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Opinion
Mihir Sharma

India’s Leaders Are Playing With Fire

They need only look to archrival Pakistan to see how ignoring a rising tide of religious extremism will only make it harder for the country to attract much-needed investment.

The Uttar Pradesh government may want to distract from the devastation caused by the pandemic. 

The Uttar Pradesh government may want to distract from the devastation caused by the pandemic. 

Photographer: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

The north Indian town of Haridwar, where the Ganges River flows out of the Himalayas onto India’s vast plains, has been for centuries a destination for pilgrims. For three days in December, it also played host to what the Indian media has called a “hate-speech conclave,” in which multiple speakers — all dressed in saffron garb, the traditional signifier of sanctity in India — called for Muslims and Christians in India to be killed. One hailed the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and exhorted Indian “politicians, the army and every Hindu” to “pick up weapons” and “conduct a cleanliness drive.” There was, he said, “no solution apart from this.”

Even in a country that has turned worryingly majoritarian in recent years, such open promotion of genocide and ethnic cleansing should have set off alarms. It is not only tens of millions of minorities — as well as India’s increasingly tenuous connection to liberal values — that are at risk. The Indian state itself risks being undermined by its leaders’ tacit acceptance of religious vigilantism.