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A few weeks ago, Barack Obama said that:

the issue of the “protection of the Muslim minority in a majority-Hindu India” would be worth raising in Modi’s meeting with the US president, Joe Biden. Without such protection, there was “a strong possibility that India at some point starts pulling apart.”

I have two questions in this regard:

  1. Muslims are only 14% of India's total population; how can they break away without foreign intervention, which, again, is absolutely unlikely?

  2. History tells us that no regional or great power suffered any consequence by persecuting minorities (e.g., Roma population in Europe, native American population in the USA, Aboriginal people in Australia, Inuits in Canada, etc.). So, why should Modi (or India for that matter) be concerned about minority rights?

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  • re. point 2, do you have any indication that "not much would happen" follow, for India, if they pulled a Roma/native/Aboriginal/Inuit, on their minorities now? To that level? Even China doesn't act anywhere near that level with the Uyghurs. Countries got away with murder a lot more back in the 19th century and early 20th than they do now. India becoming much more of an jerk wrt its minorities would result in a) civil war/rebellion and/or b) boycotts a la South Africa. Sounds more than a bit alarmist at this point in time and mentioning the Holocaust in this context is a bit over the top Aug 17, 2023 at 3:49
  • And, in the news today, they're hardly the only regional power which ill-treats its minorities, eh? bbc.com/news/world-asia-66525150 Aug 17, 2023 at 3:50
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, This is whataboutism. However, I have proper reply for this whatabotary. Firstly, Pakistan is not a regional power; Secondly, the link you supplied is not government's policy.
    – user366312
    Aug 17, 2023 at 3:56
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    I don't understand the motivation for this question. It's obvious that you don't support the persecution of Muslims, being (as far as I can tell) Muslim yourself. So why ask a question that seems to suggest that it is pointless for the Indian government to respect Muslims?
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 17, 2023 at 6:12
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    Fwiw: the question might be provocative or cynical but it's a reasonable question and it has attracted reasonable answers imho.
    – Erwan
    Aug 18, 2023 at 11:23

5 Answers 5

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Let's, as you suggested, ignore the moral side of the question and consider realpolitik.

  1. The percentage of a minority in total population is less relevant than their prevalence in a certain region:

Muslim In India By Percentage, Arabeditor11786, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As you can see, there are areas of India where Muslim population is in majority. What's more important - these regions are quite close to the borders with Muslim countries: Pakistan in the west and Bangladesh in the east. While direct intervention is probably unlikely (although I wouldn't use the word "absolutely" - India and Pakistan had come to blows before over their border disputes), instability in these regions could be covertly supported by India's opponents in the region - which in the north include not only Pakistan, but also China. Thus, gaining support in these regions would take a load of Indian military and undercut support for the insurgents.

This, combined with Modi's efforts to improve relations with Bangladesh, makes the persecution of Muslim population counterproductive to the interests of the government.

  1. I wouldn't say there were no consequences at all. Sure, there were no successful separatist movements in the countries you mentioned, but the persecuted minorities feed the numbers of any criminal or anti-establishment group within the country (for example, the ethnic minorities were vastly overrepresented in revolutionary parties during Russian revolutions in the beginning of XX century). And there are countries you didn't mention - for example, the Spanish persecution of Protestants in Netherlands (who were a minority in context of the whole Spanish Empire, but a vast majority within Northern Netherlands) sparked the conflict that led to Netherlands' independence from Spanish Empire - and, by the way, the expense of the lengthy war was one of the reasons of the Spanish Empire decline and loss of their status as a regional power.
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Muslims are only 14% of India's total population

In other countries, they make up a much larger percentage. It's probably a good idea to treat people as humans regardless of what cultural group(s) they belong to, since not doing so could be regarded as offensive to people who live in countries where they make up a much larger share of the population. India has been buying a lot of Russian gas lately, but maybe one day they'd need to find sources from Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or some other Muslim majority country. Trampling on the rights of Muslims either by accident or by design could cause those potential future costs to rise or make it impossible altogether.

There are likely lots of Indian citizens within the jurisdiction of Muslim majority nations at any one time, trampling on the rights of Muslims in India could cause those people to become targets for retributitive attacks, either by random civilians or even jailed on fabricated charges by the authorities. Countries do have a tendency to engage in reciprocal actions in response to either real or perceived slights, which is why lots of people agree that you should do your best to treat people equally and fairly rather than risk fomenting generational hate in your own country.

Wikipedia says that India's population is around 1.4 billion, 14% of that is around 196 million people or about 60% of the entire population of the United States. Certainly if enough of them were motivated to do so they could still cause an extreme amount of harm on the rest of the population of India. Why give them a reason to be motivated?

History tells us that no regional or great power suffered any consequence by persecuting minorities (e.g., Roma population in Europe, native American population in the USA, Aboriginal people in Australia, Inuits in Canada, etc.). So, why should Modi (or India for that matter) be concerned about minority rights?

I think you need to re-study history. The treatment of those populations and the effects are still playing out to this day, in some cases hundreds of years later. Certainly maybe Modi himself or his government might not have to face any repercussions for any action he chooses to take, but a generation or two could go by before the time bomb goes off in the face of your grandchildren.

If Muslim minority rights aren't as important as Hindu rights in India, what protections exist for Christians that are to actually be believed? India's 2011 census estimated they make up about 2.3% of the population, so they have even less power to resist state tyranny. Evidence may even exist to suggest that some Christians themselves might not mind trampling on Muslim rights, but some estimate there's around 4,000 religions in the world. Odds are you still wouldn't just be alienating one single group of people which would cause your 14% of alienated people figure to balloon beyond your ability to know or measure.

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  • native American population in the USA, Aboriginal people in Australia, Inuits in Canada ... The treatment of those populations and the effects are still playing out to this day. True, but that arguments cuts both ways: non-natives in all 3 countries can certainly be said to have benefited from that coercion, so the incentive not to do it are not as obvious as one would gather from your, otherwise good, answer. I would mostly say that we, the descendents of those settlers, should hopefully have the ethics not to repeat it. Aug 17, 2023 at 18:18
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There are different ways to look at what constraints Modi is facing, as well as possible motives to discriminate against minorities.

First the constraint side:

International condemnation

At the current level of nastiness, Modi's India is unlikely to suffer all that that much. Countries don't typically get involved in other countries' internal affairs (unless they have a self-interest in the matter). There are exceptions, such as the punishment that the EU has inflicted on Hungary. But that is in the context of the EU, which has budgetary strings to pull. The next level up, for India, is the UN. Safe to say it won't get punished there (China tends to veto internal affair stuff, see Myanmar).

If you ramp it up somewhat (say as in Modi's 2002 Gujarat riot tenure) then India does run into risks. Recall South Africa, it managed to stay off sanction for a long while, because it painted itself as resisting Communism regionally. But eventually the public pressure got too much and trade was sharply curtailed.

India makes a fair bit of money from IT outsourcing and services. For the bigger Western companies, those contracts are highly visible. Imagine the fallout from Nike vendors' child labor, just at a higher scale, much more easily traceable. They would divest. And India would become toxic to do business with. There is a huge India diaspora abroad, quite available to ramp up domestic Western outrage if need be.

Even a small level of uncoupling would hurt India - it can't really hook up with China and Russia is not worth hooking up with. And this is at a time in which India is trying to woo manufacturing companies like Apple. Even as many other regional powers are trying to benefit from China-Western tensions by going up the manufacturing value chain: it would risk being left behind, something it really seems to want to avoid.

I'll add another aspect under this bracket too: national self-image. India has long considered itself as a leader of developing countries and the non-aligned movement: they like to see themselves as the good guys.

While Hindu intolerance is certainly a driver for some of its population, it is hard to see most Indians taking kindly to becoming reputational pariahs on the international scene. At their current point, Modi's policies aren't that problematic, but truly amping up discrimination would cost them, especially if other countries started to chime up. Contrast with 2 UN veto members: one has built its self-image on grievances and runs fake elections. The other never bothered with elections in the first place. (You could add that a 3rd veto member runs elections but is generally blissfully unconcerned about its international reputation).

Domestic unrest risks

As others have mentioned, more excesses in minority discrimination may encourage separatism in border provinces. It may trigger riots and insurgency movements. No, the 14% of Muslims couldn't "break away", being too distributed (and to what, one might ask, the 1947 precedent has hardly been shown as best practices).

Again economic and political risks. As well, as another answer states, military and security drawbacks from unstable border areas. This makes it an unproductive policy for Modi to pursue.

Supreme Court and Constitution

I can't speak to the specifics of the Indian Supreme Court and its capacity, or willingness, to act as a watchdog over minority rights in Modi's context.

We are certainly seeing Israel's current government achieving some success in neutering its Supreme Court. The US SCOTUS is also displaying some worrying signs.

But in Western democracies - and India is a democracy, a big part of the answer to this question would be that written, or customary, constitutions and supreme courts are expected to nullify government coercions upon minorities. That may very well be the case in India as well.

Counterpoint: why would Modi escalate?

Well, first and foremost, Hindu-side, this is a religious thing. Religions aren't inherently bad, and can be said to be positive forces. But they are also hijackable and rabid adherents can become irrational. It may truly be Modi being nasty from his own, and his party's, religious convictions. That's the hardest risk to quantify and the biggest reason not to be too complacent.

Political advantage. Modi does well from promoting "defense of Hindus". Might very well be a good tactic to win the next big elections.

Assuming he's a rational actor, he would probably get most of the electoral benefits by keeping the ethnic strife on a low simmer rather than bringing it to a boil. Given enough economic disruptions, as noted in my constraints, support could turn to rejection at the polls.

Conclusion:

On balance, I find this whole notion of events in India escalating much beyond where they are, to something like "Romas in Europe, Inuits in Canada, etc..." rather alarmist and over the top. By the time it got anywhere near, and that includes official laws enforcing discrimination, international public opinion in India's trading and technology partners would be imposing punishing consequences.

Modi is somewhat aware of that - he did end up in the doghouse after the Gujarat riots, for a while. And Putin's misadventures are a salutary reminder of those risks as well: India has nowhere near the resiliency of China, nor is it as tightly integrated as a supplier into Western economies.

p.s. Keep in mind though: this assessment based on rationality is assuming Modi - or some equivalent strong leader - remains in control. A situation where constant dogwhistles whip up an ever more intolerant Hindu mob mentality and minority oppression starts to build up pressure regardless of political or economic cost is also not entirely impossible. It doesn't even have to be a situation the majority of Hindus wants, only one where a big enough group imposes intolerance, by violence if need be, upon other Hindus. Look at the French revolution for example.

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  • Modi is somewhat aware of that - he did end up in the doghouse after the Gujarat riots, for a while. --- Modi is 72 years old, he doesn't need to go outside India when he retires. India has quality health care service. The same is true for Putin.
    – user366312
    Aug 17, 2023 at 18:56
  • India has nowhere near the resiliency of China, nor is it as tightly integrated as a supplier into Western economies. --- US semiconductor companies (e.g. Micron) are flocking to invest in India; also India is continuously signing tech transfer agreements with the USA (the latest example is GE F404 engine). So, India won't need spare parts for that matter.
    – user366312
    Aug 17, 2023 at 18:59
  • Well, I was more referring to Russia's financial outcomes - inflation, high interests and crashing rubles. But, for that matter, Putin himself can't even travel to friendly South Africa for a summit (granted, there's a lot of difference between current Modi shenanigans and child abductions by Russia). And the GE 404 is precisely the point I am making: India is hoping to capitalize on Western technology transfers, making them more vulnerable. Contrast with North Korea or Iran which are so cut off that additional pressure is hard to do. Aug 17, 2023 at 20:38
  • So, I think, you need to make those points clearer in your answer.
    – user366312
    Aug 17, 2023 at 20:48
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  1. History seems to suggest that a democratic, rule-of-law-based society does better economically and socially than an autocratic society. (Writing that is, of course, a value judgement on what is good for a society. Economic numbers appear objective, but valuing them above national uniformity is subjective.)
  2. This requires an understanding of what the society as a whole is like, and the ability to transition between different democratic majorities without persecution of the former majority.
  3. This requires the protection of reasonable rights of any minority, even if they have less than 50% of the vote. It is not possible to protect democratic rights of a minority party without protection of cultural rights of a minority ethnic group.
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Muslims are only 14% of India's total population; how can they break away without foreign intervention, which, again, is absolutely unlikely?

Why do you think Indian Muslims will "breakaway"? Indian Muslims choose to live in India and have already rejected the notion of living in another "Islamic" (or otherwise) country when they rejected migrating to Pakistan when India was partitioned. They also see the mess that Muslim majority Pakistan and Bangladesh are in their neighbourhood with regards to democracy and self-governance. They've seen Muslims from West Pakistan committing genocide against fellow Bengali Hindus and Muslims in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

So, like most Indians (whatever be their religion), they understand that it is the religious fundamentalists who are a threat to them. And it is the religious fundamentalist they will fight - in our specific context, Modi and the RSS / BJP. And in this fight, they will find a lot of support from their fellow Hindu, Christian and Sikh brethren. (Remember that the largest opposition to the RSS / BJP continues to be from the majority Hindu Indians who oppose RSS' divisive political ideology).

So Modi and the RSS / BJP won't be just fighting Indian Muslims, they will be fighting other non-Muslim Indians too who will stand up for their fellow Muslim Indians.

But the real danger here for India as a nation is if such a political clash turns increasingly violent, it will mean a civil war. Think of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, North-East and the Naxal movement - it took decades of violent and diplomatic politics for India to bring peace to these regions. And all these situations were exploited further by foreign powers to destabilise India.

History tells us that no regional or great power suffered any consequence by persecuting minorities (e.g., Roma population in Europe, native American population in the USA, Aboriginal people in Australia, Inuits in Canada, etc.). So, why should Modi (or India for that matter) be concerned about minority rights?

History should be understood in the context of the political period of its time. Slavery was once accepted for centuries by many nations as a completely normal and acceptable thing. Kings and Queens with absolute power over everyone was once the norm. Occupying states, exploiting their resources and people was also accepted as something normal during imperialism. In today's democratic India, if Modi believes and acts like he is the unquestionable Emperor of India and uses violence against communities he doesn't like (or who oppose him), he will rudely be made aware of his delusions by Indians, and everyone else around the world. Modi would do well to remember what happened to the last white man in Europe who thought he could get away with killing millions of Jews, and other ethnic groups, without any repercussion, during World War 2.

Active violent hostility against Indian minorities, when India depends on oil from Muslim and Christian countries, has 2 very large Muslim neighbours, and other non-Muslim, non-Hindu smaller neighbour states who still look at India with suspicion, would be the height of stupidity for any politician.

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