Paul Marshall, a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute and the Hudson Institute, and Wilson Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University.

Lidia Papp is a Research Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute.

India is the world’s largest democracy and its Constitution enshrines secularism, but leaders in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) espouse an ideology called Hindutva, loosely “Hinduness”, often called “Hindu nationalism”. The Party is linked to groups such as the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, often collectively referred to as the Sangh Parivar. The RSS can be among the first groups to offer help after natural disasters, but its militants can also show extreme intolerance, including violence against religious minorities, and maligning writers and artists. Many senior officials in the Indian government, including current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are or have been RSS associates.

There have been Hindutva attacks on Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs. The most horrific instance was the 2002 killing of some two thousand Muslims in Gujarat after Muslim mobs were accused of having set fire to a train carrying Hindu nationalists, killing 58 people. Attacks against Christians are widespread and escalating.

Hindutva ideology can be distinguished from Hinduism itself. It demands neither a theocratic state nor Hinduism as a state ‘religion’. It is national-cultural project, rather than ‘religious’ in the strictly doctrinal sense used in the West, and self-identifies as the soul of India itself. Sangh Parivar militants maintain that religious minorities, including Muslims and secularists, could support Hindutva—and therefore if they do not, they are betraying the nation.

The mainstreaming of Hindutva politics, especially since the BJP returned to power in 2014 under Prime Minister Modi, has led to a widespread narrative that Hindus in India are in danger from Muslims as a result of population changes, interfaith marriage, and illegal Muslim immigration. This has led to discriminatory laws on citizenship and marriage.

The potential impact of Hindutva does not necessarily end at India’s borders. Some Hindu nationalists believe that an accurate map of India should include Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and have campaigned to rewrite Indian textbooks to reflect this. If this sentiment grows and results in a future expansionist foreign policy, India will be more likely to clash again with Pakistan and other neighbors, including China.

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