By Christian Kurzydlowski*
India’s post-colonial transition to capitalism has been reflected in marketing slogans. Currently, it is attracting foreign capital through the ‘Make in India’ campaign, inaugurated in 2015. The main proposed outcome of this strategy is to make India a ‘factory of the world’. But in addition to its economic goals, the government’s rhetoric surrounding the Make in India brand is shrouded in Hindu nationalist trappings for domestic audiences.
By seeking to transform itself into a global manufacturing hub, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to address India’s lack of a large manufacturing industry. Planned manufacturing exports are expected to generate foreign currency earnings, allowing for the import of machinery and materials to upgrade Indian factories. China’s transition from an investment- and export-driven model to consumption-led growth offers India a potential opening on several levels.
Since opening its consumer market to foreign brands in 1991, India has used slogans such as “Make in India” and “self-reliant India” to commodify the nation. National identity is an effective and enduring foundation of brand formation. Investment flows to India are seen as a sign of state power and prestige, which in turn is used by Modi and the BJP to boost their Hindutva political-cultural project. Hindutva looks back on an ahistorical Hindu Golden Age, which the Mughals and the British disrupted. The brand image of a productive workforce, a land of untapped resources and patriotism – all hallmarks of Make in India – fosters an artificial and idyllic Hinduized utopia.
Alongside this trademark utopia, Modi and the BJP seek to forge a historic revisionist consensus. Without consensus on what constitutes a nation’s past, political and social flaws become exposed and intensify. Internationally, Modi can aspire to make India an inclusive global manufacturing hub. However, at the national level, his government manufactures the exclusion of its Muslim citizens, who represent 14% of the Indian population. Using colonial-era constructions of religious identity, the BJP’s version of history prioritizes India’s Hindu community. This course is fraught with disastrous consequences for India, economically, politically and socially.
The Make in India campaign encapsulates two trends in the BJP’s approach to political economy: increased market liberalization and support for Indian products and businesses. These trends have similarities with the colonial era Swadeshi movement. Basically, the idea of Swadeshi movement is that, regardless of quality, an Indian product should be preferred to any foreign product.
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will serve the state objective of facilitating the transfer of technology for the benefit of India as a form of value added production. But as a weapon of instrumentalization, the focus of the Make in India campaign on the “national” economically delegitimizes Indian Muslims by not recognizing their economic contribution or even their presence. According to India’s 15th Census, 31% of Indian Muslims live in poverty and hold only 8.5% of government jobs. Many within the BJP believe that Muslims are being unfairly promoted, when in fact most have received little benefit.
The BJP sees India as a civilization, a nation organized around central cultural nodes, not as politics. Secularism and cosmopolitanism are seen as parasitic hosts on the living body of the Hindu nation. As a concept in Western philosophy, tolerance is a symbol of the opposition Indian National Congress party, which the BJP calls harmful to Hinduism. It is in this context that Islam, its place in Indian society and its history are being redefined.
Indian nationalism and its recent memory are tied to colonialism. Colonialist interpretations of Indian history, reinforced by the BJP at state and federal levels, perpetuate colonialist tropes of religiously divided India. This seems to paint Indian history as a cultural and religious monolith between the “native” Hindus and the “outsiders” of Islam.
The formation of a committee under the Ministry of Culture to study the “origins and evolution of Indian culture”, dating back 12,000 years, has only exacerbated this situation. To prove the continuity of Indian culture and its historical trajectory, the veracity of Hindu scriptures must be proven to crystallize the essentialist idea that to be Indian is to be Hindu.
The BJP learned from its 2004 “India Shining” slogan promising economic optimism, focusing instead on Antyodaya (Last Person Rise), which aims to improve the lot of India’s poorest citizens. Through the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, a government program aimed at providing affordable housing to the urban poor, the BJP can connect directly with those who are not part of its electoral base.
The BJP should adjust its policies to include all Indians, including the Muslim population, in this program, which would help promote its international brand as a productive workforce. Government at all levels must provide specific programs and build infrastructure to promote the inclusion of Muslim citizens, while giving them access to jobs, services and housing.
While many Indian Muslims are continually excluded from government initiatives, the BJP fails to provide education and training to a significant portion of its citizens. This will inevitably exacerbate social and religious fissures. Using a biased notion of history to inform current policies is a dangerous game that will backfire in the long run.
*About the author: Christian Kurzydlowski holds a PhD in History from the University of London and is currently working as an independent researcher based in Toronto, Canada.
Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum