Modi: from Prime Minister to King of Bharat | Opinion
A king is calmly bathing in one of his rivers when a badly injured deer that is about to give birth approaches. Overwhelmed by her compassion, the king adopts the little deer that is born to her. He makes it his pet and becomes attached to it with such passion that, many years later, at the time of his death, his last sensation is his boundless affection for the animal. For this reason, the legendary King Bharata, the first ruler who managed to unite all of India under his command, would be reincarnated as a deer. We are here in the world of myth and legend. Also reality. Bharata, the name of this king, is derived from Bharat, the name of India in Sanskrit, meaning “the lands of King Bharata.”
Bharat is the name that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would like to give to his country. There are many ways to practice populism and one of them is this. It serves to demonstrate power, to nourish narratives that demonize the country's recent past and commemorate the always glorious distant past. It also serves to create debates that distract public opinion from the daily failures that governments usually suffer. Thus, Persia became Iran, Burma became Myanmar, Venezuela became the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and stop counting.
It should be noted that the name of Modi's political party is the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bharat People's Party, or in other words, the Hindu People's Party. And this whole family of words—Bharata, Bharat, Bharatiya—have the same religious origin: they all come from the sacred writings of Hinduism, starting with the Mahabharata, something like the Old Testament of that religion, which is nothing else. than the epic of the kingdom of Bharat.
And here's the problem: India today, the most populous country in the world, is a much more diverse nation than it was in the times of legend. It contains a staggering 950 million Hindus who form the support base of Modi's Hindu Nationalism. But it is also home to 170 million Muslims—more than there are in Iran and Saudi Arabia combined—as well as 28 million Christians, 20 million Sikhs, eight million Buddhists, and multiple smaller groups. Trying to impose a purely religious term like Bharat to designate the entire country is an aggressive act of chauvinist populism. Ignoring the national identity of more than 200 million non-Hindu citizens of India is a dangerous provocation.
And it is not surprising, because religious chauvinism has been the currency for Modi since he began his career. In 2002, when a series of riots between religious communities shook the state of Gujarat, then-governor Modi stood by while more than 1,000 Muslims were murdered by hordes of angry Hindus. The learning that Modi took from this tragedy was manifested in his political behavior: the more cruel he was towards the Muslim minority, the greater electoral victories he would reap.
The BJP government led by Modi has never stopped inflaming religious tensions as a method of clinging to power. Through a gigantic social media machine, the BJP and its related organizations are dedicated to fueling tensions between religious communities every time an election looms. WhatsApp chains spread explosive rumors about sexual abuse perpetrated by Muslim pedophiles against Hindu girls, and of course they underline the voracious appetite of Muslims for the cow, considered sacred by Hinduism.
And Hindu revanchism not only attacks Islam. In June, Indian secret agents murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a well-known leader of the Sikh community, in broad daylight in a quiet suburb of Vancouver, Canada. The Canadian government's accusations of this outrage created a global diplomatic incident, introducing unprecedented tensions between India and Western countries that until recently were friends.
Modi has perfected the techniques of populism, polarization and post-truth, and continues to use them to cling to power. Trying to change the name of India to a purely Hindu term like Bharat fits perfectly into this pattern of behavior that is endangering the democratic legacy left by Gandhi. And all this in the name of King Bharata, who only wanted to take care of a little deer.
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