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Have we entered the “Asian century”?

According to UN data, Asia is currently home to more than half the world’s population and 21 of the world’s largest cities are in Asia. We therefore often read about living in the Asian Age and the “Asian century” is predicted by some to really begin next year, when the Asian economies will – for the first time since the 19th century – be larger than those of the rest of the world combined.

China (1,4 billion) and India (1,3 billion) are the two largest countries in the world, representing 37% of the global population, but China has been receiving the lion’s share of the attention. India’s economy, however, while 40% smaller than that of China, has in fact grown 7% faster than China’s in recent years and India also expects to benefit from its growing population, while that of China is ageing. After the recent re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is also expected to adopt a more explicit and visible international policy and try to act as a regional democratic counterbalance in the trade war between the US and China.

While Modi’s nationalist agenda may bring about urgently needed reforms for India’s economic development, many fear this will be done at the expense of India’s minorities which represent 20% of the Indian population. Relying on the concept of Hindutva, a politicized concept of “Hindu-ness” which sees Hinduism not as theology but as identity, Modi deliberately opts for a course that pits insiders against outsiders. However, as the The Atlantic explains, “to a large degree the success of Hindutva today lies less in its ideology than in its rebranding of prosaic, everyday concerns as matters of personal identity: When Modi speaks, many voters feel, he’s speaking for me”. Apart from not fulfilling any of his economic promises during his first term in office, commentators claim that “the worry for many Indian liberals is that our long-cherished idea of our country as a benign, inclusive state – thriving in its astonishing diversity of religions ethnicities, languages, and castes – is collapsing”.

Those most affected, of course, are the minority groups. Future Citizen Institute reported earlier on certain groups being excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and as a result stripped of their Indian citizenship, and how a Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that had a strong anti-Muslim character had been proposed. In the analysis of the Times of India, the Bill “seeks to provide Indian citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have lived in the country for six continuous years, even if they have no documents”.

The question of citizenship featured prominently during Modi’s election campaign. He repeated that his party was committed to passing the Bill and the BBC noted that, given Modi’s preference for Hindu migrants over Muslim ones, the NRC had become one his main priorities, being part of the fight against what he calls illegal immigration, terrorists, infiltrators and “anti-nationals”.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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