Under the boom of Hindu nationalism, how does India’s domestic and foreign affairs interact with each other?

At present, the “one-party dominance” of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has basically replaced coalition politics and has become the most prominent feature of India’s political ecology. At the central level, the BJP won more than half of the seats in two general elections in 2014 and 2019, maintaining a relatively long-term monopoly over the national political arena. At the local level, although the proportion of the total population of the ruling states of the BJB camp in the country’s total population has dropped from 70% in 2017 to 50% in March 2022, the BJP is still in key local elections that determine the political wind. Solid performance. Especially under the impact of factors such as the decline in economic growth, the failure of epidemic prevention and control, and the continuous protests of farmers, the BJP still won re-election with an absolute advantage in the Uttar Pradesh elections in March 2022. As the most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh’s election results have always been regarded as the “wind vane” of India’s general election. Therefore, Adiya Nath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who is a radical Hindu nationalist, has been touted by Indian public opinion as a “wind vane”. Modi’s successor.

Contrary to the BJP’s “successful progress and successors”, most opposition parties and local political parties in India in recent years have only been able to survive the heat wave of saffron (a symbol of Hindu nationalism) set off by Modi. The “hundred-year-old shop” Indian National Congress (Congress) has a tendency to withdraw from the center of the historical stage. Left-wing parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are also at a historical low point, and are gradually losing their traditional influence on groups such as students, workers, and the media. While the local political parties in eastern and southern India can stick to their own ethnic identity and vote base, they are not enough to form a joint force against the Indian Party.

The long-term trend of “one party dominance” has given Modi an unprecedented ability to control the situation. Modi has managed to ignore criticism from domestic opposition parties and endure the political and economic turmoil caused by his aggressive policies. In September 2020, Modi’s government forced the passage of three controversial agricultural reform bills, igniting India’s largest and longest-running farmers’ protests since independence in 1947. Although the year-long protests ended with Modi announcing the withdrawal of the bill, it did not politically jeopardize the BJP’s ruling foundations in northern India. With the exception of Punjab, which has a large Sikh population, the BJP’s performance in the agricultural state of Uttar Pradesh is enough for public opinion to “selectively forget” the political impact of farmers’ protests. In addition, in 2019-2020, the large-scale ethnic conflicts and sectarian riots caused by the imposition of the Citizenship Law (Amendment), which is not conducive to the Indian Muslim community, did not affect the performance of the BJP in local elections. Too much impact.

A strong position in domestic politics has provided the Modi government with room to play freely on the international stage. Traditionally, India’s foreign policy has been formulated and implemented by the central government, with no obvious connection to domestic politics. However, in the era of coalition politics, the ruling party is still subject to parliamentary constraints in major foreign policy decisions. In 2008, the government of Congress Party Manmohan Singh nearly collapsed after supporting the signing of an India-US civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. But now, Modi, who holds an overwhelmingly supportive seat in the parliament, hardly has to care about the opinions of the opposition parties and the parliament in diplomacy, and can put aside the historical burden of the Congress party’s “non-aligned” diplomacy, and adopt more flexible measures based on practical interests. diplomatic stance. The rapid development of US-India relations during Modi’s administration epitomizes the characteristics of the Modi government’s diplomacy. Especially in the most sensitive defense field, the Modi government signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) with the United States from 2016 to 2020 without encountering domestic political resistance. As well as the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA), the US-India defense cooperation has been elevated to a new level of “quasi-ally”.

In addition, the rise of nationalism has also made India more active in participating in global governance and providing public goods. Modi has frequently made high-profile appearances on international occasions such as the UN General Assembly and the World Economic Forum. While promoting India’s development achievements and demonstrating India’s cultural soft power, he has continued to expand India’s investment in global governance public goods. At the beginning of 2021, India began to provide a large number of free vaccines to neighboring countries even when its own vaccine injection rate was still insufficient, using “vaccine diplomacy” to enhance India’s global voice. In terms of regional cooperation, Modi has also made great efforts to create a new India-led regional cooperation framework around the Indian Ocean by significantly enhancing multilateral cooperation mechanisms such as the India-Africa Summit and the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sector Economic and Technical Cooperation Initiative (BIMSTEC).

In March 2022, the Bharatiya Janata Party won re-election by an overwhelming margin in the Uttar Pradesh election. The picture shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) and his government core personnel celebrating their election victory.

As a post-developing country, a relatively fast-growing economy is still a necessary condition for India to realize the “Indian Dream”. However, in the current political environment, the Indian elites who support liberalization reform are worried that the Hindu nationalism boom set off by Modi will delay India’s domestic economic reforms and embrace globalization, and become a “stumbling block” on the road to India’s rise as a great power. . In reality, however, the relationship between the prevalence of Hindu nationalism and economic openness is more complicated.

The global spread of the new crown epidemic and the localization of Hindu nationalism have prompted Modi’s economic policies in his second term to be more introverted than in the first term. In May 2020, Modi formally proposed a series of economic reform and rescue bills called “self-reliance”, claiming that the government will provide about 10% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) of 20 trillion rupees to create a “self-sufficient India” . Various departments have successively introduced a series of industrial support policies such as the Production-Linked Incentive Program (PLI) and the Export Tax Rebate Program (RoDTEP), hoping to enhance the local competitiveness of key industries by providing investment and export subsidies.

Compared with the concept of “Made in India” proposed by Modi in his first term, “Self-reliance” is more in line with the local economic outlook of the Hindu nationalist “Swadeshi”, which has the meaning of establishing a closed economic circle. Mahatma Gandhi once launched the huge “Swadeshi” movement during the Indian independence movement, calling on Indians to replace the machine weaving imported from Britain with traditional hand-spun cloth, so as to protect India’s indigenous traditional handicraft industry. After India’s independence, “Swadehi” was gradually absorbed by conservative Hindu nationalists. In 1991, the Swadeshi Awakening Front (SJM), a conservative economic organization that advocates protecting domestic industries and opposing foreign capital, was formally established. As a member of the right-wing “Tuan Family” centered on the National Volunteer Service Corps (RSS), the parent organization of the Indian Party, the organization’s exposure increased rapidly after Modi came to power. It not only called for the expulsion of Chinese companies, but also advocated restricting American companies from entering India. The retail market has become the biggest internal obstacle for the Modi government to promote economic liberalization and attract foreign investment.

However, this does not mean a fundamental reversal in India’s policy orientation towards embracing globalisation since its economic reforms in 1991. On the one hand, the closed economic environment cannot satisfy the interests of the domestic business community in India. The development and growth of local Indian consortia such as Reliance Industries and Tata Group requires a global consumer market. The mature Indian software service outsourcing industry is also inseparable from a highly open economic environment. The limited domestic market in India cannot enable the above industries to capture more profits, let alone create sufficient jobs for India. On the other hand, the technology required for the upgrading of India’s local manufacturing industry cannot be separated from external support. Indian consortiums, which occupy huge wealth, are investing huge amounts of capital in new energy, semiconductor, pharmaceutical and other fields, in order to achieve leapfrog development at the industrial level by exchanging capital for technology. At the same time, the Modi government is also attracting foreign technology companies to invest and set up factories in India through the Production Linkage Incentive Scheme (PLI), accelerating the pace of the transfer of high-tech manufacturing to India. Whether it is the introduction of foreign technology by domestic companies in India or the investment and establishment of factories by foreign companies in India, an open economic environment is needed to ensure the free flow of capital and technology.

From “good days are coming” in 2014 to “I am the night watchman” in 2019, the change of the BJP’s campaign slogan in the general election has made observers smell that the governing focus of Modi and the BJP seems to have changed from The “two-wheel drive” of economic liberalization reform and Hindu nationalism in the past has become the “single-wheel drive” of Hindu nationalism. Against the background of limited development of globalization and the prevalence of nationalism and populism, the international community has criticized the sectarian tendencies of the Modi government, but it has not had a substantial impact on India’s rising global discourse power. In addition, the intensification of the Sino-US game has also made India’s position in the US global strategy more prominent. Although the US and India are constantly at odds on values, they may have reached some kind of tacit compromise in the face of common strategic goals.

At the same time, Modi’s foreign policy in his second term appears to be more robust, balancing the boom in Hindu nationalism with the country’s real interests. The boom in Hindu nationalism has not caused a major setback in India’s relations with the Islamic world. On the contrary, India’s strategic partnership with Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other countries has all been greatly improved after Modi took office. Modi’s self-confidence in his diplomatic interactions with U.S. and Russian leaders, his close interaction with Indian diaspora during his foreign visits, and his actions such as evacuating overseas Chinese are also positive responses to the wave of nationalism at home.

But it should also be noted that the spillover of the Hindu nationalist boom is sometimes not within the grasp of political rationality. Economically, the increasingly active right-wing economic organizations such as the Swadeshi Awakening Front have dampened the confidence of foreign investment in India. In terms of public opinion, at the end of May 2022, BJP spokesperson Sharma’s inappropriate remarks about the Prophet Muhammad angered almost the entire Islamic world, and even triggered a boycott of Indian goods in the Islamic world. In India, the speaker’s views are actually quite representative. With the renewal of Indian politics and professional bureaucracy, it is difficult to predict whether the new generation of Indians who grew up under the craze of Hindu nationalism will have sufficient rationality and ability to balance ideology and national interests.