India has recently launched the ‘Return Home’ campaign, converting the Muslims and Christians of Hindustan back to their original faith – Hindutva. This campaign has the clandestine support of the Indian government led by Narendra Modi. At the global level, Modi has time and again given the vision of India as a ‘Vishwaguru’. What must be quite worrying for Modi is his dream of becoming a global power which is frustrated by a divisive religious agenda and intolerance spread by the RSS and its affiliates

Indeed, India is one of the oldest civilisations and the Modi government has effectively propagated the proposition that its civilisation has much to teach the world. The rising economy of India has placed the country on a list of rising powers and put some substance in the notion of the Indian international leadership. Even China surged from the list of ‘underdeveloped’ states to the second largest economy in the world. India has wished for a similar result.

The economic rise of China has benefited it to challenge the existing world order dominated by the Western models of economic infrastructure. The BRIC bank and AIIB are the best alternatives to the IMF and the World Bank. India is expecting a similar stature which could challenge the regional order if not the global one. And India’s enthusiasm as evidenced from the policy of economic expansionism given by Modi is based on that expectation. But how will India achieve this stature with such serious minority rights violations?

Power brings with it responsibility. This maxim is very well applied in the Indian case. As India is growing, the world is expecting it to be a more responsible global power and a net security provider. Although its foreign policy is wisely objected at ‘Made in India’ and ‘Link West’ notions, India seems not to be accepting the role of its global leadership. It is still engulfed in the colonial past, focusing more on religious symbolism than implementing the secular-clause of the Indian polity. The result is the religious vandalism led by RSS and its affiliates at the cost of ‘soft power’ and expansionism at the global level. Many such groups in India interpret the world’s expectations towards India as the pressure point aimed at dictating India. And such destructive roles of religious based parties are disturbing Modi’s vision of a ‘Greater Hindustan’ in terms of regional dominance and global significance.

India’s nationalism as inspired by Modi is beautiful. Hoping to make India a ‘Vishwaguru’, Modi has highlighted the potential of a vedentic heritage in addressing the challenges of the contemporary world. Impressively, he has asked the diaspora to contribute to realising India’s potential as Vishwaguru. In Sydney, he urged his countrymen to forget their gods and goddesses of 50 years and worship only ‘Mother India’.

His recent idea that development might be more important than religion has not been taken to by religious outfits who are aggressively promoting the campaign of the ‘Ghar Wapis’ program aimed at the conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism. It seems that Modi knows that his development and growth agenda will be frustrated by polarising politics based on religious nationalism. Modi wants to go on with “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas”- development all above the sectarian Hindu agenda. Having experienced the Gujrat atrocity which led to the killing of 2000 Muslims under Modi’s Chief Ministerial ship, Modi does not want to malign his tenure by ‘religious intolerance’. Realising the threat, Modi declared in his Independence Day speech this August, “Casteism, communalism and regionalism are obstacles to development”, and called for a 10 year moratorium on divisive issues – the plan is now frustrated by religious outfits.

India must learn from others experiences: countries who prioritised religion over development. Religious extremism led by the state disturbs internal peace and security and also squeezes foreign policy choices. For a successful foreign policy, domestic stability is inevitable. Without internal peace, a country cannot achieve external peace. And when religion becomes the identity at the cost of other communities, it gives rise to the intervention of religious extremism not only from within the country but also from outside. If India aspires for a global stature, it must not let the RSS and such outfits affect its development agenda.

It must be remembered that when the BJP came into power, India’s neighbours were disturbed as the right wing party is known for prioritising policies on the basis of religion. And Modi had to reduce such fears by prioritising development and focusing on economic expansionism. But the RSS and the Hindu right seem determined to revive old fears. The anti-modernism of Sangh Parivar is also problematic for India. If Hindu extremism prevails in India, it will give nothing to the world but condemnation and conflict. Unless Modi checks these negative forces, his development agenda is at serious risk.

The writer is a political scientist based in Islamabad and can be contacted at hassanshah989@gmail.com