The Politics of Identity: State-building and Erasure in Modi’s ‘New’ India(George Town)

The relationship between state power and historical memory is important to understand. As part of state-building projects, historical architectures are shaped and edited, identities are erased, and past (often violent) events are re-narrated to create an “official” state story. Such historical reconstruction advances certain “truths” while discarding other—often conflicting—accounts that challenge the official state narrative. Creating a memory of the state has become critical to the state-building project in India. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, their ideological vision of establishing a Hindu State in India, described as Hindutva, has framed a series of government policies that have systematically exploited religious divisions and used existing legal frameworks to target India’s Muslim religious .

The 1992 demolition of the sixteenth-century Babri Masjid mosque followed a lengthy campaign led by Narendra Modi—at that time a mid-level party leader in Gujarat—to replace the mosque with a Hindu . The demolition provoked months of inter-communal rioting that divided urban areas across religious lines and marked the beginning of a nationalist state-building project in India: an attempt to construct a homogeneous national identity. It was not until the 2014 landslide victory of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, that the Hindu nationalist movement was given a unique opportunity to reframe India’s identity. Since taking office, the BJP has systematically exploited religious divisions, created legal frameworks that target India’s Muslim religious minority, and implemented policies that have destroyed or reconfigured cultural heritage.

The Present-Past

Whilst a great deal of analysis has focused on India’s current political climate, the othering of the Muslim community has deep historical roots. The British withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent in 1947 created two successor dominions to British India in the form of Pakistan and India. To navigate India’s diverse religious terrain, two key principles were codified in the Indian Constitution: rights based on citizenship for all and personal religious freedom laws intended to allow minority religious communities to live by their own customs and traditions.

This story was originally published in gjia.georgetown.edu. Read the full story here .

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