Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minister Modi's Lawless Reign of Terror

Narendra Modi relies on private militants allied with his party to crack down on dissent.


When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to bring his Gujarat Model to the rest of the country, everyone thought he meant the pro-growth reforms that had allegedly done wonders for his home state's economy. But recent events suggest that the real Gujarat Model that Modi had in mind was something else entirely: a government that looks the other way as private militants violently attack disfavored groups. It's a model that infamously resulted in the slaughter of more than 1,000 men, women, and children, mostly Muslims, over the course of a few days in 2002 when Modi was the state's chief minister.

Now Modi has done a mini-reenactment at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), a prestigious college in the heart of New Delhi where the opposition has long irritated him. This is no doubt a warning shot to the growing youth resistance against his "papers, please" citizenship law.

Here's what happened at JNU:

On Sunday evening, January 5, 40 to 50 hoodlums, mostly men but also a few women, faces partially wrapped in scarfs, armed with clubs, iron rods, and sledgehammers, stormed the campus. Eyewitness accounts and video footage suggest that several of these people were members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student union associated with Modi's party. They approached a group of students protesting a sudden, massive fee hike and began thrashing them. They bloodied the student president, Aishe Ghosh, and many others.

Then, chanting that the students were traitors who deserve to be shot for opposing the administration, the attackers barged into dorm rooms and went on a rampage, taking care to spare rooms that sported ABVP posters. Muslim students were of course fair game. And so was a blind Hindu student, a Sanskrit scholar and a student of Hinduism no less, whose wall sported a picture of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, India's reformist founding father. (Ambedkar has fallen from grace in pro-Modi circles because he was a vigorous opponent of the caste system and other regressive Hindu practices and because his ideas are fueling the constitutional case against Modi's Hindu nationalism.)

JNU's vice-chancellor, who is appointed by the central government, failed to mobilize campus security to stop the mayhem. The Delhi police, which is under the command of the Modi government rather than local authorities, ignored the frantic calls of students for over an hour. A veritable battalion of cops was standing right outside the campus gates, but not a single one went in to stop the attack. The cops even stood by as ambulances were vandalized right in front of them.

Modi hasn't said a word condemning the violence at JNU. No assailant has been charged or arrested. The police claim they're zeroing in on some suspects, but—judging by how they have handled cow vigilantes lynching Muslims suspected of consuming beef—you shouldn't be surprised if anyone arrested faces no more than a slap on the wrist.

At the exact same time that the JNU students were getting bashed, the cops were preparing a rap sheet against some of them, including Ghosh, for allegedly vandalizing university computer servers the day before to stop students from registering. Ghosh denies the allegation. The ABVP circulated a video—retweeted by the vice chancellor—that purported to show that the Sunday violence was triggered by a prior episode when a "lefty student" punched an ABVP member. But it turned out to be the opposite: An ABVP supporter appears to have been attacking a "lefty student."

All of this—law enforcement standing by as private militants allied with the ruling party go on a violent spree, criminalizing the victims, spreading disinformation to confuse the public—was Modi's modus operandi in Gujarat. And the ominous parallels with that grisly episode don't stop there.

The Gujarat carnage was preceded by a long vilification campaign against Muslims, a strategy he Modi has been replicating in miniature against the university. The prime minister has long castigated JNU students and faculty as communists and traitors who want to break up the country—never mind that last year's Nobel laureate in economics along with two of Modi's own cabinet ministers hail from the university. Modi's home minister and right-hand man, Amit Shah, known for his brass knuckles politics, has repeatedly said the university's "tukde tukde gang"—meaning the gang that wants to dismember India piece by piece—needs to be "taught a lesson." Modi popularized this moniker a few years ago when some of JNU's firebrand student leaders harshly protested the abrupt hanging of a Muslim man who had allegedly attacked the Indian parliament.

Such statements signaled to Modi and Shah's most extreme supporters that they wanted the university targeted, without having to bother with actually giving orders to law enforcement authorities. Not that Modi's crew is shy about issuing orders when they think it's necessary. A few weeks ago, cops appeared to vandalize Jamia Millia University, a Muslim institution in New Delhi. Modi's comrade, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, went even further. His police showed up at Aligarh Muslim University and roughed up students protesting Modi's faith-cleansing policies that would strip an untold number of Indian Muslims of citizenship.

Over 60 students were injured, three critically. Several students have just disappeared. A Muslim female journalist who was covering a protest in nearby Lucknow was arrested and allegedly assaulted by police.

Such tactics are backfiring. The anti-government protests, especially on college campuses, are spreading. Students at many elite colleges have gone on strike and are holding candlelight vigils to protest the events at JNU and AMU as well as Modi's citizenship law.

A normal politician would back off in the face of such public opposition and extend an olive branch, especially given how quickly Modi's carefully cultivated squeaky-clean image is getting trashed in India and abroad. But Modi and Shah are doubling down.

Previously, they had dubbed secularists defending religious freedom as "Muslim appeasers." Now even moderate free-market conservatives or middle-of-the-road liberals expressing concern over the direction of the country are being branded as the radical left, according to Madhvan Narayanan, a veteran Indian journalist.

Why is Modi doing this? What's his endgame?

Many fear he is deliberately baiting protesters and fomenting widespread unrest to build an excuse to cancel elections in Delhi next month and put the city under the president's rule. His party is expected to lose handily, just as it has done in other state elections in recent months, thanks to the growing dismay over his assaults on citizenship. There is even speculation that he is preparing to suspend India's constitution and declare an emergency, just as Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi notoriously did in 1975.

That may or may not be the case. But one open question about Modi always has been whether he was pushing an extreme Hindu nationalist agenda to gain power or pursuing power to push his agenda. His growing enemies list—and the private and state violence he will apparently deploy against those on it—suggests that the former might be the case.

This means no one outside of Modi's band of merry brothers is safe in India anymore. All of India is Gujarat now. Dissent is out. Violence is in.

As one poster at a protest noted: "First AMU. Then JNU. Next You."

A version of this column appeared in The Week.

NEXT: More Holes in the 'Imminent Threat' Story on Soleimani

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  1. When I read these articles I’m always trying to figure out how much of this is real and how much is Shikha being Shikha.

    1. More or less my thought. I don’t usually read these because I don’t trust her to begin with and know nothing of Indian politics. I do notice a theme that Shikha hates anyone who wants to keep India primarily Hindu and she encourages more Muslims. Kinda the base Reason argument that cultures should always be undermined by foreign lesser ones

    2. What is true is that violence occurred at the Delhi protests.

      What Shikha omits is that the violence was initiated by the left-wing students’ union that thrashed students trying to register for exams and vandalised server rooms (which lead to the obstruction of justice as CCTV footage was destroyed), and that the “protest” was students crying over a fee hike.

      What is true is that there was a riot in Gujarat during Modi’s tenure as CM.

      What Shikha omits is the delivery of justice to its perpetrators that followed (something typically unheard of in a riot) — against both sides — the fact that the Modi government did not shield groups and individuals affiliated with itself like other governments and politicians throughout India did. And in particular the government did not instigate the riots like the left-wing party did in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

      What is true is that right-wing groups in the country have acted lawlessly recently and in the past.

      What Shikha omits is that operating via goons has been the modus operandi of all political parties throughout the country for decades, and the left-wing unions — student unions in particular — are the greatest perpetrators of such violence and enforcement of uniform political opinion.

      What is true is that there have been people who’ve faced legal actions for their stated political beliefs.

      What Shikha omits is that these laws — sedition, religious sentiments — have existed for decades and have always been used against critics of Islam and critics of left-wing governments.

      What is true is that the Supreme Court ruled for a temple to be built on a contested religious site in Ayodhya.

      What Shikha omits is that (1) the Supreme Court has been involved in a million random things it had no business in, including forcing a *private* temple to be open to women (2) this is completely apolitical and had nothing to do with Modi, there are fundamental problems with the structure of the Indian constitution.

      What is true is that the government has used the blocking of internet and media access in certain areas. That is indeed a violation of civil liberties. No comment here.

      What is true is that the CAA act “did not include Muslims”.

      What Shikha omits is that the CAA bill was literally a bill that ACCEPTED HINDU AND CHRISTIAN REFUGEES persecuted in Islamic nations.

      In short: India is not the U.S. India did not come with a perfect constitution. While the American founding fathers sorted out their disagreements by saying “let the government not have a say in this, we’ll sort this out in the private and civil sectors”, Nehru et al sorted out their disagreements by saying “let’s all write our stuff down and make it law, who cares if it contradicts?”

      India is going in the right *direction*, but pretending that the bad stuff started with Modi — when most of the bad stuff is actually ending under him — is disingenous.

      1. UPDATE: It seems likely at this point that the whole “hoodlums assaulted students” thing was staged by the left-wing student union:

        Another Jussie Smollett…

    3. THIS TIME Shikha has it pretty close to right, though she does leave out some critical elements. A good friend of mine was born and raised in India. is now US citizen living in my town. He still has many family members there. He follows local news, the sort of stuff that never ends up here, in the local dialects. He was well aware of Modi’s record for years, and when he stood for national election he feared for his native land should the guy get elected, What he feared HAS indeed some to pass. His goons persecute anyone who is not hindu, and the pressure has been mounting. It is largely religious persecution. His goon squads are in nearly every province, and take after anyone on the “disfavoured” list (i.e. not hindu). They use fear tactics to get unapproved individuals fired, blacklisted, shunned, their businesses destroyed by boycotts imposed, or shops closed because the owner is arrested on trumped up charged. I have seen video of individuals beaten by a gang of thugs in police uniforms, merely because he refuses to recant his long0held religious belief and convert to hindusm. HE (my friend) is native tamil, and understands several other Indian dialects, so he can translate what is on the voice tracks of these videos, They are typically recorded by local residents with their cell phones, then shared amongst friends and some sort of network for such tnings. I trust my friend’s interpretation of these incidents because of his long connexions to the people and cultures there. His relatives there have had friends beaten, arrested for nothng, goods taken.. NO ONE has the stones to stand up against the police goon squads.

      On this one Shekha is pretty close to at least the main part of the story. Modi is VERY corrupt rules with an iron rod by brute force, and is a megalomanical fiend. You would think he was the god of the hindu religion.

  2. So, Reason has ZERO to say about the death of Neil Peart?

  3. No matter how bad Modi is, he can’t possibly be worse than Drumpf. At least Modi didn’t literally start World War 3.

    Nevertheless, any Indians who feel oppressed by their government should immigrate to the United States in 2021 when we fully open our borders. Indian immigrants can save the abysmal US economy like they saved Canadian hockey.


    1. Well done on the last sentence

  4. So not just Seattle and antifa?
    See what comes from open borders?

  5. Antifa immediately comes to mind for me, as it has, above, for Longtobefree and for Diane Reynolds (Paul.)

    Sadly, what also comes to mind for me, is Trump offering to pay for the legal defenses of political-violence-using thugs in the USA. VERY clearly signalling that the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the land, has certain axes to grind!
    A look back at Trump comments perceived by some as encouraging violence
    This comes after he praised a congressman who assaulted a reporter.

    1. That’s because you’re an unstable moron

      1. Please send your resume, and another sample of your writings, along with your salary or fee demands, to .

        Nadless, your persuasive writing skill is a KILLER! Get GOING! WRITE that email, if you haven’t yet, else you are SQUANDERING precious talents!!!

  6. Sure would be helpful if there was someone who could place this sort of behavior in historical context with the rest of Indian politics.

    Does anyone know if Reason employs anyone who could, or would do such a thing?

    1. I don’t know why they would – India is a big, complex country with a long, complex history that can’t be simply distilled into a single meme like “Orange Man Bad” and I can’t imagine there would be enough interest here in the history and culture and social dynamics of India to make it worthwhile delving into. If you wanted to know more about what is really going on in India, the Times of India is fully as reliable as the New York Times, as fully inclusive as the New York Post, and as well-respected as the National Enquirer, certainly the equal of anything you’d find here.

  7. If Shihka hates Modi then he must be really good.

  8. “Narendra Modi relies on private militants allied with his party to crack down on dissent.”

    Democrats and Antifa.

    Strange that Shikha failed to make the connection.

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