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Muslim Anxieties and India’s Future

PHILADELPHIA – A couple of weeks ago, Narendra Modi was celebrating his biggest electoral triumph since becoming India’s prime minister in 2014. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had swept into power in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state and one of its poorest. The scale of the victory left the BJP’s opponents shell-shocked, and seemed to indicate that Modi will be a shoo-in to secure a second term in 2019. Anticipating deeper economic reforms from a strengthened Modi administration, India’s stock market surged.

But there is one group with little reason to celebrate the BJP’s victory: India’s 172 million Muslims.

For decades, most of India’s political parties have practiced forms of “strategic secularism” to secure a so-called Muslim vote bank – an approach that has stoked resentment among the country’s Hindu majority while doing little to improve Muslims’ wellbeing. The BJP has gone another route, focusing on drawing votes from aggrieved Hindus. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP did not put up a single Muslim candidate, even though about 18% of the state’s population is Muslim.

That did not have to mean that a BJP victory would be bad for Muslims. On the contrary, the party’s success put it in a strong position to reach out to the Muslim community on core development issues. But, judging by the BJP’s actions since the election, this appears unlikely.