In many ways, Narendra Modi, the right-wing ideologue who now enjoys the prime ministership of India, offers the best example of how the new authoritarian leaders produce and maintain a populist strategy. Modi has a long career as a party worker and activist for the Hindu Right in India. He served as chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, and was implicated in the state-wide genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, after some Muslims attacked a train carrying Hindu pilgrims through the state.
Many progressive Indians still believe that Modi actively orchestrated this genocide, but he has managed to overcome many judicial and civil condemnations and won the campaign to become prime minister of India in 2014. He is an open advocate of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) as the governing ideology of India and, like many of the current crop of authoritarian populists across the world, combines extreme cultural nationalism with markedly neoliberal policies and projects.
Under his now almost three-year-old leadership, there has been an unprecedented number of assaults on sexual, religious, cultural and artistic freedoms in India, anchored in a systematic dismantling of the secular and socialist heritage of Jawaharlal Nehru and the non-violent vision of Mahatma Gandhi. Under Modi, war with Pakistan is always a heartbeat away, India’s Muslims are living in growing fear, and Dalits (the lowest castes, previously »Untouchable«) are brazenly attacked and humiliated every day. Modi has brought together the lexicon of ethnic purity with the discourse of cleanliness and sanitation. Indian cultural images abroad, highlighting its combination of digital modernity and Hindu authenticity, and Hindu domination at home are the cornerstones of Indian sovereignty.