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Indian Americans Are Cautious About Modi’s Third Term; His Critics See a Strong Message Against Hindutva

Indian Americans Are Cautious About Modi’s Third Term; His Critics See a Strong Message Against Hindutva

  • For many, the chastening of the BJP is important for the community here, given the targeting of dissenters and activists in the diaspora in the last few years.

Indian Americans have mixed reactions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s narrow win in the just-concluded national election. Though he won a third consecutive term in a much tighter election than anticipated, his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fell short of a majority. Modi’s NDA alliance won 292 seats combined, out of which his BJP alone secured 240, far fewer than the record 303 it won in the 2019 election. This was the first time since the party swept into power in 2014, it did not secure a majority on its own. 

The election results worried many about the waning popularity of the BJP  and its leader after a decade in office. Some called it a personal blow to Modi, who had triumphantly vowed to win a 400-seat supermajority in this year’s election. Meanwhile, his critics rejoiced at the voting trends and called the results a sign that Indian voters are rebuking Modi’s Hindutva ideology. They particularly hailed the party’s defeat in places like Ayodhya and Manipur. 

Sangay Mishra

Sangay Mishra, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Drew University told American Kahani that “the results indicate  dissatisfaction with Modi’s leadership,” and are “a big  rebuke to the BJP’s undemocratic  and polarizing method.” Noting that “this was one of the most important elections in recent times,” he said they “were happening in a context where multiple chief ministers and political leaders were put behind bars which appeared politically motivated.” 

Analyzing the results further, Mishra said one of there factors contributing to BJP’s decreasing votes was Modi’s use of “highly polarizing language specifically targeting Muslims and terming them infiltrators.” Adding to it was “the systematic undermining of the democratic institutions and constitutional principles by the ruling party.” 

The results are “important for the diaspora, given the targeting of dissenters and activists in the diaspora in the last few years,” he said. “The news reports about targeting of Sikh and Muslim individuals in the diaspora have been deeply disturbing and a rebuke to the current regime in the elections might initiate some changes in this regard.”

Sunita Viswanath

Human rights activist Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, also hopes the Indian American diaspora learns from the Indian voters. “Indian Hindu voters have shown us what Hinduism looks like when decoupled from Hindutva,” she told American Kahani. “I hope that the Hindu diaspora follows suit.” She was in a celebratory mood, as she woke up to “wonderful news from my beloved India.” The results have given “a strong message to Hindutva,” that they don’t “represent” Hindus, she said. “The sweetest news is that the BJP lost Ayodhya, the site of the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindutva mobs in 1992, and the inauguration of a Ram temple by Modi himself in Jan of this year,” she said. “Hindus have told us that their Ram is Gandhi’s Ram, not Nathuram.”

As the election season in India culminated, 50 international human rights groups issued a statement condemning the anti-Muslim rhetoric used by Hindu supremacist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the other members of his BJP during polling campaigns. “Despite repeated complaints by India’s opposition parties and tens of thousands of concerned citizens, Prime Minister Modi has continuously targeted Indian Muslims and his political opponents alike in his hate speeches, fanning the flames of an already dangerous climate of anti-minority hate and violence in the nation,” the statement read.

Minhaj Khan

Meanwhile, social and political activist Minhaj Khan, former president of the Indian American Muslim Council told American Kahani that “while the current electoral outcome saved India from immediate threats to the Indian Constitution and the dictatorial leadership at the center, we saw for the last 10 years, the fact that things can over-turn given Modi and Amit Shah’s deep involvement in horse-trading.” He hoped that “the coalition of JDU and TDP will keep the checks and balances in place.” He also noted that “the impact of these electoral outcomes on Indian Muslims is complex and multifaceted, with both challenges and potential opportunities for greater inclusion and representation in the political process. The minorities of India are definitely looking forward to coming out of the long marginalization, discrimination, and greater inclusion in the next five years.”

Several Indian American experts expressed caution as Modi begins the third term, as three took to social media to express their opinions or go over the results. 

Kapil Sharma

Kapil Sharma, acting senior director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center said “Indian voters have shown that they have taken their vote seriously with the Congress party and other regional parties taking seats in traditional BJP strongholds in the north and west.” In relations on the Atlanta Council website, he said a Modi-led coalition government is good news for India’s economic growth. 

He also cited the “many challenges” the BJP faces going forward. “The party’s popularity rides on Modi,” he said, adding that the prime minister  “polls twice as popular as the BJP as a party and drives a third of its votes.”He pointed out that the 73-year-old leader “does not have a clear successor,” and this is “likely his last national election.” Additionally, his “popularity and a weaker national opposition party have allowed the BJP to paper over its weaknesses—especially at the state and local levels.”

Ratan Shrivastava

Ratan Shrivastava, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and managing director at Bower Group Asia, feels Modi “will need to govern more cautiously to keep his coalition together.” He also warned that in his third term, Modi is “expected to keep pushing back against the West on climate policy, while making changes at the local level.

In a series of posts on X, journalist Sadanand Dhume offered his take. “Totally fair to slam Modi/BJP for performing far below expectations,” he wrote, putting forth his reasons for the same. “Every Indian liberal I follow seems convinced that Modi underperformed because voters punished his illiberalism,” he wrote. “Every Hindutva hardliner seems convinced that either Modi wasn’t hardline enough or that Hindu voters betrayed Modi.”

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, he wrote that the election humbled  Modi, who “expected a blowout, but his party lost more than one-fifth of its seats and its outright majority.”

Racial justice activist Deepa Iyer wrote that “voters in India seem to be showing up for democracy by pushing back at the bigotry & divisiveness of the BJP and Modi.” The former executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), also had a word of advice for Indian Americans. “Pls roll up your sleeves because there’s lots of work to do to counter Hindu supremacy right here in the US.”

For community activist, civil rights lawyer, professor and author Arjun Sethi, “the image of an indestructible Modi has been shattered.” According to him, “the farmers, many of them Punjabi Sikhs, who organized one of the largest protests in history,” dealt Modi “his greatest blow, and brought so much visibility to his authoritarian practices.” 

In an earlier post, he listed Modi’s failings as a prime minister including “violence against Muslims, Dalits and Christians, persecution of political opponents, targeting journalists, human rights defenders & student activists, condoning violence against women, and discrimination against LGBTQIA communities,” among others. 

Barrister and author Suchitra Vijayan shared an experience during her book talks. “During most book talks this past year, I was always asked what would happen in Modi’s third term,” she wrote on X. “My response was this — ‘I will not give Modi or BJP a victory they haven’t won.’” Vijayan is the founder of The Polis Project, Inc. a New York-based hybrid research and journalism organization that documents communities in resistance

U.S.- India Business Council (USIBC) president Atul Keshyap congratulated Modi and called the Indian election “the greatest exercise of electoral choice in the history of our species.” The USIBC looks forward “to working with the prime minister, his Cabinet, and all of India’s elected leaders to continue to expand trade and investment between India and the United States, helping Indians to achieve their aspirations for greater prosperity and development.”

The US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) also issued a statement congratulating “the citizens of India for successfully concluding another chapter in India’s proud democratic history.” The USISPF looks forward “to continuing our work with the Government of India to strengthen the enduring bonds between the world’s oldest and largest democracies,” the statement added. 

Also congratulating Modi was American singer and actress Mary Millben. “Today marks a historic day for India and the world,” she said in a video message on X. “The re-election of my friend, His Excellency Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the dawn of a New India.Let me be one of the first from America to congratulate you on your re-election, Prime Minister Modi. I am so happy for you.” Calling Modi “the chosen leader for India, chosen by God and again by the people of Bharat,” She said he has “proven wrong those in the West who questioned your longevity and confirmed across the world what we have all known to be true — you are the best leader for India, the US-India relationship, and for the stability of the world.”

Audrey Truschke, a historian of South Asia and a professor at Rutgers University, had two key observations. “Indians have a lot of answers” to the question of an alternative to Modi,” she posted on X, referring to the election results. “After months of hate speech, breaking elections laws, attempts to knee-cap the opposition.”

In a later post, Truschke, who has been a target of vicious attacks by the Hindu right, mentioned something that she’s rarely experienced. “Something’s different today,” she posted. “I’ve been tweeting about #Hindutva and the #BJP, and I haven’t gotten a single piece of hate mail,” she wrote. “Maybe it’s only for today, but I’ll take it.”

(Photo: Facebook)

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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