Authoritarianism Is Winning on Every Front in India

Instead of its economy becoming more liberal, its polity is growing more illiberal.


Even when India was an economic basket case, it was a political and spiritual bright spot that guaranteed basic freedoms to its people and offered a refuge to Westerners seeking peace and spiritual wisdom. But under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the country is going backward on every front: Its economy is in a free fall (with growth at a six-year low and unemployment at a 45-year high); its polity is becoming authoritarian; and its dominant religion, Hinduism, is growing intolerant.

What's even more depressing is that the country seems to have lost its will to fight this descent into darkness. Nothing speaks to that more poignantly than its muted reaction to two developments in the last few weeks. One concerns the exiling of a journalist. The other is the Supreme Court's ruling in the 27-year-old Babri mosque case, involving land that both Muslims and Hindus claim as their own.

In a raw exertion of authoritarianism, the Modi government moved to strip journalist Aatish Taseer of his Overseas Citizen of India status, akin to a Green Card, essentially banishing him from the country where he grew up. The official line is that Taseer, who was born in England to an Indian mother and a Pakistani father, committed fraud by failing to reveal his father's heritage on his OCI application. This accusation is beyond absurd, given that Taseer comes from an extremely prominent family whose history has been public knowledge for decades.

Indeed, Aatish's father, Salmaan Taseer, whom he didn't even meet till he was 21, was the governor of the province of Punjab in Pakistan. His 2011 assassination by Muslim fanatics who hated him because he was a progressive reformer who vehemently opposed his country's blasphemy laws made international headlines. Meanwhile, Aatish's mother, Tavleen Singh, who never married his dad and brought Aatish to India when he was an infant, is a famous Indian journalist who arguably did more than any scribe in the country to put Modi in the prime minister's chair. She is a Sikh and a "liberal." Yet she broke ranks with her community and her peers to back Modi from the very start. She penned column after column backing Modi's line that the then-ruling Congress Party was dynastic, corrupt, and nepotistic and deserved to be thrown out. She pleaded that Modi, who talked up the cause of economic development, deserved a chance—never mind that in 2002 he had presided over a Muslim pogrom in the state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister.

So what did Aatish Taseer, who divides his time between New York and New Delhi, do to deserve exile? He broke ranks with his mother and wrote a cover piece for Time on the eve of Modi's May re-election titled "Divider in Chief." It criticized Modi for feeding a revanchist Hinduism and turning a blind eye to the growing Hindu violence against Indian Muslims.

His anguished mother is now condemning the Modi government as not just "wrong but evil." But Modi targeted her son precisely to send one of his periodic reminders that no critic is immune from his wrath.

Taseer's exile has prompted 260 prominent personalities outside India to sign a petition demanding that the Modi government back off. But within India, the response has been relatively muted. There have been some critical pieces, mostly in anti-establishment publications, but nowhere close to the outpouring of disgust and alarm that the incident merits. It's as if the Indian media is getting too inured or scared—following brutal assassinations and arrests of anti-Hindu journalists and dissidents—to mount a vigorous opposition to Modi. And that is his goal exactly.

If India's lackluster response to the Taseer affair is troubling, its reaction to the Supreme Court's watershed ruling this month in the Babri mosque case is genuinely dismaying. This case had its genesis in 1992, when leaders from Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led a procession of Hindu volunteers to Babri, a 16th-century mosque, whipped them into a frenzy, and prodded them to tear down the structure with their bare hands. Modi, a political neophyte at the time, rode on one of the chariots. The BJP's rap against the mosque is that it was allegedly built on the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the most revered Hindu gods, by a Muslim ruler who deliberately tore down a temple.

The only proper outcome in this case would have been to hand back the land to the Sunni Muslim board that owned the mosque before it was destroyed. Instead, the unanimous, 1,000-plus-page ruling rejected a lower court ruling that recommended divvying the land between Hindus and Muslims, because that would be inimical to "public peace and tranquility." It handed over the entire site to the Modi government to oversee the construction of a temple. In other words, the court allowed political rather than legal considerations to sway its mind.

The result should have been public outrage. But even secular liberals who oppose Hindu nationalism seemed more comforted than upset by the ruling, because the court at least acknowledged that the original destruction of the mosque was an act of "political vandalism" that deserved compensation. It invoked Article 142, a law that gives the court sweeping powers to do "justice," to order that a lot twice the size of the original be handed to the Sunni board to build a mosque elsewhere.

The court also treated the issue as a property dispute, rejecting the notion that Hindus deserved the site simply because of its religious importance to them. But what truly mollified liberals was that the court went out of its way to affirm that the Babri mosque case would not set a precedent for future mosque grabs, given that Hindus dispute literally thousands of Muslim structures, including the Taj Mahal. How? The court pointed out that while the 1991 Places of Worship Act requires the country to honor the status quo that existed when India gained its independence from the British in 1947, this law exempted Babri from its purview because it was the subject of longstanding litigation. It is foolhardy to think that Modi, whose party holds a solid majority in Parliament, will have much difficulty scrapping the 1991 law to pave the way for a systematic dispossessing of Muslim places of worship.

In other words, standing laws pose absolutely no barrier for the ambitions of radical Hindu nationalists under Modi. In the six months since he's been re-elected, he has scrapped the constitutionally granted governing autonomy of the Muslim majority of Kashmir. The state's leaders are still under house arrest. He has also launched an unprecedented drive to strip millions of Muslims in the state of Assam of their citizenship. And his home minister, Amit Shah, categorically stated this month that his government plans make this drive national before the 2024 election.

The national reactions—or lack thereof—to the Taseer case and the mosque ruling demonstrate that the only deterrent to majoritarian Hindu ambitions in Modi's India aren't legal or political, just Modi's own designs. If Taseer can't hang on to his free speech rights and citizenship, its hard to see how India's 140 million Muslim citizens can hang on to theirs.

There was a brief moment in the 1990s when it seemed India would liberalize its economy to go along with its liberal polity. The reverse is happening now, and Indian liberals are getting too fatigued to stop it. Authoritarianism is winning all around in India.

This column originally appeared in The Week


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  1. I’m sorry to hear things aren’t going well in India.

    As a Koch / Reason libertarian, I have a solution. We can invite all of India’s 1,000,000,000+ residents to immigrate to the United States. Once Orange Hitler is out of office, his Democratic successor should make this a top priority.


    1. Yep, especially since half of them have already learned to code.

      1. Exactly. Just think of the economic boost 500,000,000 new tech workers would provide. They’d pull us out of the #DrumpfRecession in no time!

        1. For Once I think this is something the phony Libertarian Shikha Dalmia can really get behind… I am still not sure why Reason keeps her on other than this magazine has turned into a real prog rag. Nice Hire Nick! oh that’s right you are much of a Libertarian yourself.

    2. let’s just send them Impossible Whoppers and Brita filters

    3. America can never import enough people who produce totalitarian governments.

      Import Not Americans, become Not America.

  2. Taseer’s exile has prompted 260 prominent personalities outside India to sign a petition demanding that the Modi government back off.

    “Prominent personalities” LOL! Is one of them Lebron James? I hope one of them is Lebron James. Is there a pic of Michelle Obama making a sad face with #bringbackTaleeb scribbled on a cocktail napkin that I haven’t laughed at yet? I hope so.

    1. Wow. #bringbackTaseer

  3. You mean free trade does NOT liberalize countries?

    I’m astonished.

    This must be a one-off. I bet China is hella liberalized…oh wait.

    I’m not sure who’s more oblivious: Libertarians convinced that free trade with free up people or neocons who believe that peace is just one more war away.

    1. I don’t think India has very free trade. From what I understand, its economy is actually less free than China’s:

      Both countries have partially liberalized, but neither have liberalized to anywhere near the degree of the top of that list.

    2. “I’m not sure who’s more oblivious: Libertarians convinced that free trade with free up people or neocons who believe that peace is just one more war away.”


      1. Free trade is a better option but it must have a free people … Neocons are really chickenhawk progs with a guilt complex

  4. Shikha still works here at reason?

    For an “American” she sure does like being used as the Official Indian Correspondent.

    1. Must American publications and their American writers now refrain from commentary on foreign countries?

      1. Oh, Strawman, where art thou?

        1. What the hell does this mean then:

          For an “American” she sure does like being used as the Official Indian Correspondent.

          1. It means that LoveCon has finally come out as a nativist. What a surprise.

            1. You crying. What a surprise.

              1. You’ve been bitchier than usual lately. Is everything okay?

                1. No, it’s NOT all OK with Mary!

                  THIS (below) is how I know about it!

                  “Dear Abby” is a personal friend of mine. She gets some VERY strange letters! For my amusement, she forwards some of them to me from time to time. Here is a relevant one:

                  Dear Abby, Dear Abby,
                  My life is a mess,
                  Even Bill Clinton won’t stain my dress,
                  I whinny seductively for the horses,
                  They tell me my picnic is short a few courses,
                  My real name is Mary Stack,
                  NO ONE wants my hairy crack!
                  On disability, I live all alone,
                  Spend desperate nights by the phone,
                  I found a man named Richard Decker,
                  But he won’t give me his hairy pecker!
                  Decker’s pecker is reserved for farm beasts,
                  I am beastly, yes! But my crack’s full of yeasts!

                  So Dear Abby, that’s just a poetic summary… You can read about the Love of my Life, Richard Decker, here:
                  Farmers kept refusing to let him have sex with their animals. So he sought revenge, authorities say.
                  Decker the hairy pecker told me a summary of his story as below:
                  Decker: “Can I have sex with your horse?”
                  Farmer: “Lemme go ask the horse.”
                  Farmer: “My horse says ‘neigh’!”
                  And THAT was straight from the horse’s mouth! I’m not horsin’ around, here, no mare!

                  So Decker the hairy pecker told me that, apparently never even realizing just HOW DEEPLY it hurt me, that he was all interested in farm beasts, while totally ignoring MEEE!!

                  So I thought maybe I could at least liven up my lonely-heart social life, by refining my common interests that I share with Richard Decker… I, too, like to have sex with horses!

                  But Dear Abby, the horses ALL keep on saying “neigh” to my whinnying sexual advances!
                  Some tell me that my whinnying is too whiny… Abby, I don’t know how to fix it!

                  Dear Abby, please don’t tell me “get therapy”… I can’t afford it on my disability check!

                  Now, along with my crack full of yeasts… I am developing anorexia! Some are calling me a “quarter pounder with cheese”, but they are NOT interested at ALL, in eating me!!! They will NOT snack on my crack!

                  What will I DO, Dear Abby?!?!?

                  -Desperately Seeking Horses, Men, or ANYTHING, in Fort Worth,
                  Yours Truly,
                  Mary Stack / Tulpa / Mary’s Period / “.” / Satan

                  1. Get a hobby that doesn’t include spamming, weirdo

                  2. I think it’s hilarious how you outed yourself as Mary Stack like 2 months ago when literally nobody else had brought it up or accused you of such and then started trying to use it as an epithet against everyone else in a desperate attempt to divert attention away from your self-outing.

                    You should really shoot yourself in the mouth with a 10 gauge shotgun, Hihn.

                    1. I think it’s hilarious how you outed yourself as the Evil One (AKA Satan), running around and advocating suicide for others! If it is SUCH a good thing (I think it is NOT), then WHY haven’t YOU done it yet?

                    2. I don’t advocate suicide for everyone, Hihn. I only advocate it for you because you are a useless obsolete decrepit old piece of subhuman welfare leeching shit clinging to life in a taxpayer-funded old age facility while slowly succumbing to the effects of senile dementia. That you have no quality of life and are a burden on society and therefore should kill yourself should by no means be taken to mean that everyone should themselves.

                    3. James Cameron, Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and on and sickeningly on and on… Authoritarian assholes who feel completely entitled to decide who should live, and who should die! I wouldn’t even trust you to hire you to walk my dog! Are you PROUD of your Evil?

                      You might want to read this book, it might help you… M. Scott Peck, The Hope for Healing Human Evil.

                    4. Man, I always miss hilarious stuff when I take a break from reading/commenting here. Squrlsy is Mary?

                      Can’t say it doesn’t make sense…

            2. Gratuitously progressive virtue signaling announced

              1. It’s virtual signaling to find it gross when people refer to foreign-born American citizens with quotation marks? If you say so, guy.

                1. Yes.
                  You’re doing it again.

              2. Oh yeah. We all know that Shikha is not a fan of the Constitutional structure of this Democratic Republic.

              3. Open wider, nardz. Your betters have even more progress to shove down your bigoted, whimpering throat. And you will comply, clinger.

                1. Oh, artie
                  Minds as mediocre as yours should refrain from attempting to challenge those far superior to them.
                  You have the insecurity of a typical NPC, and nothing of note to say.
                  Begone, gnat

      2. “Must American publications and their American writers now refrain from commentary on foreign countries”

        It would be nice if they took on something a bit more relevant, like the 2014 US sponsored Euromaidan coup on Ukraine. Ukraine is apparently a cornerstone of US foreign policy, and maybe we can examine why us funding a shooting war between Ukraine and Russia is in our interests. Maybe we can examine why an antagonistic approach to Russia is good for freedom? Maybe we can examine the election of Zelensky as a response to rampant corruption in Ukraine and Kiev’s utilization of no-shit war crimes committing neo-Nazi Azov Brigade to pursue war against the east? Maybe the implications for liberty of Crimea voting on a constitution as an autonomous republic in 1991, 1994, 1998, and finally 2014 when they voted to join Russia – what were their motivations, such as the first law passed by the post Euromaidan coup Ukraine legislature being prohibition of the Russian language?
        Just seems a little more relevant than Shika bitching about Modi yet again.

        A brief and incomplete, but introductory, timeline of Ukraine written by the founder of VIPS
        Worthwhile to browse the comments too

        1. I find it strange that I seem to be the only one here concerned with US attempts to provoke direct hostilities with the only nation that provides an existential threat to the US, and the manipulation of tax dollars to fund both this and widespread graft

          1. I suspect most of us commenting don’t like the US stirring the pot with Russia. I certainly don’t. Given that Russia is no longer spreading communism, I don’t see why we should care one way or another.

            I also agree that Reason should cover it; in fact, I’d much prefer it to the 24/7 Trump-a-thon.

          2. China is also a threat but neither Russia nor China are our enemies, at this time.

            Russia’s military is really a paper tiger. They had trouble with Chechnia and the seizure of Crimea was a mickey mouse operation. If locals are not going to put up a fight, then why should the USA.

            Ukrainians put up a fight against Eastern Ukraine being taken over by Russia and it stopped the Russians cold. The more Russians meddle in Ukraine the more Ukrainians hate Russia.

            1. Russia has has a nuclear arsenal that matches or exceeds our own.
              No other nations approach us.
              China is only an existential threat inasmuch as we allow, or aid, them to be.
              That is, the threat from China, or any other nation, is not martial – it can only take advantage of our self destructive decadence.
              Russia, on the other hand, can kill millions with nukes – and force us to respond in kind.
              Russia can directly threaten our existence (not that they want to), while other nations can only indirectly influence us.

              1. Destruction is only mutually assured between the US and Russia – no one else

                1. That’s crazy, man. China’s nuclear arsenal may not be quite as huge as the cold war powers’ but it’s still more than enough to end the world.

                  1. Hell, even India and Pakistan going off at each other could have some dire consequences for the world if they did it with nukes. It’d be worse for Russia and China than us, but it does mean that when you have the Indian version of Mussolini cropping up, maybe it’s worth paying attention to?

                    1. Yes, any nuclear weapon use is dangerous, but not all are apocalyptic. The greatest danger of nuclear weapons being used is the in kind response it would draw from other nations.
                      Basically, panicked overreaction.

                      The US+Russia have 90+% of the world’s nuclear weapons between them.
                      The remaining <10% are spread among India, Pakistan, China, Britain, France, North Korea, and (presumably) Israel.
                      Russia is the only nation with enough firepower, not to mention delivery systems, to be a direct threat

          3. The “only . . . existential threat?” What happened to China, clinger?

        2. It would be nice, but they take their marching orders from the feds, like every other media institution. They know what they can and cannot criticize.

    2. Shikha Dalmia is the world’s most eloquent voice for billionaire-funded open borders advocacy. is the leading journal of billionaire-funded open borders advocacy.

      Why wouldn’t she work here? It’s a perfect fit.

      1. #LibertarianBillionairesForImportingMoreOrphanMonoclePolishers

    3. In reality she hates this country

  5. So Hindus still resent the cultural appropriations of their former Muslim overlords, and that these types of cultural resentments are difficult to control in a multicultural democracy without respect on all sides for the rule of law and Constitutional norms.

    1. #DiversityIsOurStrength

  6. This is a well written piece, no doubt about it. I am curious though, given that the muslim population is around 10 percent, how Muslim majority nations treat other religions? Perhaps the pushback has to do with people’s acknowledgement that muslims tend to throw gays off rooftops

    1. “with people’s acknowledgement that muslims tend to throw gays off rooftops”
      Contrary to Western media portrayals, Hindu’s aren’t all Kama Sutra and Hijra. Valentine’s Day displays get vandalized as Western filth, until very recently Bollywood wouldn’t dare film a kiss, and coming out usually results in immolation by your own family.
      The usual idiots try and blame Hindu sexual conservatism on British influences, but that’s garbage. It predates the Delhi Sultanate.

      1. I typically consider hindus to be a decent crowd, then again I haven’t met many.

        What I gleam from you comment is that they also have authoritarian tendencies. And some how, just like in the US, the muslims are the victims. Funny how that works.

        1. It’s more that religious conservatives tend to be militantly puritanical about a lot of the same stuff, regardless of the religion in question. Most of the Hindus aren’t fundamentalist, but it’s larger proportion than fundamental christians in the US, and they’ve got their guy into a presidency that’s even more powerful than the US version. So it’s starting to get ugly.

          1. Try to understand the scope of the numbers. Roughly a 75% literacy rate which means 335 Million people can’t read or write. Approximately 276 million live under the poverty line. Hundreds of millions don’t have access to clean water so you see they have problems on a scale we can’t even comprehend. With a Muslim population over 140 million and a Muslim neighbor who wants to destroy them yes they may view this religion with some suspicion which translate into violence.

      2. #DiversityIsOurStrength

    2. Well, Indian independence resulted in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (East Pakistan) were split up.

      There is a Two-Nation policy that Indian Peoples should be split between Hindus and Muslims into different nations.

    1. Not so great when it’s 404.

      1. You clicked the link? Brave soul.

  7. Dipshit Scumbagetta won’t be truly happy until ISIS conquers India.

    Unfortunately for her but luckily for all the rest of, that will never, ever happen.

  8. She penned column after column backing Modi’s line that the then-ruling Congress Party was dynastic, corrupt, and nepotistic

    So, is Shikha Dalmia implying that the Congress Party isn’t actually dynastic and nepotistic? The party whose current leader is Sonia Gandhi, who was preceded by her son Rahul Gandhi, who was preceded by his mother Sonia Gandhi, who was preceded by her husband Rajiv Gandhi, who was preceded by his mother Indira Gandhi, who was preceded by her father Jawaharlal Nehru?

    1. It’s clearly the first and last. It’s also definitely corrupt in absolute terms, but by indian standards it’s not significantly more corrupt than any of the others. I mean, indian politics is a shitshow, no question. They’d’ve been better off running everyone out of office and setting them on fire, then starting over. But I think they had a huge blind spot in trusting the BJP.

      1. “They’d’ve”

        Definitely better than using “of” instead of “have”
        People who do such should get one warning than be summarily executed

  9. Authoritarianism that Indians voted for. Why does Shikia think these people are so dumb and don’t understand what they want?

    1. It’s fair to say that that happens a lot in elections. In fact, there’s even a book about it, The Myth of the Rational Voter.

  10. Shikha’s against Modi? Maybe he’s a good guy after all.

    1. Sadly everyone involved is horrible.

  11. The only thing I really got out of this article is that it was a mistake for the Brits to take a hands off approach to converting the Indians to Christendom…

    1. Its just a matter of time before Hindus and Muslims go at it again.

    2. British colonialism in India started off as a business venture that slowly morphed into a state. The East India Company restricted missionary activities early on because they felt it was bad for business relations with the locals according to Niall Ferguson in “Empire”. That changed somewhat when the British government took over rule of the colonial government.

    3. Was it? By leaving them Hindus, they’ll at least fight back against Islam

      The only thing Christianity fights for these days is scamming money and protecting pedophile priests…

    My last month paycheck was for 11000 dollars… All i did was simple online work from comfort at home for 3-4 hours/day that I got from this agency I discovered over the internet and they paid me for it 95 bucks every hour…. COPY THIS LINK

    My last month paycheck was for 11000 dollars… All i did was simple online work from comfort at home for 3-4 hours/day that I got from this agency I discovered over the internet and they paid me for it 95 bucks every hour…. COPY THIS LINK

  14. “In a raw exertion of authoritarianism, the Modi government moved to strip journalist Aatish Taseer of his Overseas Citizen of India status”

    Journalists always go extra hysterical when it’s journalists who get the shaft from the government.

    That it’s immigration law to boot is making Shikha’s head explode.

  15. Great article, India becomes a more powerful country, under Modi’s governance.
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  16. Well said dear, It is very true in india. you can also see girl profile picture

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