The Indian prime minister and his party is playing the religion card in one after another event over last few months along the journey to build a ‘Hindustan.’
Military dictators abusing people's religious sentiment to consolidate power was a nasty political model employed in Bangladesh and Pakistan in the past decades.
India was fortunate as it has never experienced military takeover during its life span of over seven decades.
But now, the world's largest democracy, is no longer an exception. It is now experiencing that nasty political model thanks to Narendra Modi and his ruling BJP.
The Indian prime minister and his party is playing the religion card in one after another event over last few months along the journey to build a 'Hindustan.'
Modi's emphatic re-election last May made inevitable something that was long feared by political analysts: the transformation of India from a secular democracy to Hindu majoritarian state.
The Citizenship Amendment bill is the latest glaring example of that long-held fear. Modi and his BJP's strategy to gain political mileage from people's religious sentiments is aimed at averting scrutiny of his government's failure to halt the ongoing economic slowdown.
Constitutional experts denounced the citizenship bill, which they claim violates the spirit of the Indian constitution - a secular document that prohibits classification on the ground of religion.
This has pushed Indian democracy many steps backward. Democracy sat on the fence as Modi and BJP divided the nation on the grounds of religion, for their own political gains.
By enacting the new law, the Modi government seeks to give Indian citizenships to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered India before December 31, 2014. Muslims were excluded as Modi and his BJP wants to build "Hindustan'' free of Muslims.
The proposed legislation is a fresh blow to Muslims in India who have been facing setbacks over the last few months.
In August the Modi government scrapped nearly seven decades of autonomy in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir sparking global outcry and condemnation.
Nothing stops Modi. Just three weeks later his government put around 2 million people, mostly Muslims, in the northeastern state of Assam, at risk of losing their Indian citizenship through a controversial move to enforce a national register of citizens to weed out alleged 'illegal immigrants'.
It is widely agreed that this is a move to weed out Muslims from Assam, although it backfired, as a large number of Hindus were also categorized as "illegal'.
November came as a blessing for Modi and his ultra-Hindu party-men. They won the Supreme Court case over a religious site disputed over for centuries, in the northern city of Ayodhya. Modi's BJP had promised to build a grand temple there. The court gave the land to Hindus to build the temple although it said there was no proof of any temple's presence on the site in the past.
Again, Muslims were marginalised as their mosque, which stood for a few hundred years on the site and was demolished by BJP's unruly activists, was resigned to history.
The Modi government is using the religion card to its full potential at a time when India is in the midst of a growth recession.
Its economic growth has dropped to 4.5 percent in the July-September quarter of 2019-20, which is the lowest in the last six years.
The latest data on economic growth is a blow to the Modi government that had dreamt of having double-digit growth.
India's economy has grown at its slowest pace in nearly five years under Modi. The other biggest criticism of Modi during his first term was his government's failure to generate employment. According to a government report, unemployment touched a 45-year high between 2017 and 2018.
It has already fallen behind China's pace for the first time in nearly two years. So India is no longer the world's fastest-growing economy.
Amid such a gloomy economic picture, Modi began his second innings last May. His government could not accelerate the wheels of India's economy.
But it has been successfully sparked religious sentiments with measures including the NRC and the citizenship bill.
This did not happen overnight. There were numerous incidents of communal violence during Modi's first term starting in 2014.
Communal violence increased 28% over three years to 2017, reported the Indian media in early 2018.
This comes as no surprise because the man who is now leading India was chief minister of Gujarat during the riots in 2002 in which a large number of Muslims got killed. He was widely criticised for not doing enough to stop the Gujarat riot. And subsequently he faced travel ban by the USA.
In an article for Bloomberg in May, columnist Pankaj Mishra said Modi won a landslide despite having failed miserably in his central mission: to create jobs for India's young population.
It did not matter to his supporters that during his first five years in power India's social fabric was systematically shredded and the credibility of virtually every major institution, from the Supreme Court to India's statistical organizations and the media, was undermined, he wrote.
He argued that Modi has undoubtedly accelerated the decay of India's political and civil life. But any honest reckoning with India's election results must begin with this admission: The country's secular democracy was dying well before Modi gave it a terminal blow.
What Harvard University's political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote in their masterpiece 'How Democracies Die' is pertinent to the cases of many countries, including India.
In their view, sometimes democracy dies with a bang. A coup d'état that brings down the government. A march on the capital as martial law is declared. The state media is taken over. This is the way it usually happens in films and television programs.
But more often, democracies die slowly. In plain sight, at the hands of elected officials. Through the gradual erosion of political norms and institutions, as detailed in their book.
What is happening in India, the largest democracy of the world, in the name of religion, appears to be a perfect example of what the book is talking about.