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Hindu nationalist statecraft and the politics of citizenship in contemporary India

Citizenship
Democracy
India
Activism
Kenneth Bo Nielsen
University of Oslo
Kenneth Bo Nielsen
University of Oslo

Abstract

After 70 years of existence, the Indian republic has arrived at a particularly perilous conjuncture, in which a majoritarian Hindu nationalism is being inscribed into law in unprecedented ways. This form of Hindu nationalist statecraft redefines the boundaries of citizenship, establishes a sharp line between “true Indians” and their anti-national enemies within, and dramatically narrows the scope for democratic deliberation. However, what is particularly striking about Hindu nationalist statecraft today is that it advances by way of law-making rather than vigilante violence or state coercion. The Hindu nation is currently, in other words, being written into law. In this paper, we draw on a Gramscian perspective to analyze the relationship between law and state formation in India under the Modi regime. We first present a short historical overview of the dynamic relationship between law and state formation in postcolonial India, before we move on to briefly survey Hindu nationalist attempts at redefining the Indian nation through grassroots mobilization and violence from the 1990s. The main part of the paper is then devoted to interrogating the more recent attempts by the Modi regime at mobilizing law in order to align the nation with the core tenets of Hindu nationalism. This, we argue, is in effect an attempt at legally locking in Hindu nationalist claims to the nation in ways that make it exceedingly difficult to reverse such claims in the future. Through select examples, we also seek to show the on-the-ground consequences of this form of Hindu nationalist statecraft. In the conclusion, we draw on our earlier work on social movements and subaltern politics to reflect on how such political formations might confront an increasingly authoritarian state on the terrain of law and democracy.