In 2019, faced with an economic slowdown and empowered by a parliamentary majority, India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government implemented sweeping interventions in its pursuit of Hindu nationalist goals. Martial law, mass arrests of local elites and an indefinite internet shutdown enforced its unilateral revocation of Muslim-majority Kashmir’s autonomy. Meanwhile, the government laid the groundwork to effectively strip citizenship rights from 1.9 million people in Assam state, threatening expulsion to illegal immigrants. Interior Minister Amit Shah threatened to roll the policy out nationwide. In December, he introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to parliament, offering Indian citizenship for minorities in neighbouring Muslim-majority countries, while pointedly excluding Muslims.

The passage of the CAA sparked widespread unrest, from demonstrations and rioting in Assam to student protests in major cities, which were met by a heavy-handed police response. The context of the bill, including inflammatory BJP rhetoric led by Mr Shah, who called Muslim migrants “infiltrators” and “termites”, had roused fears among minorities that the party seeks to orchestrate demographic changes amounting to ethnic cleansing, rekindling painful memories of the catastrophic 1947 Partition. They are joined by secular Indians who fear the erosion of the democratic protections of India’s constitution. A recent Supreme Court ruling permitted Hindus to construct a temple on the site of a mosque demolished by a Hindu mob in 1992, appearing to confirm that the BJP has captured or cowed the institutions that minorities relied on for protection.

Pledges to rebuild the temple and restrict illegal immigration helped the BJP to its election victory in April. Still, its turn towards unapologetic majoritarianism under prime minister Narendra Modi has drawn the most united and sustained dissent since it assumed power in 2014. Policies that entrench minority grievances are set to intensify the intercommunal tensions, radicalisation and militancy that drive India’s endemic political violence.

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Image credit The White House/Shealah Craighead via Flickr