Who is Narendra Modi, and why should we be afraid?
Modi, of course, is the leader of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, a rightist, Hindu nationalist party, which won big in India’s weeks-long national election, and Modi will become India’s next prime minister now that 550 million ballots have been counted. In ousting the Congress party, the BJP will drag India much farther than it has ever been into a sectarian and even militant view of the role of Hindus in India and beyond, and it’s very possible that relations between India and Pakistan will get a lot worse under Modi. Because Modi is, above all, a pro-business advocate, he’ll be careful not to rush into a confrontation with either Pakistan or China. But those relationships, already not good, are certainly not likely to improve under the BJP. (Markets were sharply higher in India after Modi’s win was confirmed.)
Not only would worsening ties between India and Pakistan threaten to revive those two countries’ proxy war in Afghanistan, but if they lead to tensions in Kashmir (beyond the long-simmering crisis that plagues that divided region), then they could even threaten to spark a war between New Delhi and Islamabad—and both countries are nuclear-armed. And Modi’s involvement in horrific sectarian, anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat signal that Modi may not be welcomed by India’s vast Muslim minority.
There’s also a danger that the United States, where some neoconservatives and other hawks see India as a counterweight to China, might seek to build military ties with the new BJP government as part of Washington’s “pivot” toward Asia.
The BJP is the political heir of the 1970s-era Janata party, which ruled India for a few years under Morarji Desai. Aside from, and parallel to, the role of the BJP and Modi in sectarian strife putting Hindus against Muslims in India, the BJP and its allied organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have forces within them that believe that India under the Congress party and the Gandhis has lost sight of India’s glorious role as defender of Hindu interests. The RSS—whose name translates as “National Volunteer Organization”—is a right-wing, paramilitary group founded in 1925, which has long been involved in anti-Muslim violence and which has been banned several times in India’s history, including after one of its adherents assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. And though the leaders of the BJP have, lately, been careful to keep the RSS at arm’s length, the RSS jumped into the fray during the election with strong support for the BJP.