The leaders of India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) “used to be team players,” says King’s College London Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot in the latest episode of our flagship global affairs podcast, The Pivot.

However, over the past two decades, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has broken not just the norms of Indian politics, but also that of the Hindu nationalist movement led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Listen to this episode of The Pivot on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Audacy, iHeart Radio, PandoraPocket CastsSpotify, TuneIn Radio, or YouTube Music.

As prime minister, Modi has concentrated power at the center and neutered institutions like the Supreme Court and parliament. He’s also neutralized checks on his power within the Hindu nationalist movement, commandeering the RSS — a cadre organization that, Jaffrelot writes in his new book, “Gujarat Under Modi,” was long a group “in which individuals had to sacrifice their identity.” The RSS was to be “above the man.” But now, the man is the movement.

Modi, Jaffrelot says, “embodies” the BJP “as a personal tool,” brandishing his own style of Hindu nationalism that many call Moditva.


In Jaffrelot’s view, Modi is now the most powerful leader in the history of independent India. Even more powerful than India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who imposed emergency rule over a 21-month period.

Modi’s grip on India is likely to continue for at least another five years after India’s multi-stage general elections, which commence this month and culminate in June.

The Laboratory of Hindutva

The Modi model that has gone national since 2014 was shaped in the state of Gujarat, during the Hindu nationalist leader’s thirteen years of rule there as chief minister.

Jaffrelot describes Gujarat under Modi as a “laboratory of Hindutva.” He explains its defining features in both “Gujarat Under Modi” and our podcast.

Reading the book, I was reminded of influential voices who claimed in 2014 that Modi was a changed man. These include a longtime former U.S. diplomat who, after meeting Modi just ahead of the 2014 elections, said that the then-Gujarat chief minister had become a pragmatist and was willing to build a new relationship with his country’s Muslims.

Instead, as Modi came to Delhi, he took the Gujarat model with him — and not just the violent Hindutva extremism, but also its crony capitalism, as reflected in the rapid surge in the net worth of Modi-allied billionaires Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani.

The Adani-Modi relationship, Jaffrelot tells me, reflects the “political economy of national populism” in India, where “probably for the first time in India’s history” there is a “nexus” between its most powerful politician and its most powerful businessman. The alliance has done wonders for Adani’s net worth — but it has produced growth without development or job gains. And that’s one reason why Indians are increasingly making their way to the U.S. southern border.

Jaffrelot’s book provides a fuller view of Modi’s public life. Even before assuming control of Gujarat, Modi was an ambitious political organizer, showing signs he was going to play by his own rules. Upon becoming chief minister, he sidelined rivals within the BJP. In the case of Haren Pandya, that may have been done through murder.

As the general elections near, Modi’s government has frozen the bank accounts of the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, and arrested Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Admi Party, another opposition force.

Episode Description

India’s general elections begin this month and are likely to bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party back to power for a third consecutive term.

King’s College London Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot and host Arif Rafiq discuss the fundamental features of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist project developed in the “laboratory” of the Gujarat state and applied nationally over his first two terms as prime minister.

They explore how Modi commandeered India’s Hindu nationalist movement and refashioned it into a Modi-centric populism, backed by a vigilante-driven social surveillance regime and marked by crony capitalism. They assess what an India after Modi might look like and whether democracy and secularism can bounce back once his reign has come to an end.

Guest Bio

Christophe Jaffrelot is Avantha Chair and Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King’s India Institute. He is also the research lead for the Global Institutes, King’s College London.

Jaffrelot teaches South Asian politics and history at Sciences Po, Paris, and is an Overseas Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was director of Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) at Sciences Po from 2000 to 2008.

Read More

Gujarat Under Modi — By Christophe Jaffrelot

Hindu Nationalism: A Reader — By Christophe Jaffrelot

Hindutva: A Deep Drive Into India’s Hindu Nationalist Movement

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.


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