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India's BJP Shows Its Ugly Roots


Riots erupted in August between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, a large city in the key battleground state of Uttar Pradesh. At the end of the several days of destruction, 43 people were dead and tens of thousands had fled their homes. Afterward, two politicians belonging to India’s main opposition party, the BJP (the party of controversial chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi), were arrested for inciting the violence. The charges included making provocative speeches and sharing a particularly vile video depicting a Hindu youth being brutally murdered by Muslims (a video that was ultimately proven to be a fake). The two politicians were later released on bail, and BJP cadres say they were improperly accused.

Today the two politicians were “felicitated“—cheered and celebrated—at a BJP rally in Agra, near the Taj Mahal, a rally which Modi was attending. The two pols were dressed in ceremonial clothes and all smiles as another BJP politician gave a “fiery” speech praising them and saying the ceremony was intended to send a message to rival parties in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest and most important political battleground state. Perhaps seeking to limit the effects of any possible negative publicity that was likely to emerge, Modi was not present for that part of the rally.

The BJP is frequently called a “Hindu nationalist party.” Its ideological roots emerge from the RSS, a right-wing paramilitary and political group known for being anti-Muslim. Banned numerous times since it was founded, the RSS spawned Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, and also provided Narendra Modi with his early political training. Many BJP leaders, including Modi, have long struggled to accommodate the RSS’s more extreme views while making the party broadly popular across the country. Today’s felicitation of two politicians accused of inciting death and destruction against Muslims for political gain is a reminder that the Hindu nationalist fringe exerts a strong pull on the BJP.

[An Indian soldier keeps watch on a deserted street following communal riots between Muslims and Hindus in Muzaffarnagar, India’s Uttar Pradesh state, on September 9, 2013. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]

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