India emerges as key global player amid Russia’s war in Ukraine

Three decades ago, the razing by a Hindu mob of a 16th-century mosque in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya, which Hindus believe is the birthplace of the god Ram, resulted in the deaths of 2,000 people and propelled the rise of Mr Modi. party.

A temple is currently being built there. Mr Modi, who presided over the inauguration in 2020, called it a “modern symbol of our traditions”.

Faced with such movements, Ms. Roy, the novelist, expressed a common concern. “You know, the Varanasi sari, worn by Hindus, woven by Muslims, was a symbol of everything that was so intertwined and is now torn apart,” she said. “A threat of violence hangs over the city.”

I found Syed Mohammed Yaseen, a leader of Varanasi’s Muslim community, which makes up almost a third of the city’s population of around 1.2 million, in his lumber store. “The situation is not good,” said Mr Yaseen, 75. “We are dealing with 18 lawsuits related to the old mosque. The Hindus want to demolish it indirectly by creating their own cult there. Increasingly, he says, Muslims feel like second-class citizens.

“Every day we feel all kinds of attacks and our identity is diminished,” he said. “India’s secular character is being chipped away. It still exists in our Constitution, but in practice it is chipped away and the government is silent.

This denting took several forms under Mr. Modi. Shashi Tharoor, a prominent member of the opposition Congress Party who has ruled India most of the time since independence, suggested to me that “institutionalised bigotry” had taken hold.

A number of lynchings and demolitions of Muslim homes, the imprisonment of Muslim journalists and other critics of Mr Modi, and the emasculation of independent courts have stoked fears of what Mr Raghavan, the historian, called “a truly discriminatory regime, with its risk of radicalization.


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