The Rise of Hindu Nationalism and Desecularization


This study aims to explore the impact that Hindu nationalism has had on desecularization in India. Four research questions underpin the current investigation. They explore the roles played by Indian political movements in creating a unified vision of the state, the influence of rising Hinduism sentiments on the country’s national identity politics, the extent that the democratic nature of Indian politics has led to political divisions in the state, and the influence of religion on India’s secularization movement. The researcher used secondary research to explore the research issue by drawing on evidence from books, journals, media reports, and credible websites. The materials used in the investigation were retrieved from reputable databases, including Sage Journals, Emerald Insight, Google Scholar, and Springer. Keywords used to search included “Hindu,” “Nationalism,” “divisions,” “Desecularization,” “Democracy,” and “India.” The articles sampled in the analysis were selected based on their impact factor and date of publication – from 2016 to 2021. Data were analyzed using the content analysis method, and the findings showed that the ascension of the BJP to power under the Modi administration has been responsible for rising Hinduism sentiments in India’s national politics, thereby contributing to the desecularization of the state.



Inspired by the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi, among other notable nationalists, India’s democracy has flourished for decades (Kaura, 2021). Notable nationalists, such as Sawmi Vivekananda and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, inspired the freedom movement by advocating for a common identity for all citizens (Singh, 2019). Some notable leaders of the movement included Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar, Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Jawahar Lal Nehru (Kaura, 2021). Their contribution towards the development of India’s democracy is founded on their belief in nationalism. Their activities helped to form and nurture various organizations and political parties that educated people about the importance of the freedom movement and how they could take part in it (Singh, 2019). The progress made by these leaders culminated in the formulation of the Indian National Congress, which was founded in 1885 (Malji, 2018). Its main objective was to foster unity among individuals from different facets of life, to develop a sense of nationhood.

In line with this vision, under the banner of the Indian National Congress, the first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, advocated for the development of an Indian version of secularism that would merge different interests of Indian people to create a common national identity (Kaura, 2021). The country’s constitution provided the unifying framework for achieving this objective and it was designed to promote equality and fairness across the board (Singh, 2019). Therefore, despite India’s diversity, they fostered a common identity in the promise that all citizens would be fairly treated as citizens of India.

Research Problem

Despite the progress made in promoting nationhood in India, the vision of a unified state is under threat from religious fundamentalism (McGowan, 2020). Consequently, community conflicts and political divisions have characterized India’s politics (Daxecker, 2020). This slide from democratic ideals has partly been attributed to changes in the governance structures of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the policies of the current regime, under the Modi government (Vaishnav, 2019). For example, BJP is perceived to have turned into a Hindu nationalist movement whose ideals threaten the secular political order of the country (Vaishnav, 2019). Their actions have led to cracks in Indian society, especially among religious majority and minority groups.

Aim of Study

This study aims to explore the role of rising Hindu nationalism as a threat to India’s secular roots. The idea of Hindu nationalism will be explained using the concept of ethnonationalism, which refers to the promotion of the ideals of one ethnicity or religious group over others (Neupane, 2021). Particularly, the researcher will explore the promotion of Hindu nationalism ideologies in the Indian society, as a departure from secularist ideologies supported by Mahatma Gandhi and other founders of the independent Indian state.

Objectives of Study

  1. To determine the role that India’s political movements played in creating a unified nationalistic ideology of the state
  2. To understand the extent that religion has played in influencing India’s national identity
  3. To find out the role of democratic governance systems in creating social and political harmony in India
  4. To investigate the extent that religious influences have played in influencing India’s secularization movement

Research Questions

  1. What roles did Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) play in creating a unified vision of India?
  2. How have rising Hinduism sentiments in modern India influenced the country’s national identity?
  3. To what extent has the democratic nature of Indian politics led to social fragmentation and political divisions in the state?
  4. To what extent has Hindu nationalism influenced secularization in India?

Importance of Study

Since independence, India has been plagued by cases of political, social, and religious intolerance. This study is useful to the maintenance of social harmony in the country because it explores key tenets of the country’s nationhood-building process, including the influence of politics and religion (Vaishnav, 2019). In this regard, the findings of this study will contribute to discussions that are engineered to promote a culture of peace and ideological tolerance in the country. This will be a positive step towards developing a peaceful and cohesive society in India because political and religious tolerance limits people’s willingness to engage in conflict or violence (Wibisono, Louis and Jetten, 2019). Social harmony will be achieved in the process because the process of developing one’s identity, within a broader national identity focus, is a significant predictor of people’s behaviors, based on whether they are willing to engage in conflict, or not (Vaishnav, 2019). Additionally, the findings of this study will expand the scholarly literature on Indian nationalistic movements, identity politics, and religious debates. These discussions are relevant today due to social and political instabilities caused by divisive elections, rising cases of social and political intolerance, and economic uncertainties that have negatively affected social life in India.

Structure of the Dissertation

This dissertation is divided into five main chapters. The first one is the introduction section, which provides a background for the study and sets the scene for the development of other chapters. The second part is the literature review section and it contains an analysis of extant literature based on what other scholars have written on the research topic. The third section of the paper is the methodology chapter and it highlights techniques chosen by the researcher in answering the research questions. In the fourth chapter, the author provides a summary of the main findings and links them to the research objectives to show how they have helped to address them. An analysis of these findings is also conducted at this stage of the research with mentions of relevant theories and models that help to analyze the research topic to provide a holistic understanding of India’s journey towards building a sustainable national identity. The last chapter of the study will be the conclusion and recommendations chapter, which will outline a summary of the main findings. It will also include recommendations for the improvement of India’s national and democratic movement. However, before getting into the details of this analysis, it is first important to understand the current state of research in this area of investigation. This is the basis for the second chapter of this study, which is a review of existing literature on the topic.

Literature Review

This section of the research contains a review of the current state of research on the topic under investigation. Key issues that will be investigated in this part include the distinction between states and religion, issues associated with the development of secular states, the psychology of state-building, tenets of the Hindutva ideology, and the impact of democratic practice on political divisions. However, before delving into these details, it is important to understand the distinction between states and religion as the foundation for addressing the challenges of nation-building.

Indian Political Environment

Before the Modi administration took power in 2014, the Indian state had been largely faithful to the implementation of Gandhi’s ideologies of secularization, which promoted fairness and equity in law, thereby making India one of the most vibrant democracies in Asia. However, this progress has been undermined by successive regimes that have used religious ideologies to solve perennial social and political conflicts that have afflicted the country since independence (Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020). The activities of the Modi administration come into focus here because before he took over power, state policies were not used to address social conflicts affecting religion and social governance (Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020). For example, religion had not been used as a criterion for gaining citizenship in the state. However, Modi’s administration, for the first time, used it as a criterion for gaining citizenship for minority religious groups, which fled Pakistan due to religious persecution (Winchester, 2020).

This novel policy approach was done through the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019, which offered a path for illegal Hindu immigrants to gain Indian citizenship (Winchester, 2020). However, Muslims who had undergone similar persecution in India and other parts of the world were not eligible for the same citizenship rights (Winchester, 2020). This skewed policy was among the first to be reported of an Indian government offering citizenship status to illegal immigrants because of their faith (Winchester, 2020). Such seemingly discriminatory policies have undermined the spirit that Gandhi and other founders of Indian democracy in building one national identity because it has made some people believe that the state is biased in addressing the plight of its citizens (Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020). Based on the skewed government policy favoring certain religions over others, Hinduism has found a way back into the national politics of India, courtesy of Modi’s administration.

The political violence that has marred India’s democratic systems can also be traced to the political ideologies of the current regime under the Modi administration. The Prime Minister has specifically been accused of harboring retrogressive ideas that promote a dominant religious and fundamentalist view of governance (Pai, 2019). Tracing its power to the RSS movement, there is evidence indicating that Modi’s administration is advancing the same right-wing fundamental beliefs that have characterized RSS’s activities since the pre-independence period (Haider and Azad, 2021). These beliefs are centered on advancing selfish and self-preservationist ideas of governance that undermine democracy because of controversial stands on several social issues, including democratic governance, religious relations, and political violence (Gowen, 2016). In this regard, Modi’s administration has been criticized for either doing too little or nothing, in solving the political disagreements that affect the nation (Liang, 2020).

Particularly, observers who believe that he has played a role in destabilizing the country’s political system by supporting right-wing fundamental groups have questioned his position on the violence meted against Muslim minorities living in India (Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020). For example, Modi has been linked to the 2002 communal violence riots in Gujarat because people he was accused of creating conditions for the massacre of more than 1,000 people (Gowen, 2016). Some critics have also accused Modi of being the head of a political movement that orchestrated the 2002 riots against Muslims because some of his close associates were convicted of the same crime (Gowen, 2016). To demonstrate the criticism against Modi’s leadership and involvement in the 2002 riots, the United States (US) government failed to issue him with a diplomatic passport because of accusations that he was involved in abating the violence (Gowen, 2016). The United Kingdom (UK) also initiated similar proceedings against him in 2002 because of his perceived involvement in the violence (Gowen, 2016). In this regard, there are concerns that the Prime Minister has lost his moral and ethical credibility of becoming a unifying factor in India’s national politics.

Distinction between States and Religion

The relationship between the state and religion has been a topic of interest for many researchers involved in understanding how governments relate to their citizens (Raza and Singh, 2018; de Vries, 2021). For many countries, this relationship is governed by their constitutions (Pasek and Cook, 2019; Henne and Klocek, 2019). Indeed, some nations draw their laws from religion, while others use social norms to develop the supreme body of laws (Simas and Ozer, 2017). Scholars who have delved deeper into understanding the relationship between the state and religion argue that it is often contentious and varies across countries (Raza and Singh, 2018; de Vries, 2021). Particularly, this link is complicated when religion becomes part of a nation’s identity and heritage. This statement partly explains why a country’s history is important in the development of its national identity. Ahmed (2017) supports this statement by saying history plays a critical role in influencing its nation-building agenda. Extant literature also stresses this fact because they point out that history plays a critical role in influencing the extent that people would go in building, protecting, and even destroying national identities (de Vries, 2021; Pasek and Cook, 2019; Henne and Klocek, 2019). This happens by defining and redefining events that shape the course of history, thereby placing certain groups of people at the forefront of state-building projects.

At its core, the role of regulating the relationship between the state and religion has been a prerogative of constitution designers (Ahmed, 2017). The process is complex because it involves different interest groups and parties, such as religious authorities and protectors of religious and sacred codes of law (Pasek and Cook, 2019). Their involvement in constitution-making is to ensure that peace and justice prevail, regardless of whether the state is dominated by one religion, or not (Raza and Singh, 2018). Based on the important role that constitutions play in moderating the relationship between the state and religion, constitution-making has been one of the most difficult tasks for countries around the world.

Scholars indicate that the problems faced by each nation are unique to their social, political, and economic dynamics but certain common factors have characterized social tensions (Ahmed, 2017). One of them is the difficulty in resolving conflicts between states and religions when the constitution, or society itself, gives one religious identity a privileged status over another (Pasek and Cook, 2019). At the same time, countries that have dominant political parties advancing the interest of one religious group, as opposed to another, pose a similar threat (Raza and Singh, 2018). Consequently, an asymmetrical constitutional outcome emerges when religious minorities want their issues resolved using their interpretations of the law and not those of the state.

Those who hold a religious-neutral view of society deem people’s faith as a private matter and not one that requires the involvement of the government and its entities (Henne and Klocek, 2019). These people are also likely to prefer the adoption of universal systems of governance, which accommodate diversity across the religious spectrum (Ahmed, 2017). At the core of their beliefs is the understanding that the state should be neutral on all religious matters affecting its people (Henne and Klocek, 2019). Different countries have navigated the problem of constitution-making in unique ways but three common outcomes have been observed.

The first one is the establishment of a religious state where the principles and guidelines of the dominant religion form a significant part of a nation’s public discourse. Discussions that are affiliated with this topic explain how a state is governed, laws are interpreted, and religious or “moral laws” are incorporated into the public policy agenda of a state (Ahmed, 2017). The second outcome is a symbolic recognition of religion in a state’s operations, but without substantive appeal in how it is governed (de Vries, 2021). This type of system recognizes the role of one, or more, religions in the body politic of a state but without far-reaching implications on its political or governance systems (Pasek and Cook, 2019). The third outcome is the development of a secular state where the government adopts a non-religious understanding of its role in governing citizen relations (Henne and Klocek, 2019). This ideology draws attention to the debate between civic and ethnic nationalism, which have been used to govern states.

Civic nationalism is a philosophy of governance founded on the principles of liberalism, freedom, and tolerance (Nayyar, 2019). Comparatively, ethnic nationalism is defined by the use of shared heritage as the main criteria for making leadership and governance decisions (Nayyar, 2019). The rising influence of Hinduism nationalism in India’s political and governance systems is an example of ethnic nationalism. Comparatively, the secularization of the state represents a case of civic nationalism because leadership and governance processes are founded on the principles of liberalism and tolerance. These ideological influences have been used to understand state governance systems around the world.

Secularism of the State

A secular state recognizes the division between government policies and religion. Stated differently, these types of countries are supposed to be ideally neutral to religious matters, as they should have no link with national governance structures (Lundmark and LeDrew, 2019). Therefore, the common expectation that citizens have is that their governments would treat them equally, regardless of their religious affiliation (Lundmark and LeDrew, 2019). Several researchers have pointed out that secular states should not give preferential treatment to people who hail from the majority religion (Levy, 2020; Troy, 2020). For example, in France, Italy, and Spain, public holidays are still governed by the Christian calendar.

Different states profess the secularism ideology, with some of them taking it as a product of their willingness to form one, while others adopt secularism as a manifestation of their existence (Lundmark and LeDrew, 2019). France and Nepal are examples of countries that have adopted secularism using the latter approach, while Russia and the United States established secularism as a creation of their constitution (Kubilius, 2021). Secularism, as a concept, stems from the inclusion of specific guarantees about the relationship between a government and its people. Scholars have described it in several ways but the establishment of state religion is at the top of the list of features of a secular state (Berg, 2019). Other rules governing the interaction between the state and its citizens are defined by the discontinuation of state funding for religious activities and the liberation of the education system from religious doctrines (Troy, 2020). Similarly, the legal system of a secular state is free from religious control and it exercises a lot of restraint in accommodating people who have varied beliefs (Raza and Singh, 2018). Therefore, it is common to find people from various backgrounds selected, or elected, to leadership positions regardless of their religious backgrounds.

Although secularism emerges as the preferred format of political governance in many western nations, globalization has brought many challenges in its adoption because of immigration and cultural diversity issues (de Vries, 2021). This trend has been observed in many established Western democracies, such as the US, UK, and Canada, which grapple with race and diversity issues (Colorado, 2020). Consequently, the need to integrate diversity in religious and public political discourse has been emphasized in political and social debates (de Vries, 2021). This trend was fuelled by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its affiliated states in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when communism collapsed, thereby leaving the Western-dominated idea of secularism to dominate global political discourse to date (Kubilius, 2021). These developments are relevant to new global superpowers like China and India, which are also practicing a different version of secularism characterized by one political and social order (Korolev and Portyakov, 2019). The economic success of some of these states has proved that an alternative political and social model could be used to generate wealth and create social harmony.

Secularism, although originally intended to promote religious neutrality on global governance, appears to be affected by contemporary tensions between groups of people with diverse cultures and conflicting political goals (Korolev and Portyakov, 2019). These tensions have been built over decades and are far too deep-rooted to be solved by simplistic solutions that have failed to create harmony among warring factions. Nonetheless, the state of local and global politics today point to the creation of a monolithic idea of public discourse that is propelled by Millennials who are advocating for a universal understanding of global political order (Kubilius, 2021). The concept of global-market universalism has emerged from this push and it stems from neoliberal principles of governance, which recognize the need for promoting individual liberties through a universal homogenization of global political ideas (Salam, 2019). The development of this trend has led to new challenges in implementing secularism because it has created a divide between people who truly believe in this new order and those who are unsure about it.

Today, secular states are facing immense pressure because of waning confidence in the implementation of their core ideals (Hudiyana et al., 2019). These challenges can be summed into three groups with the first one being the non-acceptance of the secular state by some religious groups (Ahmed, 2017). This problem is further compounded by the fact that some religious organizations only accepted secularism to a degree and its weaknesses are fuelling contempt for its application, especially if they do not appeal to their core religious fundamental beliefs (Hudiyana et al., 2019). Consequently, militant religious confrontations are being used as a weapon against the state and some of their actions have culminated in political violence.

The second challenge affecting secular states is the criticism leveled against them by some of its supporters who believe that they are not being “secular enough” because they are accepting mild forms of religious influences (Ahmed, 2017; Henne and Klocek, 2019). Stated differently, these groups of people are undermining the current form of secularism because they deem it too weak to stand up to the subtle infiltration of religious beliefs in public discourse. Therefore, their main contention is that states should not yield to mild forms of religious influences (Henne and Klocek, 2019). Coupled by global events, such as increased levels of immigration, and the consequences of decolonization, secular states now have to rethink their relevance and purpose in stable and emerging democracies, especially in the context of the role of religion in people’s lives (Henne and Klocek, 2019). Overall, the development of the idea of nation-states partly obscures the role of religious diversity in shaping contemporary societies but emerging sentiments about the need to examine the role of religion in public discourse are bringing these discussions to the fore again. Therefore, secular states have to rethink their place in contemporary societies.

The Psychology of State Building

The concept of nationalism has been paralleled with the emergence of the state as a political unit of control because a nation is not a natural entity in society (Jansen and Delahaij, 2020). Instead, it is a politically constructed ideology underscoring the emotive and psychological construction of a nation as a collective unit of identity among a group of people (Solis, 2020). The psychological appeal of national identities partly traces its roots to the social identity theory proposed by Henri Tajfel (Jansen and Delahaij, 2020). It states that nationalism draws its power from a willingness of people to develop a common identity and by acting in furtherance of it (Jansen and Delahaij, 2020). Therefore, the theory is a psychosocial construct of national ideals based on how one perceives their identity within a group setting.

The social identity theory draws its tenets from research studies done to understand human behavior in various social units, including families, sports teams, and even social classes (Jansen and Delahaij, 2020). It further suggests that people identify with these groupings because they play a critical role in improving their self-esteem (Jansen and Delahaij, 2020). Furthermore, these identities are a source of pride for people who identify with these units, especially if they are successful (Jansen and Delahaij, 2020). For example, a country’s nationals could take pride in belonging to one identity because it represents their home and heritage. This is why nationalism is central to the furtherance of people’s sense of identity.

Researchers point out that social divisions are a permanent feature of many societies because people like to group others into specific social identities (Ahmed, 2017; Jansen and Delahaij, 2020; Henne and Klocek, 2019). This attitude breeds an “us versus them” mentality, which portends several implications on people’s sense of identity. For example, some pieces of literature have pointed out that this social grouping phenomenon tends to exaggerate differences between groups of people, to the extent of breeding violence and extremism when people “fight” for what they believe in (Hegre, 2014; Ahmed, 2017; Jansen and Delahaij, 2020). Additionally, the creation of these social groups creates a fertile ground for stereotyping people by creating assumptions about who they are, what they do, and what they stand for.

The prejudices that are developed across these group settings could result in extreme negative outcomes, such as the violence meted against Jews by the Germans or the ethnic clashes that happened in Rwanda between the Tutsis and Hutus, which caused the death of millions of people (McDoom, 2020). Recently, Yugoslavia provided a contemporary example of ethnic and religious differences that could create rifts between people, as was seen between the Bosnians and the Serbs (McDoom, 2020). The overall assessment of the social identity theory is that people tend to develop their identities by finding differences or faults with other group members (McDoom, 2020). In this quest, a bias emerges in cognitive reasoning, which portrays people sharing one identity as being more similar than they are.

Vulnerability of Democracies to Political Divisions and Social Fragmentation

Countries have to take necessary steps to secure their democracies because of their vulnerability to the tensions created by political divisions that occur during and after elections. The recent protests in Greece and Thailand, against government austerity measures, prove that the citizenry is aware and ready to protect its views regarding different aspects of governance (Hegre, 2014). Researchers have delved deeper into this issue by exploring whether democratic countries are more prone to political divisions compared to countries that have alternate political systems (Birch, Daxecker and Höglund, 2020). The extant literature indicates that democratic states are more vulnerable to political divisions compared to those that have alternative political systems because political competition and the freedom to protest are anchored in law (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). Therefore, the vulnerability of democracies to acute political divisions comes from their high levels of accountability to a large portion of their citizenry (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). This statement means that they cannot engage in extreme acts of counter-insurgence to quell social fragmentation that emerges from political competition.

At the same time, evidence indicates that democratic states have a difficult time managing social and political divisions that occur due to political competition because their legitimacy is founded on the equal treatment of all citizens (Hegre, 2014). This statement means that they have to follow due process when engaging with lawless people (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). Similarly, their actions have to be subjected to known systems of accountability (Birch, Daxecker and Höglund, 2020). Therefore, countering violent extremism with force may delegitimize a government, thereby necessitating the use of more subtle approaches to manage dissent. This limitation makes democratic states more vulnerable to social fragmentation, compared to autocratic ones.

In some cases, people who want to destabilize governments, or create a negative image of them, may instigate political or social dissent to provoke the state to act forcefully (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). Therefore, democratic states have to be prudent in the manner they manage protests. These insights suggest that democratic states are more vulnerable to political divisions compared to autocratic systems of governance (Daxecker, 2020). The evidence also indicates that social fragmentation tends to be more prolonged in democratic countries because the subtle approaches taken to counter dissent in these states are not effective enough to abate further conflict (Birch, Daxecker and Höglund, 2020; Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020).

Although the above findings highlight weaknesses in democratic systems that lead to social fragmentation and political divisions, the existing research evidence also indicates that, established democratic governments experience little or no negative effects of social fragmentation due to political competition (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). For example, Japan and France experience less social upheaval from differences in political views due to their established political systems (Hegre, 2014). The extant literature suggests that cases of political disagreements often occur internally and lead to fewer casualties because of the subtle approaches taken by their governments to quell dissent (Hegre, 2014). This case shows that democracy is not inherently prone to social fragmentation but its practice is.

Based on the above findings, the strength of democratic institutions in a country plays a significant role in determining the level of vulnerability of countries to political divisions. Hegre (2014) reinforces this statement by saying that low-income countries, or those with weak democratic systems, are likely to experience the worst forms of social fragmentation because of weak institutional governance systems. For example, Sri Lanka and Columbia have experienced long periods of political insurgency, while less developed countries in Europe have been spared this outcome (Hegre, 2014). Differences in vulnerability levels have been attributed to the increased propensity for people in low-income countries to use political competition as a means of accomplishing their social and economic goals (Birch, Daxecker and Höglund, 2020). This practice is partly attributed to weak institutional governance systems that make it possible to pursue uncouth methods of dispute resolution to achieve, social, political, and economic goals (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). For example, corruption, weak legal processes, and ineffective bureaucratic systems provide a strong incentive for people who are dissatisfied with a country’s political system to provoke deep-seated ethnic and religious tensions as a means of solving their conflicts (Hegre, 2014). Therefore, the strength of a country’s institutions plays a significant role in ensuring that democracy is not exploited to advance ethnic and fundamentalist ideas.

Researchers argue that the most common feature for countries that experience vulnerability to political divisions due to democratic governance is the existence of growing dissent towards existing governance systems among the population (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). Stated differently, these states are commonly associated with low-income countries whose citizens suffer economic and political repression Therefore, political dissent provides them with a solution for addressing these grievances and weak institutional systems make it possible to pursue illegal means of dispute resolution with little or no legal consequences (Hegre, 2014). Therefore, low-income countries with weak institutional governance systems are likely to experience social fragmentation due to the practice of democratic ideals.

The ineffectiveness of political systems in addressing social and political issues affecting the populace is further worsened by the fact that most democracies rarely outlaw political groups – even those that oppose mainstream government ideologies (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). Furthermore, dissent is largely celebrated or tolerated as part of democratic practice. Therefore, a country that does not have dissenting voices is perceived to not fully practice its democratic system (Hegre, 2014). At the same time, political formations that counter mainstream ideologies may masquerade as being champions of the needs of the people but may have ulterior motives that could be aimed at destabilizing governments (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). Overall, although democratic governments are more effective in creating nationalistic ideologies compared to authoritarian states, the existing research evidence indicates that advanced democracies experience less violent forms of political divisions or social fragmentation because of the proper application of democratic principles (Birch, Daxecker and Höglund, 2020). This is why countries, such as the UK, US, and Canada report low incidences of social fragmentation or political divisions due to democratic practice.

The main recourse associated with democratic governments that allow them to remain stable is the legal opportunities they give their citizens to air their grievances in structured forms and frameworks (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). Therefore, instead of resorting to illegal means of quelling dissent, people can easily air their grievances using acceptable channels of communication and have them addressed by relevant authorities. Therefore, social fragmentation happens when governments or political systems exploit opportunities for creating social disharmony with little or no interference from the state (Dyrstad and Hillesund, 2020). This is the main reason why low-income countries with weak democratic institutions are prone to instability compared to mature democracies.

Hindutva Ideology

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar coined the term Hindutva, in the early 1920s, to define a religious ideology of leadership and governance (Jaffrelot, 2019). As its name suggests, Hindutva is mostly preoccupied with the promotion of Hindu ideologies in politics and governance (Teltumbde, 2020). In other words, it seeks to promote a common religious ideology in governance and politics. Three organizations championed the spread of the ideology in Indian society, among them being Vishva Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Teltumbde, 2020). Hindutva has been criticized for promoting radical beliefs that are commonly associated with right-wing religious extremist views (Jaffrelot, 2019). In some works of literature, this school of thought is regarded as a classic case of fascism, which is defined by the strong regimentation of society based on nationhood or race relations, as opposed to individual identities (Basu, 2017). At its core, it appeals to people who want a cultural hegemony characterized by an extreme form of conservatism in social and political life (Jaffrelot, 2019). In western literature, the concept of Hindutva is associated with ethnic absolutism because the views of one religion are often valued more than others are (Teltumbde, 2020; Jaffrelot, 2019). Therefore, Hindutva has been characterized as a fundamentalist right-wing political ideology that promotes religious hegemonic beliefs above all other considerations.

In some literature, Hindutva has been characterized as a cultural justification for the imposition of the Hindu way of life on communities and family life (Basu, 2017). The ideology is largely practiced in India and it traces its roots to the country’s Supreme Court ruling of 1966, which stated that Hinduism is a broad concept that not only influences how people live but also what they believe in (Teltumbde, 2020; Jaffrelot, 2019). Proponents of Hindutva suggest that Hinduism is a way of life and not a religious fundamentalist group (Basu, 2017). Those who hold this view also believe that it is a state of mind, which when adopted, allows people to live in the ways of the sect’s members (Teltumbde, 2020). In other words, it confers meaning in life through a cultural identity common to all.

Proponents of the Hindutva ideology also advocate for the equality of religions and they do not shy away from requiring Christian and Muslims to convert (Basu, 2017). In other words, they presuppose that, regardless of one’s faith, people should be subjected to the same rules (Teltumbde, 2020). The justification for requiring the imposition of these laws is the belief that individuals who practice the Hindu faith share certain common beliefs and practices, such as their philosophies of life, aspirations, and values (Basu, 2017). These preferences are specific to India because Hindus believe that the country is their spiritual homeland. Therefore, they respect the Hindutva way of life because of this reason.

Broadly, the major concepts and issues represented in Hindutva include the political and social representation of the Hindu faith. In some cases, this association is considered exclusively for the benefit of those who profess the faith or prefer to live a Hindu lifestyle (Jaffrelot, 2019). The concept is also designed to facilitate the realization of social justice according to the rules of the Hindu faith (Jaffrelot, 2019). From an economic perspective, Hindutva also advocates for the decentralization or liberalization of the economy by abolishing a centralized economic model where economic plans and resources are controlled from one point (Basu, 2017). In this regard, its religious roots could permeate different facets of life, including governance, politics, and economics.


This literature review shows that the current state of research on building national identity in India is fragmented. Particularly, the link between the current actions of the Modi government and the desecularization of the Indian state has not been fully explored. Additionally, the literature fails to make the connection between past historical conceptions of India’s nationalistic and political movements and current political and social policies in India. This is the basis for the present study because it seeks to draw links between these different aspects of India’s nationhood project. The next chapter highlights strategies adopted by the researcher in addressing the current gap in research.


As highlighted in chapter two above, the current state of research on building a national identity in India is fragmented. Consequently, four research questions underpin the current investigation. They explore the roles played by Indian political movements in creating a unified vision of India, the influence of rising Hinduism sentiments on the country’s national identity politics, the extent that the democratic nature of Indian politics has led to social fragmentation and political divisions in the state, and the influence of religion on India’s secularization movement. This chapter highlights techniques the researcher used in answering these research questions and the rationales for selecting them. The format used to structure this chapter is borrowed from the work of Karkukly (2018), which outlines different stages and phases of developing a research methodology. They include research choice, philosophy, strategy, and time format for undertaking a study.

Research Philosophy

A research philosophy refers to the worldview adopted by a researcher in performing an investigation (Karkukly, 2018). Typically, two types of research philosophies are applicable in academic studies and they include interpretivism and positivism (Kalelioğlu, 2020). The positivism approach assumes that knowledge is independent of the researcher, while the interpretivism research philosophy assumes that knowledge is subjective, based on a researcher’s observations (Kalelioğlu, 2020). Given that the current study was focused on understanding the rise of Hindu nationalism and its relationship with desecularization in India, the interpretivism research philosophy was the most suitable technique to use for the investigation because identity politics is subjective. Stated differently, the interpretivism research philosophy was justifiably used in the investigation because the formation of national identity involves empirical and subjective views and opinions about politics and governance. Therefore, the interpretivism research philosophy was instrumental in addressing the research topic.

Research Choice

Researchers often use different strategies to investigate various topics in academic studies. Karkukly (2018) suggests that they have an option of using single, multiple, or mixed methods to achieve this goal. The mixed-methods technique was used in the present study because the research questions were both exploratory and explanatory. The mixed-methods technique emerged as the best fit for the study because it integrates qualitative and quantitative data in a research study (Karkukly, 2018). In the context of the present review, research questions that investigated the extent that religious and ethnic influences have influenced government policies in India were quantitative, while those that explored their impact on national identity politics were exploratory. Both types of questions were best captured using the mixed method approach because of its ability to accommodate both sets of data.

Research Strategy

The current study was conducted as a review of secondary research information about the rise of Hindu nationalism and desecularization in India. The technique was selected for the study because it helps to build on current research, thereby leading to the development of superior findings (Karkukly, 2018). The national scope of the investigation, which was centered on understanding the rise of Hindu nationalism and desecularization in India, provided additional justification for using secondary research in the present study because of the impracticality of conducting primary research on such a vast and complex research issue. Chee and Tan (2017) add that secondary research is useful in research contexts where it is practically impossible to conduct primary research. Therefore, the research strategy was appropriately used for the investigation because of the lack of resources and time to carry out a nationwide study in India.

Data Collection and Analysis

As highlighted above, secondary research was used to come up with the findings of the study. This means that the researcher met the objectives of the study by using data from published sources. They included journals, books, media reports, and credible websites. These materials were retrieved from reputable databases, including Sage Journals, Emerald Insight, Google Scholar, and Springer. In all the sources of data used to come up with the findings of the study, the researcher only included information published within the last five years (from 2016 to 2021). The goal was to use information that was updated and relevant to the current dynamics of the Indian political scene. Furthermore, this data collection strategy was consistent with the focus of the study, which was intended to evaluate the role of the government in influencing identity politics in India from the year 2014, when the Modi administration took power, to date. Journals that had an impact factor closer to 10 were given preference in the data collection process compared to those that had a value of three or less. The keywords used to retrieve them were: “Hindu,” “Nationalism,” “political divisions,” “Desecularization,” “Democracy,” and “India.”

For the data analysis part, the researcher used the content analysis method to analyze the publications collected for review. This technique works by identifying the presence of specific words or themes in a text and using them to draw patterns or examine relationships among research variables (Cabitza, Batini and Magni, 2018). The justification for using this technique in the present investigation is enshrined in its ability to make connections and identify relationships between different themes or concepts that helped to explain the influence of Hinduism ideologies on national identity politics in India (Cabitza, Batini and Magni, 2018). The researcher used this technique to make inferences about the contents of each of the articles or materials reviewed and their relationship with the objectives of the study. These inferences made were also used in describing the culture and the environment that prevailed when specific policies influencing national identity politics were developed or implemented. Therefore, the content analysis method was applied as a relational analysis of the main concepts and themes explaining the rise of Hindu nationalism and its impact on desecularization in India.

Time Horizon

Two main types of time series analyses are used in research investigations. The first one is the cross-sectional time-series format, which investigates a research issue at one point in time and the second one is the longitudinal time series analysis, which studies a research issue for a long period, such as several years, months, or days (Stokes, 2017). At the same time, the longitudinal time series analysis assumes one focus, or purpose, in a study and investigates it over a long time (Stokes, 2017). Based on these definitions, the researcher used the longitudinal time series analysis to undertake the current investigation because the focus was on understanding shifts and transformations in India’s nationalism movements between the years 2014 and 2021. Collectively, these years represent a 7-year period of analysis, which denotes the period, which the Modi administration has been in power.

Research Findings and Analysis

As highlighted in chapter three above, the findings developed in this investigation were derived from a review of secondary data published in the past five years. The content analysis method was used to answer the research questions through a relational analysis of different concepts and themes underpinning national identity politics in India. The table below shows the themes that emerged from the probe.

Table 4.1 Emerging themes and codes (Source: Developed by the researcher).

Code Theme
1 Nationalism Movement
2 Hinduism and National Identity Formation
3 Political Violence and Indian Democracy
4 Hindu Nationalism and Secularization in India

According to the table above, the first theme that emerged in the investigation related to articles that explored the history of the nationalism movement in India, with a special emphasis on the role played by political parties and organizations in fostering a common ideology among different sects and religious groups in India. This theme provided the foundation for the development of a common national identity for Indians. Articles that primarily explained the role of BJP and RSS were grouped in this theme because they explained some of the earliest foundations of Hindutva ideologies in India’s political scene. This first thematic area was assigned “code 1” to underscore the foundation for the analysis of how India’s national identity politics have progressed from the pre-independence era to date.

The second theme that emerged in the investigation related to the growth of Hinduism and national identity formation. Articles that related to this area of the probe were allocated “code 2” to explain the role of religious fundamentalism in nation-building. The theme helped to build upon the first one above by showing the influences and the role that the unification movement played in fuelling or quelling religious tensions between Muslims and Hindus in India. This second theme was also linked with the activities of BJP and RSS, which played a key role in influencing national identity politics in India. In other words, it showed the transition from the pre-colonial agitation for independence to the creation of a common identity for all citizens.

The third theme that emerged in the investigation related to the role that political violence has played in shaping Indian democracy. The researcher allocated “code 3” to articles that addressed this theme because they helped to build on the first two, which started from the creation of an independent state to the growth and development of India’s national identity through the prism of religious fundamentalism. This third theme of analysis was relevant to the contemporary dynamics of the Indian democratic state because it spoke to the development of democratic ideals that should ideally govern a secular state. Therefore, it was a natural progression of the other two themes identified above.

The fourth theme registered in the study was associated with articles that were updated with the current political situation in India where the resurgence of Hindu nationalism threatens the democratic gains made by the Indian republic so far. It focused on how Hindu nationalism affected its secular ideals, which the Indian constitution was founded on. The researcher grouped articles that spoke about the actions and inactions of the Modi government in creating this crisis into this theme and assigned them “code 4” to facilitate data analysis. Therefore, the threats posed by the resurgence of Hindu nationalism under the Modi government were analyzed within this thematic area and their findings were used to portray a holistic picture of the role of religious fundamentalism in the creation of national identity politics from cultural, religious, and political points of view. These themes outline the findings of the content analysis and are detailed below.

Nationalist Movement

Articles that spoke about India’s nationalist movement suggest that it was initially characterized by violence and conflict between two major religious groups – Hindus and Muslims (Masood and Nisar, 2020; Andersen and Damle, 2018; Chaturvedi, 2020; Kulkarni, 2017; Basu, 2019; Kumar, 2020a). They also demonstrated that different social movements in India conceptualized the nationalist movement, which later morphed into organizations designed to emancipate the Indian people from the yolk of colonialism (Chaturvedi, 2020). From a political standpoint, the BJP was instrumental in catalyzing this change with limited assistance from the RSS (Andersen and Damle, 2018). Historical texts suggest that the BJP and the Indian National Congress were the two main political parties that championed a nationalistic ideology among most of the political players of the time (Masood and Nisar, 2020). Besides being the current ruling party, the BJP has traditionally been associated with advancing right-wing political beliefs about nationhood and their stance has mostly been supported by the advancement of radical Hindu-centred political beliefs (Kulkarni, 2017). Its current political beliefs stem from those advanced by the RSS, which was a much older political body that promoted radical Hindu political beliefs.

Of significance to this study are the ideologies and philosophies advanced by the BJP, which are relevant to the national identity politics of the state. At the core of BJP’s operations is a commitment to Hindutva, which propagates Hindu beliefs and philosophies in governance (Kulkarni, 2017). It also advances ideologies that are founded on social conservatism and integral humanism (Kulkarni, 2017). This philosophy dictates that all economic activities and progress in the state should be centered on an individual, as the focus of all social, economic, and political progress (Kumar, 2020b). At the same time, as was highlighted in the literature review section of this study, the concept of Hindutva favors the development of cultural hegemony in India. This ideology was established as one of the hallmarks of BJP governance and it promoted the advancement and acceptance of Hindu ideologies in politics and governance as opposed to western ideals on the same (Kumar, 2020a). In this regard, the RSS and BJP, which promoted Hindutva were aimed at promoting or advancing Hindu ideologies, regardless of one’s religious background, because westernization was the common enemy.

Originally, Hindutva beliefs were not directly associated with the BJP because its partners, such as the National Democratic Alliance, preferred the adoption of liberal democratic policies aimed at supporting economic growth through globalization (Andersen and Damle, 2018). Comparatively, the BJP promotes a social welfare ideology founded on Hindu religious principles (Basu, 2019). In this regard, one of the main hallmarks of the BJP in the debate regarding the national identity politics of the state was to protect the cultural identity of India, as being predominantly Hindu (Kumar, 2020a). It was also aimed at countering the appeasement of Muslim minority groups stationed in Pakistan, by certain sections of the government, such as the Congress Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (Andersen and Damle, 2018). Therefore, left on its own, the BJP advocates for the advancement of Hindutva, but when it is in a collation with other parties, it adopts a moderate and liberal view of politics and governance founded on secularism.

One of the key hallmarks of the BJP is its minimal engagement with the citizenry; instead, it chooses to participate in propaganda campaigns to advance its agenda (Nayak, 2021). This strategy has helped it to develop a uniform civil code in politics and governance as well as to institutionalize Hindu-centred social and political order, such as forbidding the slaughtering of cows (Andersen and Damle, 2018). The special status given to the Jammu and Kashmir regions, which are located in the Northern part of India, has also been undermined because of the activities of the BJP (Behera, 2016). However, the party has factions within it that promote a radical and moderate interpretation of national identity politics within the Hindu sphere of national identity politics (Kumar, 2020b). On one hand, moderates believe in a subtle interpretation of Hindu fundamental beliefs in operationalizing national politics, while on the other hand, another wing of the BJP traces its roots to the RSS, and it advocates for a complete authoritarian understanding of the same (Andersen and Damle, 2018). Therefore, the party is not hegemonic in its interpretation of Hindutva.

Before the BJP ascended to power in 2014, under the Modi regime, a section of the party accused the moderates of practicing a form of pseudo-secularism, which was intended at appeasing their Muslim foes (Gangadhar, 2020). They considered this practice as a threat to the dominance of Hindus in national politics and in dominating the cultural identity of the state (Andersen and Damle, 2018; Chaturvedi, 2020). Those who held such radical beliefs were mostly associated with the RSS, which was the military wing of the BJP (Kumar, 2020a). Unlike the BJP, the RSS did not present itself as a political movement, but rather a cultural organization that promptly advocated for the creation of a state founded on Hindutva ideologies (Andersen and Damle, 2018). This organization played a key role in propagating Hindu beliefs in national politics because it had local support across different regions in India (Kulkarni, 2017). Therefore, headed by a national leader, the organization played a key role in institutionalizing national ideologies about Hinduism at the regional level. The main outcome of its contribution towards the nationalism movement was its unification of different Hindu castes and social groups in national identity politics. Therefore, as opposed to creating a common national identity, the organization tried to foster unity among different castes and classes of the Hindu people.

The RSS played a key role in promoting the unification of the Hindu people and even ran a paramilitary unit that sought to inculcate discipline and sacrifice as a form of commitment towards the general goal of fostering unity among fragmented Hindu groups (Kumar, 2020a). Its mantra was to achieve independence through the protection of Hindu fundamental beliefs and their communal culture (Kulkarni, 2017). This means that its goal was not necessarily to fight colonial powers but to protect the overall identity of the Hindu culture. This approach was tactfully meant to protect the interests of the RSS because pursuing an anti-British strategy in promoting national independence would subsequently have led to a government ban (Andersen and Damle, 2018).

The Indian National Congress was the main political body advancing an anti-British agenda, as a technique for promoting nationalism in India (Andersen and Damle, 2018; Chaturvedi, 2020). This finding means that the RSS stuck to pursuing its interests within the prism of the law and refrained from antagonizing the government. Some observers criticized it for fostering communal violence in India, thereby putting it at crossroads with the government (Masood and Nisar, 2020; Kulkarni, 2017; Basu, 2019; Kumar, 2020a). Nevertheless, the RSS shares a close connection with the BJP because some of the latter’s leaders were drawn from it.

The role of the RSS in shaping national identity politics can also be viewed from the lens of the long-standing conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India because it acted as a paramilitary unit aimed at defending the rights of Hindus and advancing the religion’s ideologies in the conflict between the two groups (Andersen and Damle, 2018). In this regard, the RSS emerges as one of the earliest foundations of Hindu ideologies in Indian politics, thereby forming the basis for the development of Hindu-centred ideologies seen today.

Overall, these findings suggest that the RSS played a critical role in galvanizing the support of the Hindu faithful in promoting a nationalistic agenda centered on religious fundamentalism. Mahatma Gandhi was also involved in its activities but his ideas were not designed to promote religious fundamentalism but rather to awaken the conscience of both Hindus and Muslims about the importance of nation-building (Ivanov, 2017). This is why he worked with both groups to promote a common secularist ideology of nationhood.

Role of Hinduism in Influencing India’s National Identity

Research articles that explored the role of Hinduism in influencing India’s national identity politics suggest that the religion’s impact on secularism in India stems from the activities of past empires that thrived in the state, including the Gupta and Maurya regimes (Chatterjee, 2019; Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020; Ivanov, 2017). They imposed the caste system, which has been part of Indian identity politics for generations. It instills a social hierarchy among groups of people, thereby undermining the idea of national unity by making it almost impossible for people from one class to crossover into another one. More recently, the revival of Hinduism in the late 19th and 20th centuries contributed to the redefinition of these social groupings from a class-based system to a religious one (Chatterjee, 2019). Particularly, the quest for self-governance in a post-independence India, which was spearheaded by some of the religion’s ardent followers, such as Arya Samaj, played a critical role in shaping India’s national identity politics because it advocated for a national identity founded on religious beliefs as opposed to class (Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020; Ivanov, 2017). Through their contributions, they managed to shift the attention away from the class-based system that fostered segregation among communities to one that evoked feelings of nationalism based on people’s religious beliefs (Monteiro, 2020). This was among the first attempts of developing a national identity in Indian society but it blurred the lines between religion and politics.

Based on the above findings, the Indian nationalistic cause heavily borrowed from Hindu doctrines, especially in Bengal, where such movements were visible and vibrant (Dasgupta, 2020). In line with this development, some religious Hindu festivals were used as platforms for advancing nationalist propaganda (Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020; Ivanov, 2017). In these settings, people were encouraged to fight for the “spirit of India” through religious devotion (Dasgupta, 2020). Mahatma Gandhi’s contribution to Hindu nationalism also followed this trajectory of awakening the national conscience, especially after it was apparent that he was a top leader in the Hindu nationalism movement (Ivanov, 2017). Particularly, his philosophy of nonviolence was heavily borrowed from Hindu doctrines and was partly inspired by Christian texts (Monteiro, 2020). Therefore, beliefs in the equality of sexes and the importance of manual labor were partly conceived at this time because of the fundamental Hindu teachings that he learned (Ivanov, 2017). In this regard, his religious beliefs inspired his nationalistic ideologies.

Being a traditionalist, Gandhi’s acceptance of certain Hindu doctrines undermined his appeal to the broader Indian populace, especially from non-Hindus. For example, his respect for the cow as a representation of earth’s sanctity and life eroded his appeal among Muslims, thereby making it harder for him and his followers to promote a national agenda that cut across religious lines (Ivanov, 2017). Although his activities largely leaned towards the domination of Hindu ideologies in National politics, Gandhi reached out to non-Hindus when appealing for the creation of a national conscience, especially as it related to how India was governed (Ivanov, 2017). Therefore, although he professed the Hindu faith, he understood the importance of transcending these religious ideologies for the development of a broader national identity that would be accepted by all religions. Gandhi was partly successful in awakening India’s national conscience but some of his followers were unhappy that he deviated from the Hindu cause to accommodate a secularist ideology of state-building (Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020; Ivanov, 2017).

Political Divisions and their Relationship with Indian Democracy

The literature review section of this study showed that democratic states with weak institutions are vulnerable to social fragmentation and political divisions due to competition during elections. Therefore, the negative effects of democratic governance have been felt in relatively weak states because of feeble institutional systems of governance (Birch, Daxecker and Höglund, 2020). Therefore, the ineffective application of democratic ideals in governance can destabilize weak nations. However, this outcome does not portray the full picture of challenges affecting India’s nationalistic movement because political divisions and social fragmentation represent the acts of a few religious fundamentalists and not those of the majority of its adherents (Birch, Daxecker and Höglund, 2020). Nonetheless, the actions of these fundamental religious groups have changed the course of public discourse in the country. This type of religious extremism has taken many forms but scholars have associated it with the concept of Hindutva.

Like other western jurisdictions of the world, India has developed policies and laws that have systematically undermined democracy and created opportunities for social fragmentation (Daxecker, 2020). Therefore, for more than 75 years after independence, the government still engages in practices that undermine the democratic gains made to promote nationhood, such as adopting policies that systematically discriminate against religious minorities and mete violence on government critics (Daxecker, 2020). The most retrogressive policies have been seen in the past couple of years, when the Modi administration took power, with increased incidences of violence reported among sections of the population (McGowan, 2020). This is due to discriminatory or insensitive government policies that have failed to secure the original vision of Indian secularism, which was aimed at uniting all people (Vaishnav, 2019). Instead, there has been a growing sense of Hindu nationalism emanating from the top leadership of the country and that has permeated throughout different cadres of society (McGowan, 2020). This development threatens the social fabric of Indian society because it has the potential of breeding dissent among minority ethnic and religious groups.

Research articles sampled in this paper that have addressed the relationship between political divisions and Indian democracy portray social fragmentation in India as a product of the misapplication of democratic principles and laws in the state (Haider and Azad, 2021; Liang, 2020; Lahiry, 2019; Birkvad, 2020; Jayaram, 2017; Ranjan, 2018; Ayyash, 2019; Pinisetti, 2019; Jayaram, 2017). Some of them opine that the political disharmony witnessed in the country is a result of fanatic religious activities that have characterized the country’s social and political landscape for the past five decades (Liang, 2020; Lahiry, 2019; Yadav, 2019; Sharma, 2020; Pai, 2019; Nath, 2019). These divisions have been propagated by two seemingly incompatible religious groups – Muslims and Hindus.

The government’s ineffectiveness in addressing long-standing issues between these two groups is a remnant of post-colonial fragments of national identity politics because, during the colonial era, the British were a neutral force that was set up to prevent both parties from antagonizing each other (Birkvad, 2020). The destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in the early 1990s culminated in the worst form of religious dissent that saw thousands of people die due to religious violence in a back and forth exchange of violence that lasted for weeks (Jayaram, 2017). The conflict has since degenerated into what some scholars term a “holy war” where the two factions perpetually disagree with one another on various issues about the governance of the state (Ranjan, 2018; Haider and Azad, 2021; Liang, 2020). For a long time, state actors have often characterized these disagreements as a natural consequence of groups of people holding fundamentally divergent views on governance (Ayyash, 2019; Pinisetti, 2019; Jayaram, 2017). This approach of conflict assessment undermines any attempt at finding the real cause of the conflict, who benefits from it, and what could be done to solve it.

Using the instrumentalist school of thought, complacency by authorities and acts of provocation by some politicians to support one side over another have forced some observers to characterize the religious conflict in India as one which is abated by sections of government and Indian society (Ayyash, 2019). They say the state has made a weak attempt at being the neutral force that would help both parties in the conflict to find a long-term solution to their perennial issues (Sharma, 2020; Pai, 2019; Nath, 2019). Compulsions of democracy and electoral ambitions among some of the major political actors in India have further worsened the conflict because they have allowed politicians to mobilize voters, during elections, based on their religious beliefs, as opposed to their ideological strengths (Pinisetti, 2019). This strategy in democratic practice has resulted in the creation of extremist religious ideologies that continue to fan the flames of violence each electoral cycle.

The instrumentalist view of thought also puts state actors and politicians in India at the center of periodic political divisions witnessed in the country because collectively, they form a loose network of institutionalized systems that encourage extremists to antagonize their foes (Ayyash, 2019; Sharma, 2020; Pai, 2019; Nath, 2019). For example, the burning of the Babri Masjid mosque was partly linked to complacency by authorities who were accused of directing Hindu extremist groups to destroy Muslim-owned establishments and institutions of worship (Jayaram, 2017). The existence of this bias by the state has eroded confidence among sections of the Indian population regarding the ability of the government to stop religious antagonism witnessed in the country (Kumaraswamy, 2018). Particularly, Muslims have been skeptical about the state’s ability to maintain a neutral position in addressing their grievances with the majority Hindu adherents (Nath, 2019). Consequently, communal relations have been in a state of tension, thereby intoxicating the political environment of the state, and making it difficult for a democracy to thrive.

The government of India has also been accused of being complacent in addressing underlying issues affecting its population, such as the implementation of discriminatory laws and policies that aid one side of the divide over another (Haider and Azad, 2021; Liang, 2020; Saikia, 2020; Som, 2019). Particularly, attention has been drawn to the 2004 deaths of one woman and two men who were killed by Hindu fundamentalists for taking part in the 2008 Mumbai Terrorist attack (Sharma, 2020). Despite these accusations, Modi has remained a champion and leader among his Hindu followers.

To highlight the contribution that the current Indian government has made in undermining democracy, researchers have pointed to Modi’s relationship with the media as a point of weakness exhibited by a leader of his stature (Sharma, 2018; Udupa, 2018; Yadav, 2019). They suggest that he is contemptuous of the media, especially those that do not promote his religious ideals or national political agenda (Udupa, 2018). Additionally, they argue that in his quest to maintain a carefully crafted image of himself, Modi has been easily irritable when “negative” information is published about him (Sharma, 2018; Yadav, 2019). This weakness was seen in his re-election campaign when he was accused of censoring the media, especially those that presented an unflattering image of him (Sharma, 2018). Such actions have also been reported in social media discussions among supporters and critics of the current regime (Udupa, 2018; Yadav, 2019). They have contributed towards the polarization of the Indian state into those that support and do not support his ideas.

Although change is happening in India due to the growth in the number of educated people against the desecularization of the state, aspects of religious fundamentalism are still being reported (Suri and Palshikar, 2019). This is seen in the development of mythological films, which promote Hinduism ideologies in national politics and the prominence of radical religious teachers who enjoy a significant following from the populace (Sharma, 2018; Udupa, 2018; Yadav, 2019). Militant fundamentalist organizations advocating for the establishment of a Hindu state are also using religious and ethnic differences to promote social disharmony in certain sections of the Indian population (Jayaram, 2017; Ranjan, 2018; Ayyash, 2019; Pinisetti, 2019; Jayaram, 2017). For example, they are responsible for the outbreak of communal violence in certain parts of South Asia (Haider and Azad, 2021; Liang, 2020; Lahiry, 2019; Birkvad, 2020). Therefore, from an intellectual and political standpoint, even though there are efforts to erode policies that have long-established a Hindu-centred ideology in national identity politics, religious fundamentalism continues to adapt to changes in the social, political, and economic dynamics of India.

Hindu Nationalism and Its Influence on Secularization in India

In the past ten years, India has witnessed one of the most significant transformative periods in its history. It has for a long time, thrived under a modern secular heritage where the role of religion and the state is distinctly defined. This role is enshrined in the 42nd amendment of the Indian constitution, which defines the state as being a secular one where the state and religion are separate (Malji, 2018). In other words, the country’s constitution forbids leaders from mixing state and religious power. Today, the secularism roots to which the state of India was established are under threat due to what many perceive as a mix-up of state and religious power (Human Rights Watch, 2019). This is contrary to the fundamental principles of secularism, which underscores the concept of religious neutrality in the first place.

In its place, what is emerging is a resurgence of a religious-dominated state, with Hindu undertones registered in most government decisions and policies. Stated differently, India is experiencing a desecularization phase where religious power and people’s faiths are being used as an exploitative tool to advance government ideologies and policies (Malji, 2018). Evidence of desecularization exists in the religious targeting of minority religious groups in the country (Human Rights Watch, 2019). Specifically, Muslims, who are the largest ethnic minority group in India, are experiencing the brunt of this change because they have encountered years of isolation under the current regime (Human Rights Watch, 2019). The actions of the BJP, which is the largest political body in India that wields hegemonic state power, have come under sharp criticism because of this development because it is perceived as being used to deconstruct India’s secular roots for a Hindu-centered ideology of nation-state building (Malji, 2018).

Articles that were sampled in this review, which highlighted the relationship between Hindu nationalism and secularization in India suggest that the development of a common national identity was designed to be in tandem with the growth of the nation’s democratic ideals (Chakraborty, 2020; Howe, Szöcsik and Zuber, 2021; Hussain, 2020; May et al., 2020; Menski, 2021; Sriharan, 2020). Given that most democracies around the world are operationalized in a non-homogenous society (May et al., 2020), it is increasingly difficult to understand why India has been unable to implement its secularist ideals because only two major groups compete for power in the state – Hindus and Muslims. In other secular states, an increased number of diverse groups of people compete for power but secularism works nonetheless (Sriharan, 2020). Furthermore, the operationalization of democracy in these democracies implies the existence of minority and majority groups of people within a country where the majority rules and the minority has their say (Howe, Szöcsik and Zuber, 2021; Hussain, 2020). However, given India’s billion-strong population, it is difficult to wish away the influence of the minority group.

Large religious groups competing for political power in India have undermined secularist ideologies because political actors have been unable to restrain themselves from using religion to mobilize people to win elections (Howe, Szöcsik and Zuber, 2021). In this regard, democracy and secularism are at odds with one another because secularism promotes the unification of people but democracy makes it possible to polarize a section of the population to win elections (Menski, 2021; Sriharan, 2020). This analogy suggests that the development of national identity in India behind secularism is not as much a state project as it is a religious one. Therefore, when secular actors participate in India’s political systems, they do not do so as agents of the state intended on advancing a national agenda, but as politicians who exploit people’s religious passions for political gain.

Despite Hinduism having a powerful influence on India’s political space, some of the earliest proponents of the religion did not take their religious roots too seriously and instead advocated for a secularist approach to govern the country’s politics (Monteiro, 2020; Dasgupta, 2020). For example, the Indian National Congress was made up of Hindu proponents who believed that a secular view of governance would help heal the divisions that existed in the state, especially between Hindus and Muslims (Menski, 2021). Those who followed Gandhi preferred the establishment of a Hindu state and did not oppose the use of nonviolent means to achieve this objective (Howe, Szöcsik and Zuber, 2021; Hussain, 2020; May et al., 2020). After the assassination of Gandhi in the late 1940s, tensions between the Hindus and Muslims escalated (Ivanov, 2017). This resulted in huge populations of people migrating from both Hindu and Pakistan – Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan and vice versa, where Hindus migrated from Pakistan to India (Hussain, 2020). Their main concern was that the escalating tensions between the two groups would lead to violent confrontations.

Nonetheless, the post-colonial Indian government was more concerned with the establishment of a secular state, and successive regimes have invested in maintaining this policy (May et al., 2020; Menski, 2021; Sriharan, 2020). The Modi government has not been confined to the implementation of this secularist ideology because it has enacted policies that have established a “Hindu character” in Indian national politics, as highlighted in this paper (Chakraborty, 2020; Howe, Szöcsik and Zuber, 2021; Hussain, 2020). However, some sections of the government have enacted legislation that forbid the development of religious fundamental beliefs in national politics, such as Congress, which has tried to erode traditional prejudices founded by Hindu nationalists against sections of the population (Hussain, 2020; Menski, 2021; Sriharan, 2020).

Despite some of these efforts being aimed at strengthening democratic governance in the state, within the prism of a secularist ideology, strong social customs founded on Hindu ideologies have made it difficult to enforce some secular policies (Chakraborty, 2020). Nonetheless, change is happening in some sections of the Indian population, such as in cities, where traditional structures of social control are being replaced for stronger secularist ideologies of governance (Chakraborty, 2020). For example, in line with secularist beliefs, inter-caste marriages are becoming more common in the cities – especially among educated people (Howe, Szöcsik and Zuber, 2021). However, this change has not fully been embraced in all parts of the country because aspects of social disharmony within the caste system continue to flourish especially through state appointments in elective politics (Sriharan, 2020). The family structure is also changing through the increased acceptance of secularist ideologies. This has happened through the emancipation of women and the growing support for intermarriages across different religions, thereby further weakening the traditional bond binding Hindu families and ideologies.


The findings of this study are consistent with extant literature, which suggests that politicians in India have exploited people’s religious passions to advance their political objectives. This outcome is a manifestation of the nation’s inability to overcome religious differences because they fester in politics as they do in daily life. Consequently, there is a need to revisit democratic and secularist ideas, which India was founded, and gravitate the focus towards those that enhance unity and diversity as opposed to existing social and religious divisions that foster within. In this regard, there is a need to redirect the country’s national identity debate towards secularism, which will foster diversity and inclusivity in social, political, and economic life.


This study aimed to highlight the rise of Hindu nationalism and its impact on desecularization in India. Four research questions underpinned the current investigation. They explored the roles played by Indian political movements in creating a unified vision of the state, the influence of rising Hinduism sentiments on the country’s national identity politics, the extent that the democratic nature of Indian politics has led to social fragmentation and political divisions in the state, and the influence of religion on India’s secularization movement. The findings revealed that the BJP and RSS played a critical role in institutionalizing Hindutva in national identity politics.

The ascension of the BJP to power, without any political coalition, under the Modi administration, has been responsible for the rising Hinduism sentiments in the country’s politics. This action has contributed to the desecularization of the state. Furthermore, the mobilization of people on religious grounds to secure election victories has undermined democratic practice in the state because religious minority groups, such as Muslims, do not have the same political power that the Hindus do. Consequently, violence has been used to vent their frustrations and grievances. This analogy means that India’s practice of democracy is unlike the West where political competition is based on ideology, as opposed to sectarian beliefs. Therefore, in India, there is a politicization of religious identities aimed at galvanizing support to win elections.

In this analysis, it is important to recognize the role of coalition-building in India’s national politics because, in the past, it helped to moderate the power of the BJP. However, the rise of the BJP to the helm of India’s national politics, without the support of coalition partners, under the Modi regime, has made it difficult to institutionalize secularism as it was originally intended. Instead, there has been a retrogressive move towards religious domination and fundamentalism, which is mostly spearheaded by Hindu nationalists. They have long held the view that Hindu faith and culture should shape identity politics and the governance of the state. The analysis of the involvement of the RSS and the BJP suggests that this movement started in the 19th century and has remained alive to date.

The rise of Modi to the helm of the country’s political leadership concerns most moderate Hindus and advocates of secularism in India because of his Hindu nationalist background. Indeed, his links to the BJP and RSS have eroded confidence among people who believe that he does not possess the neutral attitude required of a leader to govern a state that should ideally be secularist or pluralist and where religious fundamentalism should not be a part of government policy agenda. Indeed, Modi has managed to domesticate Indian politics into the confines of the Hindutva ideology.

There is little opposition to his political dominance because a majority of Indians profess the same faith as he does. Nonetheless, the policies adopted by his government erode the tenets of secularism. In other words, his actions significantly undermine the vision of the country’s founder, among them Mahatma Gandhi who, despite being Hindu, saw secularism as the only way to create a national identity in India. Therefore, Modi’s actions mirror those of Hindu fundamentalist groups who wanted India to be a Hindu state and not a secular one. This is why a Hindu fundamentalist assassinated Gandhi, despite professing the faith in the first place. Overall, Hindu nationalism sentiments seem popular today but they are similar to other populist movements seen around the world, including the election of Donald Trump in America. His current popularity could be used to draw parallels with the operationalization of a “strongman” type of politics where an individual is seen as a “savior” or custodian of people’s religious beliefs, despite its potential to erode the democratic and secular ideals of a state.


Based on the findings of this paper, discussions on national identity politics in India need to transcend primal motives of Hindu cultural preservation and hegemony to accommodate broader nationalistic and secularist ideas that encompass diversity and inclusion. To do so, it is important to revisit secularist ideals that should guide democratic governance in the state and shun the faith-based approach currently in force. A secularist philosophy should be nurtured in India’s political and social life to create tolerance and understanding among warring factions.

Leaders should also desist from making passionate statements against one side of the divide or another. An impartial police department that seeks to protect the rule of law, as opposed to serving sectarian interests, should safeguard this strategy. In this regard, reforms need to be undertaken at democratic governance and law enforcement levels to stem the wave of the faith-based rule currently perpetuated by the Modi regime.

Limits of Study

The findings of this study are indicative of the current state of national identity politics in India. Given that the political situation in India is volatile and prone to several domestic and international forces, the findings presented in this report are, in no measure, an accurate assessment of people’s views of the role that Hindu nationalism movements have played in shaping identity politics within the state. Furthermore, the public perception of the Modi administration that is reported in this paper and that forms the ba sis for government policy review is limited to the period under analysis. This perception may change, relative to ongoing global and domestic forces.

Additionally, the findings derived from this study are limited to the context of the review of previous researchers because of the reliance on published sources. Therefore, the evidence has been contextualized to fit into the current research scope with significant emphasis placed on understanding the interplay between current government actions to stem religious extremism and the role of political movements in creating or addressing the problem. Given that this information was sourced from secondary data, the present findings could be used as a basis for undertaking primary research on the same subject area.

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