It began as an off-the-cuff comment by All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi, but has now become a full-fledged debate – does Narendra Modi’s spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha elections mean that the “Hindu mind” has been rigged? Here’s what some prominent commentators said:
- “For the ideologues of BJP and RSS, including the top leadership, this election has endorsed the project of Hindu nationalism – namely, the creation of a Hindu majoritarian state and polity.” - Ashutosh Varshney in The Indian Express
- “The defining idea of Narendra Modi’s landslide 2019 victory is Hindutva, the ideology that defines Indian culture in terms of Hindu values.” - Rana Ayyub in Time
- “Modi has become confident that the Hindu mind has been vulgarised and become so spiritually hollow that even a crudity like his Kedarnath yatra can pass off as a religious expedition.” - Apoorvanand in The Wire
- “It is clear that traditional ways of thinking about caste are declining, and it is allowing BJP to mobilise a wide cross-section of Indians across castes into a larger Hindu narrative.” - Pratap Bhanu Mehta to The New Yorker
- “All Hindus – distressed farmers, jobless youths, oppressed Dalits, businessmen skeptical of the BJP’s economic policies – were called upon to forget their circumstances and vote for their nation. Many of them did, and they made history.” - Snigdha Poonam in Foreign Policy
Even some BJP supporters had a similar view but approached the argument from the other side, that the Opposition has been rejected by Hindus and has been reduced to pockets where non-Hindus are in substantial numbers.
Not everyone agrees with this narrative. In a response to Apoorvanand’s piece in The Wire, writer Omair Ahmad argues that “The rhetoric of the hijacking of the 'Hindu mind' only promotes a form of bigoted suspicion of Hindus and gives a pass to Opposition parties for not fighting for core issues.”
There are fair arguments on both sides. Perhaps we can get a more nuanced picture by looking at survey data. There are two elements to this:
- Comparing how Hindus and religious minorities voted in the elections
- Examining if there is a difference in the political views of Hindus on one hand and Muslims, Sikhs and Christians on the other.
How Hindus & Minorities Voted
Going by the Lokniti-CSDS post poll survey, the 2019 Lok Sabha election result appears to be a result of a strong consolidation of Hindus behind the BJP-led alliance, with very little support from religious minorities.
According to the CSDS survey 52 percent of all Hindus voted for the NDA, up nine percentage points from 43 percent in 2014. Among Upper Caste Hindus, the support for NDA was even higher at 59 percent.
It was 54 percent among Hindu OBCs, 46 percent among Hindu tribals and 41 percent among Hindu Dalits.
On the other hand, only nine percent Muslims and 16 percent Christians are said to have voted for the NDA, not very different from the 2014 figures.
Among Sikhs, the BJP’s popularity has declined from 16 percent to 11 percent while that of its allies, mainly the Shiromani Akali Dal, has declined from 33 percent to 20 percent.
There is a very clear divide between Hindus and minorities on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity as well. 54 percent Hindus wanted Modi to return as PM against 29 percent who didn’t want him to return.
64 percent Muslims and 55 percent Sikhs and Christians did not want Modi back as the prime minister.
The 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom during Modi’s chief ministership in Gujarat as well as the hate crimes against Muslims that have taken place in the last five years have made the BJP a negative entity for Muslims. According to the CSDS survey, 78 percent Muslims said that they disliked the BJP. On the other hand 49 percent Hindus said they feel attached to the BJP while 27 percent said they dislike it.
The consolidation of Hindus behind BJP is particularly strong in Hindi speaking states, as well as Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Assam.
According to the CSDS survey, percentage of Hindus who voted for the NDA was 70 percent in Assam, 67 percent in Gujarat, 66 percent in Delhi, 65 percent in Bihar, 64 percent in Jharkhand, 63 percent in Rajasthan, 62 percent in Maharashtra, 59 percent in Uttar Pradesh and 57 percent in West Bengal.
This is a huge consolidation by any standards and in most states it is an increase from 2014.
The BJP performed poorly in states where such a Hindu consolidation didn’t take place – Tamil Nadu and Kerala, for instance.
The consolidation of Hindus behind the BJP appears to have been matched by a consolidation among Muslims behind the main anti-BJP party in each state. For instance 73 percent Muslims voted for the Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh and 86 percent voted for the Congress-NCP led alliance in Maharashtra.
Hindus & Minorities Differ Beyond Elections
The differences between Hindus on one hand and Muslims, Sikhs and Christians on the other go beyond just electoral choices. In fact, voting behavior appears to be only symptomatic of a deeper divide in society.
Several insights from the Lokniti-CSDS survey on ‘Politics and Society Between Elections 2019’ reveal that a substantial proportion of Hindus, particularly in certain states, subscribe to a certain form of majoritarian nationalism and are completely at divergence with what minorities think.
Hindus are far more likely to hold negative views about Muslims while Sikhs and Christians are more likely to have a positive view of the community.
The survey asked people to rate communities on a scale of 10 on how patriotic or unpatriotic they are with 10 being the extreme on the side of patriotism and 1 on being unpatriotic.
The results showed that:
- 19 percent Hindus considered Muslims to be extremely unpatriotic – a rating of 1; or 2. 18 percent Hindus considered Muslims to be somewhat unpatriotic – a rating of 3 or 4.
- 15 percent Hindus considered Muslims to be extremely patriotic – a rating of 10 or 9; and 20 percent considered them to be somewhat patriotic – a rating of 7 or 8.
- On the other hand, 24 percent Sikhs and 19 percent Christians considered Muslims as extremely patriotic.
- Proportion of Hindus who considered Muslims as unpatriotic was 2 percent higher than those who considered the community as patriotic.
- This is in sharp contrast to Sikhs, 46 percent of whom consider Muslims as being patriotic against 29 percent who consider the community unpatriotic.
- The pattern among Christians is similar to Sikhs: 44 percent consider Muslims as patriotic and 22 percent consider them as unpatriotic.
This is important as it is possible that Hindutva outfits either actively contributed to anti-Muslim sentiments or at the very least tapped into these sentiments during the elections.
But the majoritarian nationalism doesn’t end with just bias against Muslims. Take another aspect. In the Lokniti-CSDS Politics and Society Between Elections Survey 2019, respondents were asked if people should be punished for not chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.
The data clearly shows that Hindus, except Adivasis, are more likely to support punishment for those who don’t say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. However, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are more likely to oppose punishment for not chanting the slogan.
A similar pattern can be seen regarding punishment for consumption of beef, with Hindus supporting punishment and Christians and Muslims opposing it and Sikhs somewhere in the middle. However, there are state-wise variations on this issue as Dalits and Backward Castes in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu are more likely to oppose punishment.
There are also differences between Hindus and minorities when it comes to the freedom to say negative things about other communities or to incite violence against them.
Compared to other communities, a slightly larger number of Hindus said that people should have the right to promote violence against other communities, while Muslims were most likely to say that people shouldn’t have such a right. Overall however, all communities disagreed that people should have such a right.
A similar pattern can be seen on the question whether people should have the right to ridicule other communities. Muslims and Sikhs were the most likely to oppose such a right while Hindus and others were more likely to support it, compared to other communities.
According to the survey, the proportion of Hindus supporting dictatorship over democracy was higher than other communities and a higher proportion of Hindus said that people shouldn’t have the right to criticise elected leaders.
A key divergence between Hindus and minorities is the emphasis on national identity as opposed to regional identity.
While 43 per cent of Hindus feel that they are more national than regional, 29 percent said they are close to their regional identity and 27 percent said both identities are equally important.
“With Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, 45 per cent, 52 per cent and 42 per cent of respondents identify themselves as more regional than national. Though 30 per cent of the Muslim respondents claim to feel more national than regional, the same drops to 10 and 18 per cent with Christian and Sikh respondents respectively,” the survey says.
The survey clearly shows that a significant chunk of Hindus subscribe to a particular brand of majoritarian nationalism, which is characterised by suspicion towards Muslims, commitment to a strong leader and low tolerance for deviations from their brand of nationalism. Most minorities seem to be opposed to this narrative.
- There are regional variations both in terms of Modi’s victory as well as in the popularity of majoritarian nationalism. Hindus in southern states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh seem to be breaking from his narrative.
- The caste aspect is slightly more complex. In terms of voting behaviour, the BJP’s support among Dalits is much less than among other Hindu communities. But in terms of political views in general, Adivasis differ from other Hindus more than Dalits, according to the CSDS survey.
- In many states, the BJP has followed the policy of consolidating against certain dominant caste groups within backward communities. For instance in Haryana, the party has followed the 35:1 formula of mobilising 35 communities against Jats. In Uttar Pradesh, it mobilised caste groups against Yadavs within OBCs and against Jatavs within Dalits. This social engineering is at variance with the Hindu consolidation narrative.
- Not every Hindu voted for Modi due to communal reasons. Many might have made the choice because of welfare schemes, the BJP’s strong mobilisation capacity or the absence of a strong Opposition.
Having said that, the survey data and vote share figures indicate that Modi’s triumph does represent the triumph of majoritarian Hindu nationalism. The rise of Modi and the BJP are both a cause as well as symptom of this majoritarian nationalism. It is a worrying sign that there is such a wide divergence in the political views of Hindus on one hand and minorities on the other.