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This case affords the opportunity to consider how postcolonial conditions in the Global South have followed a related but different path. The South Asian border zone of this case differs fundamentally from the others in that it has always been closed and militarized. Nevertheless, it is a border zone that has been equally decisive for South Asia’s Hindutva turn. India underwent its most dramatic neoliberal reforms during the 1990s as the Congress Party relinquished its traditional socialist and pluralist commitments in favor of economic reform efforts to “free the market.” These policies led to what Priya Chacko has called the “disincorporation” of many citizens from the political process, and with it an opening for right populist alternatives. The subsequent rise of Hindutva electoral politics, which advanced by accusing a corrupt national elite of abandoning the Hindu values and moral compass of the Indian people, tracks closely with the career of now President Narendra Modi. As Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat (on the Pakistani border) in the early 2000s, Modi tacitly condoned the ethnic cleansing pogroms against Muslims that broke out in 2002. Under his current Bharatiya Janata Party government, elements of Hindu populist nationalism and growing military tensions with Pakistan have been combined with privatization policies and a cultural idealization of personal entrepreneurship. In the process, the cultural conception of India as a nation has been transformed.

Our key questions here are as follows:

  • How did what historian Partha Chatterjee has called the “derivative” status of nationalism in postcolonies like India affect the patterns of—and prospects for—populist movements?
  • Is Hindutva in fact a brand of populism or do its elitist and globalist dimensions require a different approach?
  • To what extent do the origins of India’s independence in the traumatic act of partition with Pakistan make for a radically different historical relationship to the anti-Islamist politics from those seen in the European and North American cases?
  • How did the aims of third world development change the characteristics of Indian neoliberalism, and how do they shape the direction of Hindutva politics?