India’s Balancing Act in Geopolitics Seen Through the Mirror of India’s National Values.

by | Nov 8, 2023 | 0 comments

India’s Balancing Act in Geopolitics Seen Through the Mirror of India’s National Values.

Walter Jahn

  1. Introduction
  2. The Context
  • The geopolitical situation
  • Culture and foreign policy
  • National cultural values
  • Domestic Cultural Politics: Hindutva
  1. The Impact
  • A More Assertive Foreign Policy
  • Culture and Soft Power in Foreign Policy
  • Hindutva and its Domestic impact
  • Democracy and Human Rights
  1. Conclusion
  1. Introduction

In recent times, voters in a host of democratic countries, have elected parties and leaders into Government, who have eroded, or attempted to do so, the checks and balances of the countries’ democratic institutions. Examples are Hungary, Poland and the U.S.. Heads of Government have been allowed to concentrate undue power in their office. This seems puzzling when looking at the cultural values of these countries, being individualistic and, except Poland, mainly non-hierarchical.

India is a representative and liberal democracy by constitution. In its parliamentary history since independence, the electorate has repeatedly voted out political parties and their power holders at the national and federal state level and this with smooth transitions. This is remarkable considering that India’s national culture shows a strong deference to power holders and hierarchy, suggesting an uneasy relationship with democratic practices.

Since 2014 a populist Hindu nationalist Government is straining constitutional principles. It is criticized for harassing the opposition, intimidating media and discriminating minority communities, mainly Muslims.

In foreign affairs India traditionally tries to keep equidistance to most influential countries, be they democracies or autocracies. It sees itself as a soft power upholding international law for maintaining peace thanks to a civilizational heritage spanning 5000 years. Hence, no surprise for India’s 2023 G20 presidency theme “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “One Earth · One Family · One Future”.[1]

However, looking at recent events, the Indian Government has not condemned the most blatant violation of the UN principle to refrain…from…the use of force against the territorial integrity…of any state[2] with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This paper looks at India’s geopolitical position, its foreign policy and to what extent it is influenced by national culture and the ‘culture’ agenda of the Hindu nationalist movement of which the governing political party BJP is a part.

Following this introduction, the second chapter explains the context by looking at three areas: (1) the geopolitical situation of India, (2) the cultural and so-called ‘Hindu” cultural values including relevance to foreign policy and (3) the domestic ‘culture’ politics with the campaign for ‘Hindutva’ (Hindu-ness). The third chapter looks at the impact of these cultural and political elements and how they shape the actions of the Government, international relations and domestic politics and society. The paper finishes with some concluding remarks.

  1. The Context

The geopolitical situation

After independence in 1947 and the ascent of the Cold War, India’s foreign policy was primarily formulated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru from the Indian National Congress party, the leading party for independence. In foreign relations it chose non-alignment,[3] wishing to pursue objectives only by peaceful means and be a mediator and moral leader.

This idealistic approach did not prepare India for conflict and hostility. The antagonism caused by the partition of former British India in 1947 resulted in armed conflict with Pakistan in 1947 and 1965. With China, Nehru’s concept of “brotherhood” was shattered when China started an armed border conflict in 1962 with thousands of soldiers killed. This experience fundamentally changed India’s view of the outside world and as a consequence upgraded its military to the second largest army in the world, with equipment from the Soviet Union.[4]

Although still upholding the policy of non-alignment, though more nominally than real, the country leaned more and more on the Soviet Union, particularly under the premiership of Indira Gandhi (1966-77 and 1980-84). Regionally, it established itself as the dominant power in South Asia.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, a gradual approach to the United States and a more proactive role in multilateral relations began, joining the G-20, BRICS and other multilateral organisations. Idealism was to be replaced by focusing on power and material interests.

India’s Ministry for Foreign Affaires speaks of a strategic partnership with the Unites States as well as with Russia. With both countries, defence cooperation is mentioned first before trade and investment, then clean and renewable energy with the U.S. and energy such as nuclear power, oil and gas with Russia.[5]

In the 2014 general election the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under the leadership of Narendra Modi, gained absolute majority and formed the Government in alliance some with some smaller parties, named the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).[6] During the 1st term (2014 – 2019) the foreign policy aims are: great power recognition, realising a multipolar world order, and enacting the “Act East” policy[7]. This is not new but more assertiveness is noticeable with this Government to pursue these aims.

Culture and foreign policy

In India today, culture as a topic in society and politics is omnipresent in the political and general public discourse. The present Indian Government and members of the governing political party BJP and other affiliated organisations, are frequently articulating issues of culture and Hindu cultural values as part of their Hindutva (Hindu-ness) agenda.

As regards the influence of culture in foreign relation, scholars stress the importance of the cultural-institutional context of policy such as history, language, religion, and political systems. Another influence is the social construct of what is the identity of a state, a government, or any other political actors.[8] The differences between cultures or nations occasionally spark debate.

In the early 20th century and later in the 1990s there was a cultural “East-west” or “Asian values debate”. The latter challenged the Western notion that democracy and human rights are a necessary condition for economic success.‘Asian values’ essentially meant confucianism and the idea of an hierarchical society.[9] These debates were mostly driven by (geo-)political motives of politicians promoting their political and economic model.

After the end of the Cold war period the thesis of the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the prime source of conflict in the post-cold war world was hotly debated.[10] The strategic rivalry, as now labeled, between the United States and China is also a competition between authoritarianism and democracy.

National cultural values

Hindu Cultural Values

India portrays its foreign policy as guided by principles and cultural values evolved from a rich civilisational heritage starting with the Indus Valley Civilisation of the Bronze Age (c. 3300 to 1300 BCE) followed by the Vedic Period  (c. 1500 to 500 BCE). In India’s foreign policy, a key phrase often quoted is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam meaning “The World is One Family” originating from Vedic Sanskrit scriptures from the 1st millennium BCE.

The scholar Kadira Pethiyagoda identified the following dominant Indian cultural values as relevant for foreign policy: hierarchy, non-violence, tolerance, and pluralism. Based on studying contemporary foreign policy issues, Pethiyagoda sees three main elements influencing India’s actions in geo-politics: hierarchy, prestige and independence.[11]

Political leaders and the foreign policy establishment have long held a hierarchical worldviewin which nation-states are arranged as a hierarchy and a states position equates to the level of prestige or status it enjoys. For India, having endured centuries of foreign rule, status and prestige have long been intertwined with strict independence.[12]

Under the premiership of Narendra Modi, cultural diplomacy has become a more important feature, using the notion of its cultural heritage and values. PM Modi extensively uses India’s (perceived) levers of soft power[13] to help reach foreign policy objectives[14].

Examples of soft power instruments are for instance the Incredible India[15] public image campaign, public diplomacy with an emphasis on using digital technology such as social media, the expansion of the cultural centres Indian Council for Cultural Relations abroad, the Bollywood film industry, rallying the Indian diaspora[16], or promoting Indian culture such as Ayurveda medicine and Yoga[17].

The anthropological meaning of India’s national culture

Using Geert Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture, India scores high in power distance, low on uncertainty avoidance, slight preference for masculinity, collectivism (as opposed to individualism, high long-term orientation and restraint (as opposed to indulgence).[18]

India can be described as belonging to the Family cluster in the 7 Mental Images as developed by Huib Wursten[19] using the Hofstede model, very close to the Pyramid cluster.

Important features are:

  • Hierarchical differences are very important. Power holders are perceived as “good, benevolent” fathers. One of the consequences is that institutions are highly personalized; individuals who head them are believed to be the sole repository of the virtues and vices of the institutions.
  • There is a strong need for centralization.
  • Indians maintain a relatively relaxed atmosphere in which practice counts more than principles and deviance is more easily tolerated.
  • There is a slight preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material success.
  • There is a preference for a social framework in which individuals can expect their relatives or other in-group members to look after them in exchange for loyalty. At the same time, many individuals seek to improve themselves continuously: the Hindu version of self-actualisation.
  • Importance is attached to perseverance and thrift. Many have a pragmatic outlook. Changes are rather easily accepted. Although there is a great respect for traditions, adaptations to a modern context are willingly incorporated. For Indians “truth” is not absolute, but always dependent on time and context, and those can change.

The Hindu Cultural Values as mentioned above are a mix of values, norms and practices and not precisely defined. A direct comparison with the values as described in the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions cannot be made. Even so, hierarchy is evidently linked to high power distance; tolerance and pluralism has links to uncertainty avoidance.

  • Hindutva and its Domestic Impact

India is proud of its long civilization as one of the cradles of civilization besides others such as Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, or ancient China. Apart from the term Hindu coined in the 6th century BCE to describe inhabitants along the Indus river, Hindu self-identification developed only during the period of Muslim rule of major parts of the country (8th to 18th century) when religion, predominately Hinduism and Islam, became an identifier between the inhabitants of India. Hinduism and interest in its ancient origins experienced a renaissance in the 19th century, mainly as a reaction to British rule. As a result, the term Hinduism gained wider currency.

Considering the strife between the Hindu and Muslim population during the dissolution of British India and the painful separation of India and Pakistan, it was Mahatma Gandhi’s insistence that independent India should become a secular state to ensure the coexistence of all religions, and so it did. This was deemed important considering the vast majority of Indian citizens are Hindus (84% at time of independence) and may suppress the rights of minorities.

Since 2014, under the leadership of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, India is gradually sliding from a secular, multicultural nation to a Hindu-nationalist State following the ideology of Hindutva(Hindu-ness). Though not official Government policy, the governing party BJP pursues agendas close to the far-right Hindu nationalist organisations.

The ideology of Hindutva

Hindutva was developed in 1922 by the political activist and writer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) and adopted by the RSS.[20] There is no single interpretation of Hindutva. Broadly defined, it is a kind of ethnic nationalism, now an ideology advocating, or movement seeking to establish, the hegemony of Hindus and Hinduism within India[21].

There is an entry for non-Hindu citizen, but only conditionally as Savarkar explains in his essay  Essentials of Hindutva:

An American may become a citizen of India But as long as in addition to our country, he has not adopted our culture and our history, inherited our blood and has come to look upon our land not only as the land of his love but even of his worship, he cannot get himself incorporated into the Hindu fold.To be a citizenis not the only requisite qualification of it, as the term Hindu has come to mean much more than its geographical significance.[22]

Hindu nationalism contrasts starkly with Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote in 1909:

If the Hindus believe that India should be peopled only by Hindus, they are living in dreamland. The Hindus, the Mohamedans, the Parsis and the Christians who have made India their country are fellow countrymen, and they will have to live in unity, if only for their own interest. In no part of the world are one nationality and one religion synonymous terms; nor has it ever been so in India[23]

For the Hindu nationalists to create a narrative about what is ’our history’, ‘our blood’, who is indigenous and who is not, is unscientific, is a phantasy and a social construct. At a certain time in history all people have emigrated and immigrated. These views are not based on serious scientific study of Indian history but rewriting it for their agenda.[24] Declaring “Hindu culture” as special (a claim certainly all cultures would make) and under threat, which needs to be defended in order to be kept pure is a kind of collective narcissism or ethnocentrism. This leads to a sense of superiority and to discrimination or persecution of other groups with dire consequences.

The leader in pursuing Hindutva is the volunteer paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh[25] (RSS), out of which several political parties emerged, including the BJP founded in 1980 and adopting Hindutva as party policy in 1989. The long term political and ideological goal of theRSS is to create a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) through propagating Hindutva.

Some scholars argue that Hindutva is a form of fascism[26] due to its purist racial elements and associations with intolerance of minorities. Others argue that Hindutva is not racist because it embraces cultural rather than racial nationalism. However, historical evidence shows that the above-mentioned Hindu nationalist organisations had close links, and V D Savarkar in particular, during the 1930s and 1940s with Italian fascism and German nazism and were inspired by it.[27] After the 2nd World War Hindu nationalists distanced themselves from the defeated totalitarian regimes in Europe. However, V D Savarkar’s ideology as expressed in his early writings are still upheld and he is revered as an idol until today.

The objective to establish a Hindu Rashtra, a Hindu Nation is a tunnel vision of Indian history and culture, in particular excluding more than 1,000 years of islamic culture. An illustrative example is the World Heritage Site of (islamic) Taj Mahal, built by a Mogul emperor, which Hindu nationalists consider not to be part of Indian culture, including members of the BJP.

  1. The Impact

When Narendra Modi campaigned for the BJP in the 2014 election and succeeded, he hardly mentioned his association to the Hindutva agenda. Wanting to wrest power from the secular-minded National Congress Party he concentrated on the slogan Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (All Together, Development for All). In none of Modi’s Government policies the BJP’s Hindutva agenda is mentioned.

Five years later, the BJP’s 2019 Election Manifesto sounds impressive in what has been achieved during the preceding five years. For the next term it promised to achieve a stronger, safer and prosperous nation with an emphasis on economic development.[28] This is to be in contrast to a country whose economy was in the doldrums, the nation was among the fragile five, pessimism and despair was all-pervasive and corruption was rampant, pointing the finger to the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) Coalition Government led by the Congress Party before 2014.

When looking at the economic statistics the claim for the BJP’s alleged economic success contrary to previous Governments is not warranted. For example, the long-term trajectory of indicators such as GDP growth or per capita income have steadily increased over the last 50 years, not any faster during the last 9 years[29]. The rate of extreme poverty has drastically shrunk from 63% in 1977 to 12% in 2021.[30] The argument here is, that the improvement of the economic and social situation was and is not exclusive to the BJP Government since 2014.

When Modi took over in 2014 he centralised power in the Prime Minister’s Office. The style of leadership of Narendra Modi and his public image matches perfectly the country’s high score of the cultural dimension Power Distance. He embodies ideally the ‘benevolent father’ as appreciated in such a culture.

The BJP’s second victory in the 2019 election (see footnote 8) is mainly attributed to the popularity and charisma of PM Modi and also seems to show how majoritarian impulses have become mainstream.[31]

A More Assertive Foreign Policy

Regarding Foreign Policy the BJP believe(s) that Indias time has come. She is emerging as a power and connecting stakeholders in a multi-polar world. The rise of India is the new reality and we shall play a major role in shaping global agenda in the 21st century.”

After India’s longstanding foreign policy of non-alignment and the fading of this movement after the Cold War, India undertook to re-balance its relationships with a rivalrous China, an arms-supplying Russia and (potentially) security-providing United States. The policy is termed strategic autonomy meaning to prioritise self-sufficiency and independence in decision-making, not entering formal alliances. It emphasises the partnerships with Russia and the United States both as strategic. More focus is to be given to building deeper relationships to neighbouring countries including South East Asia under the slogan Act East policy.

In the words of the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, India should leave its traditional non-involvement behind, shape the world more actively, engage other players more confidently, be much clearer what our own interests are, and try to advance them.[32] In more concrete terms he writes: This is a time for us to engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring Japan into play,.[33]

India’s challenge geopolitically is summarised by the political analyst Monish Tourangbam: Indiahas to deal with a neighborhood with two hostile nuclear powers: China and Pakistan. Moreover, the continental and maritime environment in South Asia has seen unmistakable Chinese footprints in the security and economic realms.

On the Russia-Ukraine war he writes: In such a milieu, Delhi finds it prudent to condemn the violence and loss of lives because of Russias invasion of Ukraine while avoiding directly joining the West in calling out Russias behavior in international platforms. The realpolitik playbook guides Delhi to keep its distance from a conflict that has deep historical and geopolitical roots in the unfinished business of post-Cold War European security order…”[34].

Culture and Soft Power in Foreign Policy

The 2019 BJP election manifesto has a dedicated chapter on Cultural Heritage”. The basis for global cooperation is considered to be “the ancient vision” of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (One Earth One Family). The dialogue with people of Indian origin living abroad should deepen “the relationship of culture and heritage”.

How successful is India’s “Soft Power”? As a starting point to this question, it should be recognised that India has had a positive image worldwide for a long time already, mostly in the religious, spiritual or cultural field, the popular Bollywood film industry, and lately IT and last not least Indian food. Yoga – associated to Buddhism and Hinduism – as a physical, mental, and spiritual exercise is known and practised worldwide.

Daya K. Thussu, a reputed scholar and author in media and international communication points to a missed opportunity of soft power diplomacy thanks to the rise of the BJP and Modi to power:

The current government in India is obviously not particularly keen to emphasize the historical legacy of Islam that India has, or South Asia has. Indian Islam because of its history and interactions with Indic religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism or Jainism, has a very strong tradition of tolerance, Sufism for example. It is a shame and a missed opportunity…If India wants to be taken seriously internationally it has to deal with its fault lines – social and political fault lines, and religious divisions”.[35]

Yet, India and PM Modi enjoy enormous international standing. It is surprising that despite widely available fact-checked information on the damage afflicted to democratic values and institutions, on unrestrained verbal and often physical attacks on minority groups, critical journalists and others have so far not seriously dented the positive image.

The legacy of India’s image is certainly an asset for PM Modi’s own communication strategy, besides his charisma and oratory skills. The anthropologist Arjun Appadurai sees Modi’s biggest image-building weapon as:

the persistent, prominent and hard-wired image of India as the worlds largest democracy”, as a land of peace, tolerance and spirituality, of hard-won successes in science, industry and entrepreneurship, and above all of a working, mass democracy. he(Modi) is the beneficiary of a fake image of India – one that is so precious to many Western observers, perhaps especially the liberal ones, that they cannot let it go. It is the one broad image on which right and left, Western boosters and Indian nationalists, all find common cause, and thus it has had time to evolve, grow deep roots and become impervious to the evidence.[36]

Still, there is a risk in the present government’s soft power approach once the democratic and liberal-minded part of the wider world takes notice of the impact a nationalistic and ethnocentric culture politics has on India’s society. The soft power credentials India earned during the independence struggle, by Mahatma Gandhi’s stature and Jawaharlal Nehru’s leading role in the non-aligned movement may eventually be damaged by the present Prime Minister Modi.

On the other hand, geopolitics plays to India’s advantage. To quote the economist Kaushik Basu,

Given the growing rift between Western nations and China, India is in a sweet spot, globally,” expressing hope that the country will hold out on three pillars – democracy, free media and secularism as they provide foundations for economic growth. One hopes that the nation will have the wisdom to hold on to these political pillars which made India special.[37]

Hindutva and its Domestic Impact

Today’s propagation and glorification of Hindu cultural values predominantly serves to demarcate the boundaries to the other people, the Indian Muslims and in doing so, to reject them. For that purpose it is not so much about cultural values as about collective identity. As is often the case, the search for affirming one’s identity goes hand in hand in demarcating the “identity space” against the others in terms of religion, ethnicity or geography.

A landmark event in spreading this idea was the ‘Ayodhya dispute’. In 1992, a Hindu-nationalist mob demolished Babri Masjid (mosque) built in 1528 in Ayodhya in North India, claiming that the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, an important Hindu deity, and that a Hindu temple allegedly stood there before it was demolished. The campaign for building the Hindu temple brought the Hindu nationalists and the BJP to prominence and made them electorally attractive.

The ‘Ayodhya dispute’ had and still has significant symbolic meaning. The name Babri Masjid refers to the name of the first ruler of the islamic Mughal empire in India lasting until 1857 succeeding the islamic Delhi Sultanate. The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in 1206 is often associated with the end of Hindu rule in India. In a figurative sense one could say, that the (re-) surrection of the Hindu temple resurrects the historic Hindu empire.

This incidence exacerbated the Hindu-Muslim debate and spread Hindu nationalism since then, making the Muslim community feel increasingly uncomfortable and discriminated.

Do you have to be a Hindu to be a true Indian? An answer is found in a large study conducted in 2021 by Pew Research putting this and other religious-related questions to 30,000 Indians.[38]  These are the results:

  • Nearly everyone (94%) is proud to be Indian, there is somewhat less consensus on whether Indian culture stands out above all others. A majority of Indians (72%) completely agree with the statement that “Indian people are not perfect, but Indian culture is superior to others.”
  • Language and religion are tied up with Indian identity. In a country with 22 official languages, a slim majority (56%) say being able to speak Hindi is very important to being truly Indian. And a similar share of Indian adults (57%), including 64% of Hindus, say being Hindu is very important to being truly Indian.
  • National Identity. India’s religious groups and supporters of the country’s different political parties disagree on this question. While 64% of Hindus say being a Hindu is very important to being truly Indian, far fewer Muslims (27%) stress Hinduism’s importance to being Indian. Politically, Indians with a favourable view of the BJP are also much more likely than other Indians to say being Hindu is very important to Indian identity (65% vs. 45%).
  • Democratic government versus strong leader. Indians express mixed attitudes when asked whether “a democratic government” or “a leader with a strong hand” would be better suited to solve the country’s problems. Slightly fewer than half of Indians surveyed (46%) indicate a preference for democracy, while a nearly identical share (48%) would prefer a leader with a strong hand.

With a Hindu nationalist Government tacitly if not openly supporting the objectives of the Hindutva agenda, Hindu nationalists feel emboldened to more radical and violent rhetoric and actions against minority communities, notably Muslims and Christians.

In December 2021, during a Hindu religious assembly (Dharma Sansad) convened in the northern city of Haridwar, religious leaders openly called for mass murder and use of weapons against Muslims. The president of the right-wing group Hindu Raksha Sena (Hindu Defence Army) tells the gathering of hundreds of activists “Like Myanmar[39], our police, our politicians, our Army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and conduct a Safayi Abhiyan (ethnic cleansing). There is no other option left.BJP leaders were also present at the assembly.

Despite public outrage and condemnation the speakers said they stand by their comments. Similar events at that time took place in New Delhi and Raipur. The police started investigating the case but no charges were filed so far. The Supreme Court noted in January 2023 that “no palpable progress” has been made by the Delhi Police in the hate speech cases. There was no reaction from PM Modi, the Government and the BJP. There was apathy and silence, conspicuous silence one might judge.

Internationally, no official or public reaction or protest was registered by any foreign Government, not from a European country or the European Union. Realpolitik in geopolitics must have dictated not to jeopardise partnering up to India.

The concluding words to this chapter are given to noted Indian-American socio-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai. Recalling the ‘hate speech incidences’ in late 2021 with calls for armed war against (Indian) Muslims he wrote:

I believe we are witnessing what I call genocidalism, which stems from a deeper logic which afflicts all xenophobic nationalisms. This logic is connected to the relationship between nationalism and violence”. It is in and through violence, both official and unofficial, that the sense of the sacredness of the nation is renewed, revived and restored. The recent theatrical displays by Modi and his acolytes in sites such as Varanasi, are also ways of renewing the always finite supply of sacred fuel for the machinery of nationalism.[40]

Democracy and Human Rights

Democracy under the BJP/Modi Government shifts to a Hindu-dominated “ethnic democracy” or, ethnocracy’, after having gained political control and marginalising minority groups.[41]

This transformation gained speed after the 2nd electoral victory of the BJP and Modi. It may plausibly be assumed that the BJP is kept under pressure from the RSS to fulfil its vision as stated by its founder K. B. Hedgewar:

The Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindusthan. It is therefore clear that if Hindusthan is to be protected, we should first nourish the Hindu culture. If the Hindu culture perishes in Hindusthan itself, and if the Hindu society ceases to exist, it will hardly be appropriate to refer to the mere geographical entity that remains as Hindusthan. Mere geographical lumps do not make a nation The entire society should be in such a vigilant and organised condition that no one would dare to cast an evil eye on any of our points of honour.[42]

The last statement seems to imply that the vast majority (80%) of Hindus are victims from those who “dare to cast an evil eye”.[43] It is a common populist template to declare one’s own group a victim, even if the group represents the vast majority. If implemented by Government as in the case of India, democracy turns to majoritarianism serving only the (majority) group interest against the common good for all.

What follows is a weakening of democratic institutions and harassment of those who oppose this agenda. The following are some of the major issues.

Immigration. In 2019 Indian parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The bill caused controversy and protest in the country. The bill allows illegal immigrants to acquire citizenship as long as they are Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and not Muslims. This is meant to give sanctuary to people fleeing religious persecution. Critics say the bill discriminates against persecuted Muslims (such as Ahmadis and Rohingyas) and violates the secular principles of the constitution.

Article 370 of the Constitution of India was revoked in August 2016 by presidential order. This article bestowed the union state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) – the only state with a Muslim majority – special status with a measure of political autonomy. The people or the assembly of J&K could not veto the decision.

Violence against Muslims and Christians. Hundreds of violent incidents and hate-speech gatherings are recorded every year and rising. Muslims and Christians are facing targeted attacks and hate crimes, including demolition of their homes and places of worship.[44]

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues describes the erosion of fundamental rights, particularly of religious and other minorities in India as “massive, systematic and dangerous”.[45] The Indian Government refutes these charges.

Free speech. About four to five journalists are killed every year confirmed to be related to their work, one of the highest in the world .[46] Perpetrators include government agencies, security forces, political party members, religious sects, student groups, criminal gangs and local mafias.

Maya Tudor, Scholar on South Asian Politics and Public Policy, sums up the state of democracy:

India exemplifies the global democratic recession. Indias recent downgrade[47] to a hybrid regime is a major influence on the worlds autocratization. And the modality of Indias democratic decline reveals how democracies die today: not through a dramatic coup or midnight arrests of opposition leaders, but instead, it moves through the fully legal harassment of the opposition, intimidation of media, and centralization of executive power. By equating government criticism with disloyalty to the nation, the government of Narendra Modi is diminishing the very idea that opposition is legitimate. India today is no longer the worlds largest democracy.[48]

  1. Conclusion

To assess the extent of cultural values to India’s foreign policy is difficult. There is not much research and evidence on this issue. The main influencing elements are believed to be hierarchy, prestige, and independence. The latter is believed to be driven by centuries of foreign rule explaining the policy of non-alignment since independence.

The present Government professes to pursue the ancient understanding of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning The World is One Family. This is a spurious claim when at the same time, what would be the national equivalent of India is One Family is wilfully torn apart by ethnic nationalism in favour of the majority group of Hindus.

Judging by the standards and values of a liberal and representative democracy as enshrined in India’s constitution, those in Government since 2014 are compromising these principles. The institutional setup of checks and balances needed for a functioning democracy is being weakened.

Many observers see the country sliding toward majoritarianism, meaning the majority rule of parliamentary democracy turns to a tyranny of the majority, oppressing minorities and disregarding the ethnic and cultural diversity of the people.


[1] For the Indian presidency of the G 20 2023 see

[2] Article 2 (4) of the United Nations Charter

[3] India was instrumental in the Non-Aligned Movement, the founding declaration signed by Yugoslavia, Egypt and India in 1956.

[4] See 2019-2021 editions of “Military Balance” of the International Institute for Strategic Studies

[5] Ministry of External Affaires, Government of India, Annual Report 2014-2015, p iii

[6] 2014 general election results: BJP: vote share 31%, 282 parliamentary seats (52%), NDA (incl. BJP) 61.9%. Indian National Congress: vote share 19.31%, 44 parliamentary seats (8.1%). 2019 general election results: BJP: vote share 37.36%, 303 parliamentary seats (55.8%), NDA (incl. BJP) 65%. Indian National Congress: vote share 19.49%, 52 parliamentary seats (9.57%). India has a ‘majority’ or ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system, explaining the differences between vote share and seats.

[7] See Ogden, Chris. (2018). Tone Shift: India’s Dominant Foreign Policy Aims Under Modi, Indian Politics & Policy, Vol1, No. 1

[8] Katzenstein, Peter J. (Ed). (1996). The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, Social Science Research Council (U.S.). Committee on International Peace & Security, page 2

[9] See Barr, Michael D. (2002, e-Book 2004). Cultural Politics and Asian Values: The Tepid War. 256 p

[10] Huntington, Samuel P. (2002 [1997]). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. London

[11] See Pethiyagoda, Kadira. (2020). Indian Foreign Policy and Cultural Values, Palgrave Macmillan

[12] Pethiyagoda, Kadira. (Oct 2018) Will India Ever Align With The West? China Global Television Network CGTN

[13] The expression “soft power” was coined by political scientist Joseph Nye in 1990 defining it as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion” based on a country’s culture, political values, and foreign policy. See Nye, Joseph. (2004) Soft Power: The Means To Success in World Politics, New York.

[14] See Heng, Stephanie M.-L. (2016), Diplomacy and Image-Building: India Rides on its Soft Power, ORF Issue Brief, No. 163

[15] See

[16] An estimated 32 million Indians live overseas, the largest group of 5 million in the United States.

[17] Since 2015 there is an International Yoga Day proclaimed by the UN suggested by the Indian UN delegation and the Indian Prime Minister N Modi.

[18] Geert Hofstede’s original cultural dimension model is based on survey data about the values of people in more than fifty countries. For more see Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and expanded 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA

[19] The 7 Mental Images are derived from Hofstede’s original 4 cultural dimensions. See Wursten, Huib (2019) The 7 Mental Images of National Culture: Leading and Managing in Globalized World.

[20] See V D Savarkar’s essay with the original title “Essentials of Hindutva” (1923), retitled in 1928 to “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?”

[21] Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

[22] Savarkar (1923), page 30

[23] Mohandas K. Gandhi (1909) Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule)

[24] See Truschke, Audrey (2020) Hindutva’s Dangerous Rewriting of History. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 24/25 | 2020, Online since 23 October 2020, connection on 15 December 2020. URL :

[25] The RSS was founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) inspired by the Hindu nationalist agenda of the political activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, originally to provide character training and instil “Hindu discipline” in order to unite the Hindu community and establish a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation).

[26] Fascism: a regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. Dictionary. See also: Krishna, Chaitanya, Noorani, A. G. (003). Fascism in India: Faces, Fangs, and Facts

[27] There are two books by the historian Marzia Casolari on this subject: Casolari, Marzia (2000). Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s: Archival Evidence. Economic and Political Weekly 35(4): 218-28. and Casolari, Marzia. (2020). In the Shadow of the Swastika. The Relationship Between Indian Radical Nationalism, Italian Fascism and Nazism. 152 p

[28] see BJP Election Manifesto 2019.

[29] see The World Bank (Oct. 2018). India’s Growth Story. Policy Research Working Paper 8599

[30] The World Bank’s (extreme) poverty headcount ratio is based on $2.15 a day (2017 PPP). The Indian Government sets the “poverty line” only at Rs 32 ($0.38) in rural areas and Rs 47 ($0.56) in urban areas.

[31] Sen, Ronojoy (2019). Indian Elections 2019: Why the BJP Won Big. Institute of South Asian Studies Brief No. 666

[32] from a TV interview on TimesNow (of Times of India), 26 Sep 2022

[33] See Jaishankar, S. (2020). The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World, 240p

[34] see, Tourangbam, Monish (March 2022): The new geometry of India’s Foreign Policy., Washington. D.C.

[35] See The Diplomat online news magazine (June 10, 2016). Interview: India’s Soft Power. Washington. Accessed 30 Oct 2023. Also Thussu, D. K. (2016) Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood, New Delhi: Sage India; updated and revised edition for South Asia

[36]Appadurai, Arjun (22 May 2019). Explaining Narendra Modi’s Global Image Victory. Published in The Wire, New Delhi.

[37] Kaushik Basu, economist at Cornell University in the The Economic Times, 10 Oct. 2023. Mumbai, India

[38] Sahgal, et al. (2021) Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation, PEW RESEARCH CENTER

[39] In Myanmar in 2016/17 at least 25,000 Rohingya were killed by the Myanmar military and Buddhist nationalists. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority. The UN described the military operation as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

[40] Appadurai, Arjun (10 Jan 2022). Modi’s India Has Now Entered Genocidalism, the Most Advanced Stage of Nationalism. Published in The Wire, New Delhi. Accessed on 30 Oct 2023

[41] See Jaffrelot, Christophe (2019) ‘A de facto ethnic democracy: Obliterating and targeting the other, Hindu vigilantes and the ethno-state.’ In Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India, edited by Angana Chatterjee, Thomas Blom Hansen, and Christophe Jaffrelot: 41-67. The term “ethnic democracy” was defined by Israeli sociologist Oren Yiftachel in 2000.

[42] See “Vision and Mission” on RSS website accessed 30 Oct 2023.

[43] One could argue that at the time of writing in the 1920s, during British rule the self-esteem of the Hindu society was low with cast and sectarian divisions, Hindus considered weak, Muslims united. See Jaffrelot (2019): 15

[44] See Accessed on 1 Nov 2023

[45] Reported by Times of India, Sep 23, 2023.

[46] See report by the Thakur Family Foundation, Inc (2019) Getting Away With Murder.

[47] See 2021 edition of Freedom in the World Report (FIW) by Freedom House (US-based NGO). The FIW reports are published since 1973 ranking countries under “Free”, “Partly Free” and “Not Free”. India was downgraded in 2021 from Free to Partly Free. Also “Partly Free” status in 1976/77, 1992-1997. All other years “Free” status.

[48] Tudor Maya (July 2023). Why India’s Democracy is Dying. Journal of Democracy Vol 34 Issue 3 pages 121-32


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