Last year, India surpassed China as the world’s biggest country, now with a population of more than 1.44 billion. For most of the last decade, the Indian economy has been thriving, with a growth rate of around 7 percent annually. And since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, the country has been the world’s biggest democracy. From April through May, it will hold national elections in which more people are expected to vote than ever before.

When it does, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party appears certain to hold on to power. The BJP is India’s Hindu-nationalist party—and ruling party since 2014. Despite modern India having been founded as a secular democracy, Modi’s and the BJP’s approach to governing is centered on cultivating Hindu nationalism—which in practice means rhetorically, and sometimes physically, attacking minority groups and often denying them established civil rights.

Just this January, Modi inaugurated a temple to the Hindu god Ram in the city of Ayodhya, at a high-profile ceremony attended by Bollywood celebrities and BJP dignitaries. The site is sacred among Hindus, who believe Ram was born there. But it was also the location of Babri Masjid, a mosque that dated back to 1527—only to be torn down by a mob, spurred on by the BJP, in 1992. The destruction of Babri Masjid triggered riots, killing thousands, mostly Muslims.

On February 9, government officials demolished a mosque and adjoining school in the town of Haldwani, claiming they’d been built illegally on public land. Local Muslims protested, burning cars and clashing with the police. Four people died. Hundreds were injured. The demolitions belong to a national pattern of local BJP-led governments leveling Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship.

What’s it mean for India that this party has now controlled it for 10 years—and will likely continue controlling it after the elections this year?

Omair Ahmad is an Indian journalist and novelist, and a contributing editor with The Signal. To Ahmad, Modi and the BJP have undermined India’s political system so thoroughly that it’s become a democracy effectively in name only. India’s democratic institutions are still formally in place, but, Ahmad says, the BJP holds them in such a tight grip that they no longer represent real checks on the government. Opposition parties haven’t been able to stick together long enough to challenge BJP supremacy. And the country’s major news media have essentially submitted to the party’s agenda, abandoning their own role as a democratic check. In the meantime, any foreign leaders who might have held Modi to account for his party’s abuses are far more interested in courting him as a strategic ally.

All of which has put Modi and the BJP in such comprehensive control that it would seem nearly impossible for anyone to dislodge them.

Michael Bluhm: How did Modi and the BJP become so dominant?

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