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Emma Mawdsley, Introduction India as a ‘civilizational state’, International Affairs, Volume 99, Issue 2, March 2023, Pages 427–432


The (re)turn in interest around the concept and projections of civilizational states has followed the recent surge of different authoritarian-populist versions of this discourse, notably in China, India, Russia, Turkey and the United States. In the case of India, the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 supercharged the ideology of Hindutva (the ‘Hinduness’ of the nation) within government, carefully stoked by decades of ground-level social programming and activism by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other parts of the Sangh Parivar (the Hindutva family of organizations). Compared to the 1990s and early 2000s, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) first came to national power espousing the ideas of Hindutva, India is now wealthier (albeit highly unevenly, and with considerable economic weaknesses and fault-lines); and its nationalistic undermining of democratic, liberal norms is deeper, but also more widely mirrored among some western and other southern states. The forces of Hindutva show no signs of abating, and oppositional voices—from secularists, young people, academics, think tanks and human rights organizations, among others—are being openly suppressed. What to external observers may seem a largely benign, even banal, international projection of yoga, traditional medicine and classical dance, and perhaps rather arcane debates over the origins and travels of Aryan peoples, religions and languages, are understood on all sides domestically as existential battles over what constitutes India and being Indian.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.