Hindu Exceptionalism and COVID-19

Against the Current No. 214, September/October 2021

Mona Bhan and Purnima Bose

Faces of India’s crisis” Farmers continue their long protest strikes against the Modi government’s “free market” laws.

A YEAR AGO our article on “Authoritarianism and Lockdown Time: Coronavirus, Occupied Kashmir, and India” (ATC 207) analyzed the temporal dimensions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s [BJP] responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. We reflected on the juxtaposition of the “compression of time,” enacted through Modi’s four-hour notice that India would be placed under lockdown, and the “elongation of time” experienced by Kashmiris, who endure numerous military lockdowns.

Modi’s lockdown order was an expression of authoritarian power: he upended the lives of countless people (particularly the most vulnerable, the poor and migrants) simply because he could. In contrast to the compression of time between edict and implementation, we emphasized that time under military occupation is lived as static time in which one day resembles the previous one and prefigures the day after, extending into a futureless, hopeless tomorrow.

In the present article, we turn to Modi and his rightwing Hindu allies’ diligent promotion of Hindu exceptionalism as a framework for everyday governance. Drawing on earlier iterations of Indian exceptionalism, Modi’s government has built on and strengthened pre-existing narratives about Indian (read Hinduism’s) distinctiveness that were already in circulation even before the BJP came to power in 2014.

Indian nationalists for decades have invoked India’s ancient civilization, its status as the world’s largest democracy, its diversity and, in the last few decades, rapid economic growth to fuel their claims of Indian exceptionalism. The global pandemic has provided new opportunities for Hinduism to function as a type of soft power, as a benevolent force that would beat back COVID-19.

The belief that Hinduism could inform and cultivate a unique political creed — at once spiritual and scientific, divine and democratic, hierarchical and humanitarian — enabled Modi and his followers to cast him as a “god-like leader, the 11th incarnation of Lord Vishnu,” and simultaneously exaggerate his purported support for science as a tool of “national transformation.”(1)

While Modi did not invent Hindu exceptionalism, he successfully mobilized a toxic mix of Hindu pride and vulnerability in an attempt to restore what many Indian rightwing nationalists consider India’s lost civilizational supremacy — its rightful status as a vishwaguru, a teacher to the world.

In other words, Modi transformed earlier articulations of Indian exceptionalism into a distinctive brand of Hindu exceptionalism, which has been marketed to the world as a form of “Hindu humanitarianism.” The result, we argue, has been a jumble of performative spiritualism and quack science with deadly consequences for health policy and pandemic relief in India and, more generally, the world.

Secularizing Hinduism & Swaraj (Self-Rule)

Modi’s brand of Hindu exceptionalism does not emerge from a vacuum but draws on Indian nationalist discourse from the anti-colonial struggle against the British and the foreign policy of the nascent state following independence in 1947.

Nationalist discourse in British India consisted of multiple ideological strands, which continue to inform contemporary understandings of Indian exceptionalism. As Kate Sullivan notes, in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s many of those charged with implementing Indian foreign policy had a world-view that rested on “a conviction of India’s moral pre-eminence and a concomitant drive to play a moral leadership role in world politics.”(2)

According to Sullivan, three particular constructions of India circulated in the early 20th centuries: Mahatma Gandhi’s moralism, Jawaharlal Nehru’s secular liberalism, and V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar’s Hindu majoritarianism.(3) Yet narratives that pit Savarkar’s highly exclusionary Hindu nationalist visions for India against Nehru’s secular liberal credentials undermine how the two visions intersected.

While these three versions of nationalism differed in significant ways, all derived their moral legitimacy from Hinduism.(4) Nehru and Savarkar, Hindol Sengupta asserts, conceptualized India’s topography as foundationally Hindu. Despite their professed “disinterest in religion,” they invoked “theological tropes” to imagine and construct a civilizational entity in which geography served as a key cultural and civilizational artifact.(5)

For instance, they believed that India’s ancient rivers and mountains were cultural and civilizational entities that were “primordially Hindu.”(6) Indeed, Nehru thought that “Arya Dharma”(7) and not Hinduism was a more befitting and inclusive term for religion in India; the former, he claimed, included all Vedic and non Vedic religions (Buddhism, Jainism etc.) that had originated in India.(8)

In secularizing Dharma by defining it as an “ethical concept” and constitutive of the legal social order that defines the internal essence of all things, Nehru reinforced and emphasized conceptions of India as organically “Aryan.”(9) This casteist and racist conception of Indian history has been mobilized by Hindu rightwing forces to maintain that Aryans and the ancient Vedic Hindu cultures are indigenous to India while Muslims and Christians are invaders.

Nehru’s glorification of ancient Indian civilization had political implications for Muslim-majority Kashmir, which at the time of India’s partition was a princely state, a nominally sovereign entity of British India ruled by a local Hindu Maharaja who did not enjoy popular sovereignty. He was despised for his repressive policies, particularly toward Kashmir’s Muslim populations.

After the partition when Kashmir’s accession to India or Pakistan became hotly contested, many in Nehru’s Congress Party including Sardar Patel endorsed “Kashmir’s accession to India based on its Hindu past.”(10) Himself a Kashmiri Brahmin, Nehru remained silent when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the militant wing of the Sangh Parivar or the family of Hindu rightwing organizations, initiated a large-scale pogrom against Muslims in Jammu, killing at least 500,000 people and disappearing 200,000 more.(11)

Indeed, Indian leadership, including Nehru, at the time demonized Muslim tribal invaders from Pakistan as instigators and perpetrators of violence, thereby ignoring the violence unleased by the Hindu rightwing on the Muslim population.(12)

Hinduism also informed Gandhi’s ethos and was an important aspect of his identity. Tariq Ali explains that Gandhi’s “entire political style was that of a Hindu leader. His speeches were full of mystical symbolism deriving from the past of Hinduism and designed to convince his followers that only a social-pacifist solution was possible in India.”(13)

Suraj Yengde argues that Gandhi’s principle of Swaraj (self-rule) endorsed the caste system and its multiple oppressions.(14) Swaraj was to be attained through satyagraha, a term that has become shorthand for nonviolent civil disobedience. Gandhi’s satyagraha ignored caste and caste-based inequalities; hence, his insistence on satyagraha as a “moral purifier” was deeply compromised.(15)

Deploying Hindu principles of caste hierarchy, Gandhi suppressed the political rights of “untouchables” (Dalits) in India. But still as Yengde contends “India has been exporting Gandhi since Independence.”(16) Gandhian ideology was “exported” and “masked” under the guise of “moral spiritualism,” allowing subsequent Indian governments to peddle their brand of Indian/Hindu exceptionalism as a force for nonviolence, unity and inclusion.

Rebranding Hindutva, Recycling Swadeshi

Swadeshi was an important component of Gandhi’s movement. Calling for the boycott of foreign goods and their replacement by native ones, swadeshi has its contemporary incarnation in Prime Minister Modi’s slogans “Make in India” and “AtmaNirbharBharat.”(17)

In 2014, Modi launched his “Make in India” campaign aimed at boosting the manufacturing sector by creating an infrastructure of “industrial corridors” and “smart cities” “based on state-of-the-art technology with modern high-speed communication and integrated logistic arrangements.”(18)

This conducive business environment was to be nurtured through de-regulation and de-licensing. Belying the self-sufficiency embedded in its slogan, “Make in India” ironically was to be dependent on foreign capital: the Modi Administration announced plans to open Foreign Direct Investment in Defense Production, Construction and Railway infrastructure.  This brazen initiative was to be undertaken by a country that has yet to provide sanitation and clean water to the majority of its citizens.

In May 2020, Modi launched the AtmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan mission to deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The phrase translates as “self-reliant India,” which he argued was the combination of “age old ‘Sanskriti’ or culture and ‘samskara,’ or character derived from Hindu religious scriptures such as the Vedas and the shastras.”(19)

It is difficult to get a sense of what this Rs. 20 lakh crore economic package (roughly $307.6 billion) entails and to gauge its efficacy. The Government of India website for this initiative features a banner with “Economy, Infrastructure, System, Demography, Demand” at the top of the page, along with a pious declaration from Modi, explaining that Indian self-reliance is grounded in a “concern for the whole world’s happiness, cooperation and peace.”(20)

The rest of the page features photographs apparently uploaded by organizations about specific projects such as “cake biskut training” and “awareness on covid19 vaccination.” Each picture links to a site that features additional photographs from these organizations without any explanatory copy.

Clicking on the “Get Involved” tab on the homepage takes one to a page for the “AaatmanirbharBharat (ABC) Pledge” in support of the Prime Minister’s “vision.” That page visually evokes the anti-colonial swadeshi movement through background images of women and men weaving cloth and sewing. Reinforcing these visual nationalist references, the page superimposes an image of the Ashoka chakra, a 24-spoke wheel from the Indian flag, on the laboring textile workers.

We want to underscore the point that the AaatmanirbharBharat website consists of images rather than substantive explanations of its program. As of June 2021 only 31,466 people had taken the pledge to support Modi’s program, in a population of approximately 1.3 billion.(21)

What is clear, however, is that the Indian economy and public health infrastructure have suffered during Modi’s seven-year tenure as prime minister. When he took office in 2014, India’s GDP annual growth was 7-8%. By the fourth quarter of 2019-2020, it had fallen to 3.1%.(22) Inflation is trending upward (a whopping 6.3% in May 2021).(23)

Manufacturing and exports have remained stagnant while unemployment is climbing up, going from 8% in April 2021 to 11.9% in May 2021.(24) Agricultural growth is disappointing, and the government continues to spend shockingly little on healthcare, one of “the lowest levels of public spending on healthcare in the word.”(25)

Modi’s dismal economic record, according to economists, can be attributed to his demonetisation program in 2016, which removed about 86% of cash from circulation; his dramatic overhauling of the Goods and Services Tax, which was rolled out swiftly with little planning; and his periodic COVID-19 shutdowns.(26)

 Even though the economy under Modi has had its worst performance since Independence, his credibility has benefited from the discourse of Indian exceptionalism, which has been part of the image that Indian politicians have projected abroad since 1947. Nehru popularized the idea of India as exceptional for charting a “third way” between capitalism and socialism through its participation in the Non-Aligned Movement and for its status as the world’s largest secular democracy.

Following the liberalization of the Indian economy in the early 1990s, economic growth, investment and trade surged and buttressed the idea that India had a unique contribution to make to the world stage. That version of Indian exceptionalism is now eclipsed by a hardened form of Hindu exceptionalism, which distances itself from its precursor by decrying secularism and non violence as emasculating forces.

Yet unlike the liberal outcry against Hindu nationalism that perceives it as a rupture from India’s “exceptional” virtues, we see enduring continuities between Indian exceptionalism and Hindu exceptionalism.

Masculinization of Hindu Exceptionalism

Prime Minister Modi’s version of Hindu exceptionalism rests on an inflated and masculinized sense of Hinduness (Hindutva) cultivated by the Hindu Right and embodied at the individual level.(27) Since 2014, as then Chief Minister of Gujarat, he has bragged about having a 56″ chest as a prerequisite for a leader to achieve the economic success of that state. (Some critics have ridiculed Modi by suggesting that 56” describes the girth of his belly rather than the width of his chest.)(28)

In his mind and those of his devotees, the large chest measurement is a physical instantiation of Hindu growth and expansion. Modi’s subsequent ascent to power is an affirmation of Hindu prowess, one that, according to Hindu ideologues, had been subdued by many years of colonization and Muslim rule. For his followers, India can only be restored by a “loh purush,” iron man, such as Modi who had the mettle to steer India on its destined path to becoming a spiritual leader to the world.

More recently, Modi’s performative masculinity has started to conform to age-appropriate Hindu gender norms. Take for instance the transformation of Modi’s appearance in the past year. A long beard and flowing locks have supplanted his neatly-manicured beard and carefully-coiffed hair.

Modi’s sartorial choices are straight out of a Hindu casting book, meant to raise him “from a mere political leader who serves at the whim of the electorate to a philosopher-king whose duty is to guide the nation along the path of righteousness.”(29)

The religious iconography of Modi’s appearance and its appeal to Hindu nationalists are explicit. Such sectarian symbolism diverts attention from Modi’s economic and political failures, among which we count his responses to the pandemic. As Mamta Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal quipped, the growth of his beard is inversely proportional to India’s economic growth: “The Indian economy has gone for a toss. There is no industrial growth. There is no growth, except for the beard of Narendra Modi.”(30)

Modi’s obsession with individual bodies informs his understanding of the body politic and his trumpeting of Hindu exceptionalism in response to the pandemic. By early 2021, as Gautam I. Menon points out, “the idea that India’s Covid-19 experience was exceptional” had become rooted among Indian policy makers, who were riveted by the fact that a “smaller fraction of people were dying of the disease when compared with Brazil, the UK, or the US.”(31)

At the beginning of January 2021, the Indian government maintained that its number of COVID-19 deaths per million was 110 whereas Brazil’s was 987 and the United States’ was 1200. Several theories were floated to explain India’s lower mortality rates: immunity gained from childhood vaccines against tuberculosis; the relatively younger age demographic of the country; the “hygiene hypothesis” correlating lower sanitation to greater exposure and potential immunity to illnesses; dietary theories of microbiomes; and the suggestion that Indians are genetically predisposed to handle COVID-19 infections.

India’s deceptively lower death rate inspired Modi to declare in January 2021 that “this country by effectively controlling the coronavirus has saved the entire world and mankind from tragedy.”(32) Subsequently, in March and April the ruling BJP encouraged devout Hindus to attend the Kumbh Mela festival in Uttarkhand, which typically draws millions of worshippers.

In declaring the festival “open for all,” Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat reassured the public that “Nobody will be stopped in the name of Covid-19 as we are sure the faith of God will overcome the fear of the virus.”(33) Alluding to the status of the River Ganges as sacred, he added: “Most importantly, Kumbh is at the banks of the River Ganga. Maa Ganga’s [Mother Ganges’] blessings are there in the flow. So, there should be no corona.”(34)

Modi, after an outcry of criticism for promoting attendance at the Kumbh Mela, reluctantly advised worshippers to observe the festival symbolically at a distance. Yet this reversal occurred well into April after many people had departed for the month-long festivities.

Like Rawat, Modi has been touting quack science and Hindu practices as preventive and curative measures for COVID-19. On June 21, 2021, a day that the United Nations had dubbed “International Yoga Day,” popularized in the last few years by Modi, he asserted that Yoga boosts immunity to COVID-19: “Covid-19 specifically attacks our respiratory system, which gets strengthened by pranayama,” a breathing exercise.(35) He even instructed his Ministry of Science and Technology to explore research into the efficacy for COVID-19 treatment of breathing exercises and yoga.(36)

Earlier in the year when the number of COVID-19 infections were small, he applauded Ayurveda’s role in boosting immunity among Indians, singling it out as a key factor responsible for India’s exceptionally low COVID-19 related mortalities.(37) India, he boasted, had generously shared its Vedic wisdom and taught the world the benefits of India’s “traditional medicine, Ayurveda, in improving immunity.”(38) Other BJP politicians such as Legislative Assembly member Surendra Singh and member of Parliament Pragya Singh Thakur swear by the preventive powers of a daily swig of cow urine.(39)

In addition to recklessly encouraging Kumbh Mela devotees to expose themselves to the virus, Modi and BJP officials have participated in enormous election rallies with tens of thousands of attendees packed into close quarters with the majority brazenly unmasked. At one such rally, he gloated: “Everywhere I look, as far as I can see, there are crowds. You have done an extraordinary thing.”(40)

In the meantime, India’s reported low-mortality rate in fall of 2020 has been largely attributed to demographic factors and the fact that a significant proportion of the population consists of young people. Moreover, epidemiologists have questioned the accuracy of the government’s infection rates and death-by-covid statistics. The Economist, for instance, estimates (on the conservative side) that the mortality rate is six times the official number.(41)

Hindu Humanitarianism, Vaccine Diplomacy

By April 2021, India’s second wave of COVID-19 had arrived, heralded by super-spreader election rallies and Kumbh Mela. Oxygen tanks were in short supply, hospitals overrun, and crematoriums overwhelmed. Pictures of corpses exposed by the retreating waters of the Ganges became ubiquitous.

Earlier in January, Modi and his allies in a display of masculine bravado had proclaimed that “India has saved humanity” by controlling the virus in India and exporting vaccines to several countries.(42) This humanitarian outreach was at the expense of ensuring the just and efficient vaccine production and distribution within India itself. (By June 2021, only 3.5% of India’s population had been vaccinated.)(43)

In the initial months of 2021, India supplied vaccines to a number of South Asian countries and promised to ship doses to Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and other African countries. For Modi, vaccine diplomacy became a way to counter the global influence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.(44)

India’s vaccine initiative played up Hindu humanitarian themes, emphasizing India’s status as “Pharmacy of the World,” referring to Bharat Biotech’s and the Serum Institute of India’s [SII] role producing Covaxin and Covishield (the Indian name given to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine) respectively.(45)

Critics have charged that the government rushed approval for both vaccines in an effort to project itself as a leader on the global stage.(46) Furthermore, the Modi Administration’s claim to humanitarianism is belied by the huge profit margins raked in by SII and Bharat Biotech, which are 2,000% and 4,000% respectively compared with Pfizer and Moderna whose respective margins are 650% and 500%.(47)

By late spring, India’s vaccine diplomacy came crashing down as it had to halt its vaccine exports to other countries amidst an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases, a move that dimmed India’s image as the pharmacy of the world and laid bare Modi’s global hubris. India’s reneging of its pledge to supply vaccines to countries in the Global South has imperiled millions of lives.

Expanding Hindu Rashtra, Eliminating Dissent

Even as India’s public health infrastructure visibly crumbled in 2021, its decline had started decades before as public financing of health was never the Indian government’s top priority.(48) Under Modi, the public health crisis deepened even more.

While Modi’s government reduced the budget for India’s National Health Mission responsible for public health concerns by almost 20% in 2017, the budgetary allocations for defense in 2020-21 amounted to $49.6 billion dollars, the highest ever increase in the last 15 years.(49) The government spent $18.48 billion dollars for weapons procurement alone.

In what was reported in the media as a “major policy shift,” India accepted foreign aid for the first time in the last sixteen years because it did not even have an adequate supply of oxygen cylinders and medicines to tackle the surge of COVID-19 cases.(50) It was clear that AtmNirbhar Bharat had failed at the most basic level.

Despite the multiple economic and public health crises in India, the outcome of his arrogance, Modi’s zeal to ensure the realization of a Hindu Rashtra (nation-state) never abated. Modi’s decision to implement the National Register of Citizens and Citizen Amendment Act in 2019 were important steps to make the vision of a Hindu Rashtra a reality by providing non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh a pathway to citizenship, while criminalizing minority Muslim populations in India as illegal and illegitimate, and incarcerating them in detention camps.

The expansion of Hindu territoriality was also what lay at the heart of the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, key constitutional provisions that had guaranteed the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state in India. Kashmiris in the post-Partition period were promised the right to determine their political future through a free and impartial plebiscite in accordance with UN resolutions.

While these resolutions were never honored, Modi’s unilateral abrogation of the autonomy provisions was meant to expand the territorial borders of a Hindu homeland over forcibly annexed land, initiating a settler colonial project to ultimately change the demographics of the region and make Hindus the majority population.

A series of uninterrupted lockdowns beginning in August 2019 with the abrogation of 370 and 35A, during which time Kashmiris had no access to media, phone services or the internet, imposed a militarized siege, a phenomenon that a key Kashmiri rights group called “digital apartheid.”(51)

Apart from intensifying their tactics to curb dissent through a media blackout, the Indian state also arrested hundreds of Kashmiri boys (as young as nine years old) and political leaders under preventive detention laws which allowed detention for up to two years without trial.(52) Kashmiris extensively reported how India’s military and surveillance apparatus made it extremely hard for them to cope with the effects of COVID-19. According to civil society and media reports, by May 2021, 119 inmates across 13 jails had tested positive for COVID-19, while hundreds out of an estimated 4,573 political prisoners were suspected to have the virus.(53)

Without access to medical care, and despite the J&K government’s assurances of vaccinating all “eligible people,” which included political prisoners, vaccination rates remained abysmally low. Many insisted that the Indian state was purposefully using inadequate health care as a way to exterminate key political leaders.

Among these was the prominent 77-year old Tehreeq-e-Huriyat leader Ashraf Sehrai. For many, his COVID-19 related death in prison was a “cold-blooded murder.” It exemplified the Indian state’s complete disregard for Kashmiri prisoners’ right to life and the fundamental statutes of International Human Rights Law.(54)

There were also concerns that India was deliberately preventing access to vaccines for Kashmiri Muslims. On May 16, amidst a surge of COVID-19 cases in the state, a newspaper article “Children of a Lesser God,” revealed that while 9,000 residents of Jammu were vaccinated on a single day, no one in Kashmir received a vaccine that day.(55) As per reports that week, only 818 Kashmiris compared to 40,000 predominantly Hindu residents of Jammu had received the vaccine.

When vaccines were made available, health workers who were part of outreach and vaccination interventions took videos of people receiving their vaccine shots, and uploaded these on social media. Locals wary of Indian designs considered these videos to be part of a public relations exercise, conducted by the Indian state to erase its brutal history of killing and exterminating Kashmiris, and to present the world with the benevolent side of Indian rule in the region.(56)

People’s perceptions and experiences around supply and distribution of vaccines in Kashmir, as well as reports of vaccine hesitancy, particularly among women who worried about vaccines causing lifelong infertility, cannot be separated from the existential anxieties Kashmiris suffer under a militarized occupation.(57)

Under Modi’s rule the number of political prisoners, including poets, academics, activists and students, has increased at an alarming rate even within India.(58) People have been detained and arrested under fake and trumped up charges that have had a chilling impact on free speech.(59)

In its report entitled Democracy under Siege released by Freedom House, India was declared to be “partly free,” indicating a dramatic downward slide on matters of political freedoms and liberties.(60) Modi’s government refused to release political prisoners and stop arresting new dissenters even as the pandemic ravaged through India, putting the lives of countless activists in India’s overcrowded prisons at extreme risk.

Recently Fr. Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old Tribal rights activist who was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case along with 31 more people for allegedly conspiring with Maoist groups to destabilize India, died inside jail due to COVID-19. Critics rightly termed it “a blatant murder” by Modi and the Indian judiciary.(61)

Conclusion

The question remains whether Modi will emerge unscathed despite perpetuating what Arundhati Roy correctly called — referring to the colossal number of COVID-19 deaths in India in 2021 — “Modi’s crime against humanity.”(62)

Our Human Rights collaborator from Kashmir shared with us his assessment of the unfolding political situation in India within the context of the pandemic: “Even if half of Indians die, the other half will still vote for Modi.” Although stark and perhaps premature, our friend’s comment painfully captures the truth that many in India and elsewhere are loath to confront. Despite “India’s descent into Covid hell”(63) under Modi, and his plummeting approval ratings in the past few months as corona cases surged in the country, many tenaciously held to their faith that Modi “was still the man for India.”(64)

Even as many hoped that the virus outbreak would curb the full blown outbreak of Hindu fascism, others feared, and for good reason, that Modi’s brand would remain untarnished — regardless of the climbing death count in India, and proclamations about India’s descent from the status of an aspirational superpower into a “failed state.”(65)

Modi’s message of Hindu pride transcends quotidian concerns about India’s debilitated economy and rotten public health infrastructure. His expansionist interventions in Kashmir continue to win him public accolades, even as thousands of farmers are on the streets protesting the new farm laws and social media critics are increasingly expressing palpable anger and outrage against Modi’s utter failure to contain the pandemic.

Yet the brandishing of Hindu exceptionalism is Modi’s elixir and might allow him to continue to exert his authoritarian hold over India’s polity.

Notes

  1. No author, “PM Narendra Modi is Lord Vishnu’s avatar” –says BJP leader,” Outlook, October 12, 2018, https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/pm-narendra-modi-is-11th-avatar-of-lord-vishnu-bjp/318227.
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  2. Kate Sullivan, “Exceptionalism in Indian Diplomacy: The Origins of India’s Moral Leadership Aspirations,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 30:4 (2014): 641.
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  3. Ibid., 644.
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  4. Ibid.
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  5. Hindol Sengupta, “Jawaharlal Nehru and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar: Ideological intersection in the origins of the idea of India,” India Foundation, https://indiafoundation.in/articles-and-commentaries/jawaharlal-nehru-and-vinayak-damodar-savarkar-ideological-intersection-in-the-origins-of-the-idea-of-india/. Accessed July 7, 2021.
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  6. For more details, see Mona Bhan and Radhika Govindrajan, “More than Human Fascism,” work in progress.
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  7. According to Paul Hacker and Donald R. Davis Jr. (2006), even though common understandings of Dharma define it as a “right and moral conduct,” and “the exercise of duty toward the human community” (480), in Hinduism “the realm of dharma stretches out well beyond what is moral.” Furthermore, conceptions of Dharma are bound to specific caste communities. Dharma, he writes, “is by definition varnâsramadharma, that is the dharma of castes and life-stages.” Each caste is supposed to perform certain roles, duties, and rituals that are considered to be their “special dharma.” In this schema of dharmic roles, the Südras, “who are, as it were, half-citizens (Beisassen) of the religious and social system of the Àryas, may not become familiar with the Veda; they have only to serve the three upper castes.” The word Àrya, he explains, describes “a cultural community, the elite classes of which called themselves Àrya” (479). See Paul Hacker and Donald R. Davis, “Dharma in Hinduism,” Journal of Indian Philosophy, 34: 5 (2006): 479-496.
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  8. Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 74.
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  9. 9. Ibid., 75.
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  10. Altaf Hussain Para, The Making of Modern Kashmir: Sheikh Abdullah and the Politics of the State (India: Routledge, 2019), 129 and Hafsa Kanjwal, Controlling Kashmir: State-Building under Colonial Occupation, manuscript under progress.
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  11. Iffat Rashid, “Theatrics of a ‘Violent State’ or ‘State of Violence’: Mapping Histories and Memories of Partition in Jammu and Kashmir,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 43:2 (2020), 220.
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  12. Ibid., 225.
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  13. Tariq Ali, Can Pakistan Survive? The Death of a State (London: Verso, 1983), 20-21.
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  14. Suraj Yengde, “Perils of Gandhiplomacy.” The Indian Express, October 1, 2016. https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/perils-of-gandhiplomacy-mahatma-gandhi-statue-india-independence-3058820/.
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  15. Suhas Pulshikar, “Gandhi-Ambedkar Interface: When Shall the Twain Meet?” Economic and Political Weekly, August 3, 1996, 31 (31): 2070.
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  16. Yengde, “Perils of Gandhiplomacy.”
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  17. Many BJP leaders and supporters have often claimed that Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement and Modi’s Make in India campaign are based on the “same ideology” (See Rajeev Jain, Gandhi’s Swadeshi and ‘Make in India’ based on same ideology: Vasundhara Raje, The Indian Express, October 21, “2015. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/jaipur/gandhis-swadeshi-and-make-in-india-based-on-same-ideology-vasundhara-raje/. Accessed August 3, 2021). Others who disagree, extoll Aatmanirbhar Bharat for propelling India into the twenty-first century through values of self-reliance that, while seemingly similar to Gandhi’s worldview, differ significantly by discouraging protectionism and insularity (Sandip Ghose 2020, “Why Aatmanirbhar Bharat is not about Swadeshi vs Videshi,” Daily O, May 15, 2020. https://www.dailyo.in/politics/atmanirbhar-bharat-swadeshi-videshi/story/1/32902.html. Accessed August 3, 2021). As Modi and his ministers have claimed, the idea of Make in India is to make India globally competitive, and “merge domestic production” with “global supply chains.” See Zee Media Bureau, “Atma Nirbhar Bharat is being self-sustaining and self-generating: EAM S Jaishankar,” July 09, 2020. https://zeenews.india.com/india/atma-nirbhar-bharat-is-being-self-sustaining-and-self-generating-eam-s-jaishankar-2294621.html. Accessed August 3, 2021.
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  18. No author, “Major Initiatives: Make in India,” PMIndia, https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/major_initiatives/make-in-india/. Accessed June 29, 2021. Note: all quotations about “Make in India” are taken from this website.
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  19. Sagar, “Scriptural Economy.” The Caravan, July 23, 2020. https://caravanmagazine.in/politics/narendra-modi-atmanirbhar-bharat-rss-hindu-economics-rashtra. Accessed August 3, 2021.
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  20. Government of India, “Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan,” https://aatmanirbharbharat.mygov.in/. Accessed June 29, 2021.
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  21. Government of India, “Aatmanir Bharat (ABC Pledge),” https://pledge.mygov.in/aatmanirbharbharat/. Accessed June 29, 2021.
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  22. Nikhil Inamdar and Aparna Alluri, “Indian Economy: Seven Years of Modi in Seven Charts.” BBC News. June 22, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-57437944.
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  23. No author, “India Inflation Rate,” Trading Economics, https://tradingeconomics.com/india/inflation-cpi. Accessed July 1, 2021.
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  24. No author, “India Unemployment Rate,” Trading Economics, https://tradingeconomics.com/india/unemployment-rate. Accessed July 1, 2021.
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  25. Inamdar and Alluri, “Indian Economy.”
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  26. Ibid.
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  27. See Anand Patwardan’s documentaries Ram ke Nam and Pitra, Putra Aur Dharamyuddha.
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  28. Kevin Lees, “The Phenomenon of Narendra Modi, 56-inch Chest and All,” Suffragio, May 16, 2014. http://suffragio.org/2014/05/16/the-phenomenon-of-narendra-modi-56-inch-chest-and-all/.
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  29. Pallavi Aiyar, “Covid and Mr. Modi’s Beard,” The Globalist. April 27, 2021. https://www.theglobalist.com/covid-narendra-modi-beard-india/.
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  30. Qtd. by Aiyar, “Covid.”
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  31. Gautam I. Menon, “Covid-19 and Indian Exceptionalism,” The India Forum, June 4, 2021, https://www.theindiaforum.in/sites/default/files/pdf/2021/06/04/covid-19-and-indian-exceptionalism.pdf. Note: the mortality rates in this paragraph, as well as theories about them, are taken from Menon.
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  32. Kunal Kamra, “Thanks to Modi, India had a ‘State Orchestrated Covid Massacre,” Video Guest Essay, New York Times, June 23, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/23/opinion/modi-covid-kunal-kamra-india.html.
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  33. The Wire Staff, “BJP Makes a Delayed U-Turn, Modi Says Kumbh Attendance Should Now Be ‘Symbolic.” The Wire. April 17, 2021. https://thewire.in/politics/covid-19-kumbh-mela-narendra-modi-symbolic.
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  34. Ibid.
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  35. No author, “Modi Speech Highlights on International Yoga Day 2020: Yoga is Needed More Than Ever in Covid-19 Times, Says PM,” Business Today June 21, 2020. https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/economy-politics/story/modi-speech-highlights-on-international-yoga-day-2020-yoga-is-needed-more-than-ever-in-covid-19-times-says-pm-261826-2020-06-21.
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  36. Kamra, “Thanks to Modi.”
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  37. No author, “Davos Summit: PM Modi Lauds India’s Handling of Covid Crisis, Talks about helping other nations in Vaccine Drive.” ABP News Bureau. January 28, 2021. https://news.abplive.com/news/india/davos-summit-pm-narendra-modi-lauds-india-s-handling-of-covid-crisis-talks-about-helping-other-nations-in-vaccine-drive-1441464.
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  38. Ibid.
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  39. No author, “Covid-19: Cow Urine Not Clinically Proven Remedy,” Afternoon Voice, May 9, 2021. https://www.afternoonvoice.com/covid-19-cow-urine-not-clinically-proven-remedy.html. See also, Iram Siddique, “Cow Urine Protects from Covid, Planting Tulsi, Peepal Can Prevent Oxygen Crisis: Pragya Thakur,” The Indian Express, May 17, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/cow-urine-extract-protects-from-coronavirus-lung-issues-pragya-thakur-7318894/.
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  40. Joanna Slater and Niha Masih, “In India’s Devastating Coronavirus Surge, Anger at Modi Grows,” The Washington Post, April 29, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/04/29/india-coronavirus-modi/.
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  41. No author, “The Rule of Six: More Evidence Emerges of India’s True Death Toll from Covid-19,” The Economist, June 12, 2021. https://www.economist.com/asia/2021/06/12/more-evidence-emerges-of-indias-true-death-toll-from-covid-19.
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  42. No author, “ PM’s address at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue,” PMINDIA, https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/pms-address-at-the-world-economic-forums-davos-dialogue/. Accessed July 16, 2021.
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  43. No author, “Coronavirus: Only 3.5% of the Population is Fully Vaccinated as of June 13, 2021,” The Hindu, June 14, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-only-35-of-indias-population-is-fully-vaccinated-as-of-june-13-2021/article34806839.ece.
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  44. Niladri Chatterjee, Zaad Mahmood, & Eleonor Marcussen, “Politics of Vaccine Nationalism in India: Global and Domestic Implications,” Forum for Development Studies 48:2 (2021): 360-361.
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  45. Ibid.
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  46. Chatterjee et al, “Politics,” 363.
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  47. Aparna Gopalan, “India’s Vaccine Makers are Pandemic Profiteers, Not Humanitarians,” The Intercept, June 19, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/06/19/india-covid-vaccine-profiteering/.
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  48. Sumathi Bala, “India’s Covid crisis exposes deep-rooted problems in public health after years of neglect,” CNBC, May 17, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/18/india-covid-crisis-shows-public-health-neglect-problems-underinvestment.html.
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  49. Vivek Raghuvanshi, “India releases details of new defense budget,” Defense News, February 2, 2021, https://www.defensenews.com/global/asia-pacific/2021/02/02/india-releases-details-of-new-defense-budget/.
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  50. Kathakali Dutta, “Major Policy Shift: India Accepts Foreign Aid for First Time in 16 years amid Rising COVID-19 Cases,” The Logical Indian, May 5, 2021, https://thelogicalindian.com/trending/major-policy-shift-india-accepts-foreign-aid-for-first-time-in-16-years-amid-rising-covid-19-cases-28098.
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  51. No author, “Why India’s Internet Ban in Kashmir is called ‘digital apartheid,” TRT World, August 25, 2020, https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/why-india-s-internet-ban-in-kashmir-is-called-digital-apartheid-39263.
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  52. Aneesha Mathur, “9-years-olds among 144 minors detained in Kashmir since Article 370 Abrogation,” India Today, October 1, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/children-among-minors-detained-kashmir-article-370-abrogation-reports-1605322-2019-10-01.
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  53. Samaan Latif, “Kashmir: COVID looms large among political prisoners,” DW, May 27, 2021, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/kashmir-covid-looms-large-among-political-prisoners/ar-AAKrX0x.
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  54. Muheet ul Islam, “Huriyat Leader Ashraf Sehrai’s death raises concern on the plight of Kashmiri prisoners,” Siyasat Daily, May 5, 2021, https://www.siasat.com/hurriyat-leader-ashraf-sehrais-death-raises-concern-on-the-plight-of-kashmiri-prisoners-2133276/.
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  55. No author, “Children of a lesser god: 9,000 vaccinated in Jammu on Sunday, none in Kashmir,” Kashmir Bylines, May 16, 2021, https://kashmirbylines.com/2021/05/16/children-of-a-lesser-god-9000-vaccinated-in-jammu-on-sunday-none-in-kashmir/.
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  56. Iqbal Kirmani, “Suspicion About Vaccination Videos Fuels Attacks on Health Workers in Indian-Controlled Kashmir,” New York Times, June 18, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/06/18/world/covid-vaccine-coronavirus-mask#vaccine-attacks-kashmir.
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  57. Aliya Bashir, “Why fewer women are getting vaccines in militarized Kashmir,” The New Humanitarian, June 23, 2021, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2021/6/23/why-fewer-women-are-getting-vaccines-in-militarised-kashmir.
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  58. Shivam Vij, “Indians will regret their silence over Modi’s ever-growing list of political Prisoners,” The Print, July 29, 2020, https://theprint.in/opinion/indians-regret-silence-modi-political-prisoners/470594/.
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  59. Ibid.
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  60. No author, “India is now only ‘partly free’ under Modi, says report,” BBC, March 3, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56249596.
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  61. No author, “Stan Swamy: A Murder in Judicial Custody,” Countercurrents, July 6, 2021, https://countercurrents.org/2021/07/stan-swamy-a-murder-in-judicial-custody/.
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  62. Arundhati Roy, “We are witnessing a Crime Against Humanity,” The Guardian, April 28, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/apr/28/crime-against-humanity-arundhati-roy-india-covid-catastrophe.
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  63. Arun Srivastava, “World media berates Modi for ‘India’s descent into Covid hell,” National Herald, April 24, 2021, https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/world-media-berates-modi-for-indias-descent-into-covid-hell.
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  64. Harsh Madhusudan, “NaMo’s still the man for India: Why despite Covid, country under Modi is on the cusp of positive transformation,” The Times of India, June 3, 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/namos-still-the-man-for-india-why-despite-covid-country-under-modi-is-on-the-cusp-of-positive-transformation/.
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  65. Sunita Viswanath, “Where Are the Moderate Hindus?,” The Nation, May 14, 2021, https://www.thenation.com/article/world/covid-india-hindu-modi/. See also Aroon Purie, “From the Editor-In-Chief,” India Today, May 14, 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/editor-s-note/story/20210531-from-the-editor-in-chief-1805348-2021-05-22.
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September-October 2021, ATC 214

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