KARACHI: From within the debris of the Indian National Congress rose a fresh wave of Hindu nationalism, which put Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Narendra Modi, the notorious face of the Gujarat riots, back in the saddles of power in 2014.
Dr Thomas Blom of Stanford University, who has kept a close eye on post-colonial Hindu nationalism in modern India, cuts at the root of this popular assumption.
Talking at the Habib University in Karachi on Monday evening, Dr Blom said that Modi's rise has very little to do with the re-emergence of Hindu nationalism.
"Modi won because Indian industrialists made him win," he said. "He won because he promised development."
Speaking to an audience of 300 students, instructors and university staff, Dr Blom said that there has been little change in the anti-Muslim sentiment of India, even though the fiercely right-wing BJP's sweeping of the 2014 polls allows one to descent in the comfortable assumption of increased Hindu extremism.
"Hindu extremism sentiment has always been a constant in India," he said. "Anti-Muslim sentiment can take a politician very far but we must understand that there is nothing novel about Hindu nationalism despite Modi's victory."
Quoting from his travels across India, Dr Blom breaks into anecdotes from his fieldwork across different cities.
"The problem is that being an overt advocate of the caste system is political suicide in India, hence, the lucrative-ness of the anti-Muslim sentiment," he said.
Dr Blom explained that the friction within India today is between the classes, not religious groups. Since Muslims make up most of the lowly castes, the conflict masquerades as something else. The Dalits of India, says Dr Blom, are largely Muslim, severely discriminated against, and very angry with the government.
"The centre is beleaguered. It plays the card of faith to quell the periphery."
The recent loss of Delhi's seats to the Aam Aadmi Party did little to undo Dr Blom's thesis about Hindu nationalism.
"No, it does not show that BJP's popularity is waning, or that Hindu nationalism is waning. It indicates no larger trend,” he asserted. “India is seeped into regionalism and will abide by the old pattern despite this one-off incident."
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2015.
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