Contemporary China and India

Contemporary India


Over the first two decades of the 21st century, India's economy has expanded, but tensions between its Muslim and Hindu communities have increased as well.


Key Terms / Key Concepts

2002 Gujarat riots: a three-day period of inter-communal violence in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 

Bharatiya Janata Party: one of the two major political parties in India, along with the Indian National Congress; as of 2017, India’s largest political party in terms of representation in the national parliament and state assemblies

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: a right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization in India widely regarded as the parent organization of the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party; founded in 1925, the world’s largest non-governmental organization that claims commitment to selfless service to India


India under Modi


India under Modi, a right-wing, nationalistic Prime Minister—has gone through numerous neoliberal reforms that contribute to its impressive economic growth, pleasing businesspeople and industrialists but widening inequalities between the wealthy and the poor and highlighting the ongoing challenges of poverty, corruption, and gender violence. Narendra Modi (b. 1950) is the current Prime Minister of India (as of March 2017), and he has been in office since May 2014. He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014. He is the Member of Parliament for the Varanasi district (Utter Pradesh), a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—which is one of the two major political parties in India. Modi is also a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—a right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization in India widely regarded as the parent organization of the BJP.

Born to a Gujarati family in Vadnagar, Modi helped his father sell tea as a child and later ran his own stall. He was introduced to the RSS at age eight, beginning a long association with the organization. He left home after graduating from school, partly because of an arranged marriage, which he did not accept. Modi traveled around India for two years and visited a number of religious centers. In 1971 he became a full-time worker for the RSS. During the state of emergency imposed across the country in 1975, Modi was forced to go into hiding. The RSS assigned him to the BJP in 1985, and he held several positions within the party hierarchy until 2001, rising to the rank of general secretary.


Photo of man
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. Modi was also declared winner of the Time magazine reader’s poll for Person of the Year in 2014, a feat which he repeated again in 2016. Forbes Magazine ranked him the 15th Most Powerful Person in the World in 2014 and the 9th Most Powerful Person in the World in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Modi was one of Time’s “30 Most Influential People on the Internet” as the second most-followed politician on Twitter and Facebook. In the same year he was ranked fifth on Fortune Magazine’s first annual list of “World’s Greatest Leaders.”


Modi was appointed chief minister of Gujarat in 2001. His administration has been considered complicit in the 2002 Gujarat riots—a three-day period of inter-communal violence. Following this incident, outbreaks of violence in Ahmedabad occurred for three weeks. Statewide, communal riots against the minority Muslim population occurred for three months. According to official figures, the riots resulted in the deaths of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. 2,500 people were injured non-fatally and 223 more were reported missing. There were instances of rape, children being burned alive, and widespread looting and destruction of property. Modi has been accused of initiating and condoning the violence, as have police and government officials who allegedly directed the rioters and gave them lists of Muslim-owned properties.

In 2012, Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India. The SIT also rejected claims that the state government had not done enough to prevent the riots. The Muslim community reacted with anger and disbelief. In 2013, allegations were made that the SIT had suppressed evidence, but the Supreme Court expressed satisfaction over the SIT’s investigations. While officially classified as a communalist riot, the events have been described as a pogrom by many scholars. Other observers have stated that these events met the legal definition of genocide and called it an instance of state terrorism or ethnic cleansing.

Modi led the BJP in the 2014 general election, which gave the party a majority in the parliament, the first time a single party had achieved this since 1984. Credited with engineering a political realignment towards right-wing politics, Modi remains a figure of controversy, domestically and internationally, over his Hindu nationalist beliefs and his role during the 2002 Gujarat riots, cited as evidence of an exclusionary social agenda. Modi's Hindi nationalist stance threatens to further harm India's relations with neighboring Pakistan with its Muslim majority population, especially considering the wars between India and Pakistan since the divsion of the Indian subcontinent with the end of British occupation. The posssession of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan since the 1990s increases the dangers that any future war between these two nations would entail.

The economic policies of Modi’s government focused on privatization and liberalization of the economy based on a neoliberal framework. Modi updated India’s foreign direct investment policies to allow more foreign investment in several industries, including defense and the railways. Other reforms included removing many of the country’s labor laws to make it harder for workers to form unions and easier for employers to hire and fire them. These reforms met with support from institutions such as the World Bank, but opposition from scholars within the country. The labor laws also drew strong opposition from unions. The funds dedicated to poverty reduction programs and social welfare measures were greatly decreased by the Modi administration. The government also lowered corporate taxes, abolished the wealth tax, reduced customs duties on gold and jewelry, and increased sales taxes.

In 2014, Modi introduced the Make in India initiative to encourage foreign companies to manufacture products in India, with the goal of turning the country into a global manufacturing hub. Supporters of economic liberalization supported the initiative, while critics argued it would allow foreign corporations to capture a greater share of the Indian market. 

To enable the construction of private industrial corridors, the Modi administration passed a land-reform bill that allowed it to acquire private agricultural land, without conducting social impact assessment and without the consent of the farmers who owned it. The bill was passed via an executive order after it faced opposition in parliament but was eventually allowed to lapse.

In 2015, Modi launched a program intended to develop 100 smart cities, which is expected to bring information technology companies an extra benefit of ₹20 billion ($300 million US). 

Modi also launched the Housing for All By 2022 project, which intends to eliminate slums in India by building about 20 million affordable homes for India’s urban poor.

Modi’s government reduced the amount of money spent by the government on healthcare and launched a New Health Policy, which emphasizes the role of private healthcare. This represented a shift away from the policy of the previous Congressional government, which had supported programs to assist public health goals, including reducing child and maternal mortality rates. Modi also launched the Clean India campaign (2014) to eliminate open defecation and manual scavenging. As part of the program, the Indian government began constructing millions of toilets in rural areas and encouraging people to use them. The government also announced plans to build new sewage treatment plants.


diagram showing Indian exports
India Exports by Product (2014) from Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity


Modi’s reformist approach has made him very popular with the public. At the end of his first year in office, he received an overall approval rating of 87% in a Pew Research poll, with 68% of people rating him “very favorably” and 93% approving of his government. At the end of his second year in office, an updated Pew Research poll showed Modi continued to receive high overall approval ratings of 81%, with 57% of those polled rating him “very favorably.”

In naming his cabinet, Modi renamed the Ministry of Environment and Forests the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change. In the first budget of the government, the money allotted to this ministry was reduced by more than 50%. The new ministry also removed or diluted a number of laws related to environmental protection. These included no longer requiring clearance from the National Board for Wildlife for projects close to protected areas and allowing certain projects to proceed before environmental clearance was received. Modi also relaxed or abolished a number of other environmental regulations, particularly those related to industrial activity. A government committee stated that the existing system only created corruption and that the government should instead rely on the owners of industries to voluntarily inform the government about the pollution they were creating. In addition, Modi lifted a moratorium on new industrial activity in the most polluted areas. The changes were welcomed by businesspeople but criticized by environmentalists.

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