As Protests Flare in India, Modi Plays a New Position: Defense

VARANASI, India — Nidhi Tiwari is an upper-caste Hindu. She voted for India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, within the final election. She lives in Mr. Modi’s constituency, Varanasi, a holy Hindu metropolis. She was, up till final week, one of many thousands and thousands of bricks in his base.

However Ms. Tiwari, a college pupil, has turned in opposition to Mr. Modi, becoming a member of the rising protests sweeping this nation after he pushed by way of a contentious citizenship legislation that increasingly Indians see as anti-Muslim and a blow to India’s basis of tolerance and secularism.

“I used to see Modi as a powerful chief, because the individual India had been ready so lengthy to get,” Ms. Tiwari mentioned. “Now, I see him as a monster.”

Till this outpouring of anger, Mr. Modi appeared unstoppable. Using a populist wave, he was pushing forward with plans to convey India nearer to turning into a Hindu homeland, a divisive dream harbored by his political occasion whose roots lie deep in a Hindu-centric worldview that poses an existential menace to India’s giant Muslim minority.

Now a few of his help is starting to crack, even in strongholds like Varanasi. For the primary time, Indians are standing as much as Mr. Modi in a transparent, united, widespread and forceful manner, saying: No, we don’t need this. How this performs out within the subsequent few weeks might have a seismic influence on India.

The protests are leaping from metropolis to metropolis. They’re drawing in an more and more broad cohort of Indian society, together with former Modi followers and plenty of non-Muslims.

In the event that they achieve slowing him down or altering his course, it could possibly be a long-lasting victory for a secular India constructed to honor a dizzying range of languages, religions and geographic identities. If the protests fizzle, Mr. Modi’s imaginative and prescient of a Hindu rashtra, or Hindu nation, might draw nearer.

“That is undeniably the most important pushback Modi has confronted from civil society since coming to energy in 2014,” mentioned Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia Program on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace.

Varanasi, a metropolis of temples alongside the banks of the Ganges River that Mr. Modi repeatedly returns to for religious energy — and for votes — displays his problem. He nonetheless has quite a lot of help, however elements of town have erupted beneath him, a gauge, maybe, of the antipathy rising in opposition to a first-rate minister who was as soon as broadly hailed as India’s modern-day savior.

Muslims, college students, left-leaning professionals, lower- and upper-caste Hindus have poured into the slim, brick-walled lanes yelling, “Down with Modi!”

The police have responded by beating folks up, kicking in doorways, shutting down the web, arresting scores, and in a single incident charging right into a crowd and setting off a stampede that crushed a 9-year-old boy who was out driving his crimson bicycle.

Because the protests have swelled across the country, hundreds of thousands have joined. Thousands have been arrested and more than 20 killed.

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