Book review: Christophe Jaffrelot, Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy

Published date01 March 2024
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/23477970241232840
AuthorSreya Maitra
Date01 March 2024
Subject MatterBook Reviews
156 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 11(1)
Christophe Jaffrelot, Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of
Ethnic Democracy (C. Schoch English Trans.). Princeton and Oxford:
Princeton University Press, 2021, 656 pages, (Hardbound). ISBN: 978-
0-691-20680-6.
DOI: 10.1177/23477970241232840
Narendra Modi is sui generis. Not just a political statesman, he is the face of
today’s India, in all its tinted glory and global aspirations. But in politics, unique-
ness neither purchases lasting credibility nor sustained reassurance for the elector-
ate of a billion-plus country with myriad conflicting dynamics and incongruences.
The title of Christophe Jaffrelot’s book, Modi’s India plays on this contradiction
surrounding the man and his reign; and the by-line captures the essence of the
author’s critique. In his opinion, the last 10 years of Modi’s rule have contributed
to the creation of an India faltering on its own post-colonial promises of secular-
ism, democracy, multi-culturalism and most importantly, tolerance. Although his
initial popularity was intense, the Prime Minister has articulated a progressively
personalistic, hegemonistic rule and even grossly manipulated the political sys-
tem to retain the electoral mandate. As an astute and seasoned commentator on
Indian politics, Jaffrelot launches a scathing critique of Narendra Modi—the pres-
ent Prime Minister of India, the person, the politician and the active member and
believer of the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS). He makes incisive documentation
of each and every aspect of Modi’s regime and brings forth dark facts urging read-
ers to look beyond the glitz and glamour of the capitalist-backed Modi govern-
ment and the ‘Bollywoodization of the public scene’ under him (p. 312).
The author adopts a retrospective lens and qualitative, historical analysis as he
undertakes critical audits of the last 10 years, drawing evenly from primary and
secondary sources. The three broad parts of the book chronicle the history of the
ideology of Hindutva, the invention of India’s variant of ethnic democracy and
Modi’s version of authoritarianism. In the first part titled ‘The Hindu Nationalist
Power Quest’, Jaffrelot makes two significant observations; India’s secularism is
rooted in the universalist notion of the nation; but the presence of the Hindu
majority and the ideology of organisations such as the RSS pave the way for the
creation of ethnic nationalism, which ipso facto erodes the basis of secularism.
Jaffrelot imbues Modi’s personality with machinations to show he invented
national populism by obfuscating caste identity to coalesce religious majoritarian
identity among the Hindus and garner their votes and patronage. With the help
of ‘foot soldiers’ of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Modi was able to articulate the
‘plebianization of Hindu nationalism and the personalization of power’ through
‘direct relation with the people’ (pp. 81–83). Critiquing his shallow populism,
Jaffrelot is quick to point out that Modi’s entire veneer of religious intolerance is
hinged on the empirics of electoral currency and not any firm ideological bias
against minorities. He has done very little for the poor because he has cut back on
state spending and allowed inequalities to grow. So, like a populist leader by defi-
nition, he has only been a champion of the poor in the name (p. 153).

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