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Modi Wins But Is Shackled. Muslims Get Respite From Hindutva

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Modi Wins But Is Shackled. Muslims Get Respite From Hindutva

The election result will restore the faith of Indian Muslims in their own power to shape politics. Their overwhelming vote for the opposition helped prevent a landslide victory for Hindutva.

Modi Wins But Is Shackled. Muslims Get Respite From Hindutva

Samajwadi Party’s debutante candidate Iqra Choudhary, seen here speaking at an election rally in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh, is among 15 Muslims who have won and are to sit in the new Indian parliament.

Credit: X/Iqra Munawwar

“I am so relieved. I didn’t want to go abroad and look for a job again,” said my friend in response to my WhatsApp call inquiring how he felt about the outcome of the Indian general election.

Even though Narendra Modi might well be India’s prime minister for five more years, the results of India’s 18th general election have come as a huge relief to Indian Muslims.

My friend is a former engineering school classmate, who returned to India after working abroad for three decades and was planning the next phase of his life. His son was urging him to come to Dubai and find a job there. He was not keen to go back abroad but the anti-Muslim climate in India under Modi was forcing him to do so.

The chastening of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party by Indian voters has brought hope. My friend now feels he can stay in India and perhaps, either look for work or start a business.

I chatted with many in India, in the U.S., in Canada and the Middle East. The election has restored their faith in democracy and more importantly in fellow Hindu Indians, who have so tellingly rejected the virulent anti-Muslim rhetoric deployed by Prime Minister Modi during the long election campaign.

Modi and his party had bragged that this time they would win 400 of the 543 seats in the Indian Parliament. Getting to 272 is enough to form a government. Banking on the endless promotion of Modi as a great world leader, as one with a supernatural birth and the reviver of Hindu glory, they and the mainstream media, often described as “godi media” (media in Modi’s lap), had taken a huge victory for granted.

In anticipation of a grand and overwhelming mandate, Modi had promised big decisions and even wrote an article published a day before the counting of votes, pledging big non-economic reforms. These promises were seen as signaling massive changes in the Indian constitution that would marginalize Muslims and lower caste Hindus, eliminate secularism and end federalism, creating a powerful centralized Hindu state.

But the BJP failed to win a majority. It won only 240 seats and will form a government but will need to rely on regional parties to remain in power.

The pre-election BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has won 292 seats, enough to form a government. But its main partners are led by extremely mercurial, egotistical and unreliable regional leaders.

In the North, the NDA is supported by Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal-United, which won 12 seats. Kumar is a serial flip-flopper, who is already sending cryptic signals that he might flip again.

The second biggest party in the NDA is led by Chandrababu Naidu, from southern India, whose Telugu Desam party won 16 seats. In the past, Naidu has called Modi a “terrorist”’ and asked minorities not to vote for him. Both Kumar and Naidu are seen as Muslim-friendly leaders and are not as virulently anti-Muslim as Modi or his confidant Home Minister Amit Shah are.

So even if Modi forms a government, he will certainly not be able to rule as he did in the past. He will now be shackled by allies who do not share his Hindutva agenda or his anti-federalist views. They are partners of convenience and not ideological allies.

What this means for Indian Muslims is a respite from ten years of nonstop religious subjugation. It also restores their faith in their own power to shape India’s politics, since their overwhelming vote for the opposition helped prevent a landslide victory for Hindutva. Muslims won only 26 seats. Even though they constitute over 14 percent of the population they have only 4.7 percent of seats in the incoming parliament.

The Muslim population in India is unevenly distributed. But in states where Indian Muslims have a significant presence such as Uttar Pradesh (19 percent), West Bengal (27 percent) and Kerala (27 percent), Modi’s party did not do well at all. Indeed, the BJP was expected to sweep Uttar Pradesh, overturn the past results in West Bengal and make major inroads in Kerala, but it received its most resounding defeats in these states.

Significant among the setbacks that Modi suffered was his party’s loss in the constituency where the Ram Mandir is located. Modi made a big deal of inaugurating the Ram temple that is built on land where Hindus believe their God Ram was born but a mosque, the Babri Masjid stood for over four centuries.

The construction of the temple is seen as one of the crowning glories of Hindu nationalism. Modi and his ideological ally, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu organization inaugurated the temple before it was completed to the chagrin of many Hindu scholars in order to cash in at the polls.

But it seems that Indian voters, plagued by persistently high unemployment, profound rural distress, high inflation, and growing inequality, were not all willing to ignore bad governance and reward Modi for his Hindu first policies. Even the nasty rhetoric used during the campaign in which Modi referred to Muslims as “infiltrators,” denying their Indianness, and the scaremongering that if the opposition won it would take away the wealth of Hindus and hand it over to Muslims, did not help BJP to win a majority on its own.

Going forward, Modi will have to abandon his authoritarian style and become a more democratic leader to keep his alliance intact. He will have to focus more on economic policy, abandon grandiose Hindu nationalist aspirations and return to normal politics. His Home and Defense Ministers have been promising during the campaign to conquer the part of Kashmir under Pakistani control, and to eliminate Muslim personal laws in the country. Such aspirations will have to be shelved for now.

The good news for Muslims and other minorities is that India’s democracy has survived a majoritarian attempt to capture its media and judiciary and to weaponize its courts and government institutions.

For now, Modi has been shackled and Hindutva ideology dented badly by smart voters and a brave and persistent opposition, the INDIA coalition. Regional leaders like Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerji, M.K. Stalin, and Sharad Pawar, along with Rahul Gandhi have helped save India’s democracy and given some respite to Indian Muslims.

Guest Author

Muqtedar Khan

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is a professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. He is the author of the award-winning book "Islam and Good Governance: Political Philosophy of Ihsan" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). His essays have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The National Interest, The Conversation, The Diplomat, The Indian Express, Outlook India, The Wire, and many other publications worldwide. He hosts a YouTube show called Khanversations and his website is He tweets @MuqtedarKhan.