US spymaster warns of religious violence ahead of Indian elections

Brace yourself, India.
Brace yourself, India.
Image: REUTERS/Stringer
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India could see a spike in religious violence in the run up to the general elections, a top US intelligence official has warned. He has also strongly criticised prime minister Narendra Modi’s term for degrading the country’s religious harmony.

“Parliamentary elections in India increase the possibility of communal violence if Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stresses Hindu nationalist themes,” said the report, presented to the US senate select committee by Dan Coats, director of national intelligence. “Hindu nationalist state leaders might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters. Increasing communal clashes could alienate Indian Muslims and allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence.”

The years since Modi took power have seen Hindu majoritarian violence in various forms, including mob lynchings that are often fuelled by social media rumours.

And the BJP is often shown to benefit from such violence. A 2014 study by Yale political scientists showed that the party “saw a 0.8 percentage point increase in their vote share following a riot in the year prior to an election.”

The Coats report also predicts that relations between India and Pakistan will be strained through this May, when the election is expected to be held, “and probably beyond” that as well. It cites how terrorist attacks and cross-border firing have continued to occur in Kashmir, reducing the likelihood of rapprochement between the two south Asian rivals.

Besides the Indian elections, the report claimed, the challenges facing south Asia are likely to grow in 2019 because of various factors, including Afghanistan’s presidential election, expected in July, and Pakistan’s reluctance to be firm with militants.

Read Quartz’s coverage of the 2019 Indian general election here.