Hindu Nationalism, India's Election, and Secularism

There is a strong parallel, at least in perceptions, between religions minorities/majorities in India and the US.

  1. Both countries are secular, with protections for religious freedom and expression.
  2. In the India, Christians are the minority, and Hindus are the majority.
  3. In the US, Christians are the majority, and atheists (and others) have been the minority.
  4. The Hindu nationalist movement (called Hinduvata) was actually initiated by Hindu atheists.

What I find very striking is this release by Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA), which is deeply concerned about the last Indian election, where Modi (Hinduvata) promises to install Hinduism as the official

We urge the world leaders to be cautious in their endorsement of the extremist Hindu ideology. A full endorsement of Modi’s claim to victory will jeopardize the future of almost 2000 year old church in India and will also cause tremendous disruption to the Unity of India as a one nation state envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi.

While we are concerned for the future of the church in India we are also concerned about the very survival of the Constitution of the Republic that guarantees equality and freedom of religion, expression and association to every citizen. Under a new “Hindu Constitution” which Modi and his party wants to implement, all these freedoms we take for granted may not exist. The BJP and Mr. Modi needed a two third majority in the Parliament in their scheme to replace the Constitution. They do have that strength in the Parliament now. Other requirements to change the Constitution are already in place.

This is a legitimate and right call for secularism by Indian Christians in America. The concerns motivating this are very similar to the concerns of atheists in the US. For those who care about the Church abroad, the best protections for everyone, especially the persecuted Church, is secular government. What is good for India is good for the US here, and I hope more of us can grow consistent in this.


Curious the thoughts of @Ashwin_s and @mercer on this. This, again, is a topic i might write more about. Im curious about everyone’s thoughts.

About Modi and this election:

His 2019 campaign for reelection, by contrast, has been light on development and heavy on ethno-religious dog whistles. In a notably nasty campaign, Modi and his acolytes have riled up their Hindu base, giving fiery speeches on the dangers posed militarily by Muslim-majority Pakistan and socially by Muslim migrants illegally creeping across the border from Bangladesh—a group one powerful BJP politician described as alien “termites.”

He is compared to the “Christian” nationalism of Trump (who is not a Christian),

Indian liberals fear that a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi might prompt a decisive turn against the country’s secular traditions, much as the American left fears that Donald Trump’s return would irreparably harm U.S. democratic institutions. This Modi-as-strongman thesis places India squarely within a global autocratic resurgence, featuring a familiar tableau of leaders from Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

Yet India’s post-election scene is likely to be more complicated, given the probable outcome—as forecast in Sunday’s exit polls—is a second Modi government, but not necessarily a stronger one. Such a verdict would carry many risks for India’s future. But liberals need not panic quite yet, given Modi himself becoming an ever more dominant strongman-style political figure is not the most likely outcome.

Modi needs a 2/3rds majority to make any change to the constitution… so I don’t expect him to be able to change the constitution to make India a “Hindu” Republic without the support of other political parties. Though he can do pretty much anything short of that as he has brutal majority in the parliament.

However, it’s possible that they will push for things like a uniform civil code, abolishing article 370, checks on the supreme court’s system of appointing judges etc.

As for minorities/liberals, the immediate danger is from vigilante groups/mobs who don’t seem to be kept in check by the police and from misuse of the power of law enforcement agencies.


Scary. Modi is much smarter than Trump.

1 Like

Educate everyone. What is article 370?

Trump is smarter than most people give him credit.

Modi is far more calculated and controlled. This sort of religious nationalism is more scary, because it seems to have a far greater chance of succeeding in its most dangerous goals.


Yes, but for example, many Christian Indians are still designated as members of “backward castes.”

1 Like

In The Hindu, quite ironically:

This is the sort of language commonly used preparatory to genocide. Not good.


As a student of classical Hinduism, I am curious about this. Can you clarify?

Are you suggesting that atheist leaders in India are demagogically using the faith of the HIndu masses for political purposes?

If so, what do they mean by “Hindu”? They can’t mean an ethnicity, since people of the same, say, Punjabi, stock can be Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs. Are they using “Hindu” to mean something like “native, as opposed to foreigner” – where “foreigners” includes Christians, Muslims, etc.?

Or are they speaking of Hindu religion? Surely if they really mean to make India “Hindu” again, they will have to reverse 70+ years of change, and revert to the caste system, in its full, uncompromised form, for starters. And for the treatment of women as second-class human beings, which treatment is justified in some of the sacred texts. Would the masses of India, after years of social change, consent to go back to a world in which whole sections of the population are treated as slaves, and women are told to go back to their homes and stay out of jobs and professions? Is there a political market in India for a return to “classical” Hindu society of that type?

And are the followers of Hindu nationalism aware that many of the leaders of the movement, being atheists, themselves have no respect for the sacred texts of Hinduism? Will they tolerate being led by people like that?

I claim no knowledge of the forces currently at work. But the idea of a Hindu society led by atheists strikes me as a contradiction, so naturally I’m curious about the theories and motivations in play, regarding both the leaders and their followers.

I think you are confused about the nature of Hinduism. It isn’t a metaphysically or doctrinally defined religion. There are Hindu Atheists that have great respect for the holy texts, but just do not believe there is a God.

1 Like

Joshua wrote:

[previously reply expanded for clarity]

I did graduate and undergraduate courses in Hinduism and wrote a Ph.D. comprehensive exam on the subject. I had to learn all the major schools of classical Hindu thought. I don’t think I’m confused.

Each of the six major schools purporting to explain the Vedas or to be somehow based on their teachings (Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, and Vedanta) has its own metaphyics and epistemology, so there is definitely doctrinal definition.

If you are talking about popular Hinduism, that’s a different matter. Popular religious language is the language of mythology, ritual, devotional fervor, etc. It is often less systematic in its theological utterances. But learned Hinduism is very articulate and systematic.

It’s like the difference between popular Jesus-piety (which is often intellectually incoherent) and the systematic religious thought of an Aquinas, an Augustine, a Calvin, etc. If you want to know what Christian religious thought is, you don’t ask an arm-waving Pentecostal or some Eastern Christian who reveres as sacred the preserved arm-bone of some saint who died 1500 years ago. You ask a C. S. Lewis, a Dorothy Sayers, a G. K. Chesterton, etc. – someone who has some notion of how to think in an orderly fashion about the meaning of sacred texts.

Regarding atheism, not all forms of Hinduism are “theistic” in the Western sense, but all the six major schools accept the existence of a divine element in the world, even if not a personal creator-God. At best one could say that in a certain technical sense, some schools of Hindu thought are “atheistic” in denying “theism” as usually understood in Western religion. Some have said the Samkhya system is “atheistic” in that technical sense. But the spirit/matter dualism of Samkyha is not what modern Western atheists mean by atheism, so to speak of “atheism” in such a case, without qualification, is misleading.

If you think the Vedas are “revealed” (sruti), the question is, revealed by whom or what? There was an ancient school of atheism in India, known as Carvaka (usually translated as “materialism”, but it is atheistic because it denies all gods). It also denied the truthfulness or reliability of the Vedas. It is a bit odd to say that no gods of any kind exist, that there is nothing divine in the universe or outside of it, but that one has great respect for the sacred texts. Why would one respect sacred texts which talk about a being or beings one does not believe in?

It is nothing new for modern religion to introduce all kinds of distortions into the tradition. That has been happening in Christianity for a few hundred years now, and it doesn’t surprise me that it would happen in Hinduism, especially since Hinduism is more like a collection of related religions and philosophies than a single unitary religion or theology and therefore contains more seams or cracks into which maverick ideas can be inserted. But at least classically, all Hindus defined themselves as opposed to atheism.

So what I am “confused” about is not traditional Hinduism, but the current religious-political movement you are describing. I was trying to learn more about its motivations and its popular base of support. You declared that some of the leaders of the new “Hindu nationalism” movement were atheists, so I would like to hear more about their religious views. If you have some writings of theirs about God and gods that you can point me to, I would be interested.