Narendra Modi’s Transformation of India Is Nearly Complete

Earlier this month, two Indian writers published an ode to their Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Written in lyric form and titled “Forever In Our Hearts,” it recounts his achievements while singing his praises in highly effusive language. “With courage and wisdom/you show citizens the way,” it gushes. “Oh Modi, oh Modi/their hopes never sway/A people’s beacon, in whom they see light/Oh Modi, oh Modi, guiding day and night.”

Such reverence captures the essence of Modi’s popularity. Many simply respect him; many others seemingly worship him. He’s beloved by a large majority of the country, as evidenced by an approval rating that climbed to a new high of 77% earlier this year. Victory in the 2024 general elections—which begins March 27—is widely expected.

There’s much that explains Modi’s popularity. That includes his personality (supporters view him as incorruptible), leadership and communication styles, and his policy achievements at home and abroad—not to mention a party machine and the resources behind him. Above all, and perhaps most worryingly, he’s won over millions for his government’s aggressive Hindu nationalism. That includes policies and laws that discriminate against Muslims (such as barriers to Muslim refugees from neighboring nations, in some states, and omissions of Muslim history from school textbooks). Some of Modi’s party colleagues and supporters have called for genocide against Muslims, and the country has seen increasing numbers of attacks on religious minorities. Modi supporters have also propagated conspiracy theories against Muslims (including the “love jihad” theory that baselessly claims that Muslim men court Hindu women to force them to convert). This has all played out against shrinking space for dissent, with crackdowns on journalists and broader civil society.

Not all of this is unprecedented. Pre-Modi, India experienced religious violence (and anti-Sikh violence). Indian Muslims have tended to be the most vulnerable, but communal tensions have harmed Christians and Sikhs. There have also been periods where democracy struggled—including the Emergency between 1975 and 1977. It was imposed by the then-government of Indira Gandhi (of the Congress party) to restore law and order following massive opposition protests. But those cases were episodic. What’s happening today is continuous, and playing out on a greater scale. And much of it—including the Prime Minister publicly calling for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses—is very new.

The Modi-era actions are highly controversial because of India’s vibrant and resilient democracy. But while this Modi-fication of India has not gone down well with many citizens—particularly Muslims—it has far too many backers to be characterized as a wholesale trampling on the public will. This may be the tyranny of the majority, but it’s also something that enjoys a public mandate.

For Modi and his mammoth base, this new India is stronger domestically and internationally, more confident, and utterly democratic. It delivers big-bang achievements—from record economic growth to becoming a top-performing economy. The Modi-ification of India has provoked pushback, and even protests. But rarely has Modi backed down on a new policy or law—and never on religion-based issues. The same is likely to be true in a third Modi term.

On the international stage, Modi’s policies have generated extensive criticism. Yet foreign governments are in no position to do anything about it. The West perceives India—because of its size, military, and economic clout—as a crucial partner in efforts to contain China. Much of the broader world sees India as a partner in these or other ways. There is little appetite to upset India over internal affairs or use any leverage to push