 people to the Lok Sabha, India’s parliament. The Lok Sabha members will then elect the Prime Minister. This election is crucial: the country faces a stagnating economy, massive corruption, and continuing tensions between its many ethnic and religious factions. Current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Congress Party-led coalition government have been in power for the past decade, so whoever wins this election will be responsible for ushering in a sorely-needed fresh administration.

The election is particularly important for India’s women and girls. Recent events such as the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case and the 2013 Mumbai gang-rape case have brought the condition of India’s women to the world’s attention. Despite its status as an emerging global power, many parts of the country remain isolated, especially in the far northern states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In these rural areas, women’s rights are frequently violated. Female infanticide is common; girls’ education is foregone in favor of young marriage; the dowry remains a stubbornly persistent cultural norm; and domestic violence and sexual assault are under-reported and largely ignored. Even in the larger, urban centers of the nation, women face rampant abuse and sexual assault that is rarely prosecuted (in Delhi, a city of 10 million people, only one person was convicted of rape in 2012). Nationwide, female illiteracy lags far behind the male rate and atrocities such as acid-throwing and dowry killings continue to rise. Women’s rights’ activists have used the election as an opportunity to re-frame the discussion on gender equality by releasing a “Womanifesto:” a set of six demands that they hope the next Prime Minister and his administration will prioritize.

On paper, the three main candidates are similar in their plans to reform and improve women’s rights if elected. All three have pledged support for the Women’s Reservation Bill, which would ensure women a third of all seats on both the national and state legislatures. They have also voiced support for the type of fast-track courts that convicted and sentenced the offenders in the Nirbhaya case last year. The three major parties (the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) whose candidate is Rahul Gandhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi, and the Aam Adme Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal) have all paid ample lip service to the need for greater gender equality, but there are no guarantees that campaign promises will be kept post-election. Further, the backgrounds of the two main contenders, Modi and Gandhi, does not give credence to the idea that women’s rights will be a central priority if either is elected.

According to many analysts, BJP candidate Narendra Modi has a good chance of winning the Prime Minister’s seat. The BJP is India’s main center-right party and espouses Hindu nationalism and social conservatism. The popular 63-year-old Modi has been the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat since 2001. The status of women in his state is abysmal: the male-female ratio hints at a high rate of female infanticide, the rate of female illiteracy is higher than the nationwide average, and convictions for rape are lower than in the rest of the country. Tensions between Muslims and Hindus are very high and are exacerbated by the BJP’s Hindu nationalist ideology, called Hindutva.

Such ideology could be dangerous for women throughout India if Modi is elected. The BJP’s deeply patriarchal views towards women ostensibly honors them as mothers and wives, but in practice, this translates into “moral policing” and harassment carried out by its supporters. Additionally, the BJP’s involvement in communal conflicts often results in the additional violation of women through rape and sexual assault during riots. Early in his administration, Modi faced harsh criticism for his alleged role in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence during which 1200 Muslims were massacred and countless women were raped by Hindu Gujuratis. Following the incidents, a Special Investigation Team was assembled by the Supreme Court to look into Modi’s role in the violence. Although no evidence was found incriminating him, many in India believe that he knew the violence would occur beforehand, condoned the attacks, and continued to encourage enmity between Gujarat’s Muslims and Hindus following the riots. Indians voters are right to wonder how Modi will react to such incidents were they to occur while he is Prime Minister, and whether women will truly be safer under his rule.

As his name suggests, INC candidate Rahul Gandhi’s background is quite different from Modi’s. He is the great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister; his grandmother Indira and his father Rajiv both served terms as Prime Minister, and his mother Sonia is currently the leader of the INC. His impressive family has not been universally popular: his grandmother was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards while still in office and his father was assassinated while running for re-election by a member of the Tamil Tigers, a Sri Lankan separatist group. Despite being a scion of India’s preeminent political dynasty, Gandhi himself lacks political experience, which makes it difficult for analysts and voters alike to assuage his policy priorities. The INC is India’s most prominent center-left party, known for its secularism and social liberalism, and Gandhi has often spoken of his desire to empower India’s women and young people. However, it is questionable whether he has the political expertise and acumen to transform his ideals into reality. The 43-year-old has only served one term on India’s national legislature and although he is currently the Vice President of the INC, he has few political deeds to his name. Despite his leadership within his party and in youth and student politics, his detractors criticize his image as a thinker rather than a doer as they assail the dynastic nature of the Gandhi family’s presence in Indian politics.

Indian citizens, and especially women, have a difficult decision to make. On the one hand, Modi’s reputation as a conservative nationalist is deeply troubling. However, he does have a few things to boast about—Gujarat’s economic trajectory over the past decade has been the envy of many other states. As India attempts to battle rising inflation and slowing growth, Modi’s plan of improving infrastructure and promoting urbanization (nicknamed “Modinomics”) could help it move past the stagnation it is facing, and his ties with India’s corporate leaders and businessmen could assist with the country’s development as well. For India’s women, further economic development could lead to improved rights and greater freedom and agency. On the other hand, voters have an idealistic and progressive choice for Prime Minister in Gandhi, but his lack of political expertise might hinder his success. Additionally, the INC’s economic policies include various welfare plans in keeping with its ideology of economic inclusion, something many Indian voters are not on board with in the middle of an economic downturn. It remains to be seen which candidate will win and how the status of Indian women will be affected come May 16.

Image by Al Jazeera English