India is hosting the G20 summit this weekend, putting the country's growing power on global display. However, beneath the veneer of optimism lies deepening religious tensions that jeopardize the nation's aspirations.
Last month, deadly sectarian violence erupted in Nuh, the district housing the luxurious golf resort where G20 delegates are convening. The clashes soon spread to the gates of Gurugram, an emerging tech hub. This unrest reveals the widening fissures in Indian society, fueled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's controversial Hindu nationalist agenda.
Modi aims to transform India into a leading developed country and champion for the Global South. The nation of 1.4 billion is already the world's fastest growing major economy and a rising diplomatic force. However, Modi's majoritarian policies alienate Muslims and other minorities, undermining social cohesion and distracting from development goals.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is intensifying efforts to establish India as a Hindu state. While Hindu nationalism mobilizes the BJP's base, it threatens the inclusive vision of India's secular constitution. Persecution of Muslims and Christians has become commonplace.
The recent violence in Nuh was triggered by a right-wing Hindu group aligned with Modi's ruling party. Emboldened vigilantes now operate with impunity, knowing authorities will turn a blind eye. The BJP's religious rhetoric continues even when Modi hosts global summits intended to showcase India's grandeur.
Modi denies his government discriminates against minorities. However, BJP politicians routinely make bigoted statements that inflame tensions. Critics warn India's democracy is degenerating into a fundamentalist regime reminiscent of Pakistan.
While India's star has risen on the world stage, ordinary citizens await the prosperity they were promised. Despite strong economic growth, India's average income remains low. The masses expect their lives to improve when India turns 100 in 2047. But Modi has resorted to polarization to divert attention from his unfulfilled pledges.
State discrimination against Muslims is now routine. Security forces ruthlessly cracked down on Nuh after the riots, demolishing Muslim properties without due process. Businesses fled nearby Gurugram in fear, disrupting the city's vital economy. Such extrajudicial punishment has become expected after any flare-up involving Muslims.
Social media accelerates the spread of violence, enabling localized incidents to instill nationwide anxiety. The Hindu group threatening a new march in Nuh illustrates how the government appeases extremists to maintain order for international events.
Modi's governing strategy sacrifices inclusion for short-term stability. While major bloodshed is prevented, minorities subsist in perpetual dread. Critics argue the state increasingly champions Hindu supremacist positions instead of defending constitutional values.
"The violence is episodic, but the threat is sustained," says analyst Ajai Sahni. He believes state endorsement emboldens fanatics, making violence more likely, if not yet pervasive.
India's social fabric is fraying as the 2047 centenary approaches. The BJP's majoritarian policies may consolidate its electoral dominance but constrain the country's aspirations. Modi's economic agenda shows promise, but its success depends on reversing the tide of polarization. The path India chooses at this crossroads will determine its destiny.
"We dream of a grand civilizational state. But Hindu nationalists are creating a narrow-minded, identity-based nation reminiscent of Pakistan," says intellectual Gurcharan Das.
The G20 spotlight will soon shift elsewhere. But healing the ruptures in Indian society is vital for the country to play the global role Modi envisions. His government must rein in extremism and restore minorities' rights, or risk India degenerating into instability.
India's moment in the sun cannot eclipse the darkness below. The path forward must be paved with pluralism, not division.
Can India's Global Ambitions Survive Growing Domestic Strife?
Yes, India can still achieve its global ambitions despite rising domestic tensions, through prudent policymaking focused on economic inclusion and social cohesion.
The government must continue boosting growth while ensuring benefits reach marginalized communities. Economic expansion enables the provision of quality education, healthcare and social services for all Indians. Prosperity alleviates pressures that spark strife.
Authorities must improve oversight of security forces and vigilantes to prevent abuses against minorities. Rule of law and due process should be strengthened to build confidence in state institutions. Constructive dialogue between communities can promote mutual understanding and respect.
India's diversity is an asset to leverage, not a liability to suppress. Its secular constitution envisions an India for all citizens, regardless of religion and caste. Honoring founding values will sustain social solidarity amid diversity.
Visionary leadership prioritizing unity and egalitarian development can nurture the understanding that though Indians may differ in belief and tradition, shared dreams bind the nation together. India's global role will grow through embodying democratic ideals at home.
How Should India Balance Economic Growth and Social Justice?
India must pursue inclusive growth that uplifts underprivileged communities and defuses tensions. Economic policies should ensure equitable access to opportunity, capital and social services. Affirmative action in education and employment should continue while scaling skill training and public health programs.
Regulations are needed to deter discrimination in jobs, housing and services. Workers require greater bargaining power and labor protections to reduce extreme inequalities. Resource taxation can fund welfare, infrastructure and small business financing in disadvantaged regions.
Community leaders must be enlisted to mediate local conflicts and prevent violence against vulnerable groups. Security reforms should hold forces accountable for rights abuses.
India's growth trajectory has been impressive but imbalanced. Narrowing disparities will steady progress and consolidate democracy. With wise policies promoting prosperity and harmony, India can achieve both economic might and social justice.
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