Nationalism in India and Europe

The Bertelsmann Stiftung, together with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) organized a Black Coffee Morning and a workshop for Indian journalists on April 25, 2016. During the Black Coffee Morning, journalists from India and Germany, as well as think tank researchers, debated the recent rise of nationalism in India and Europe. Where do recent nationalistic forces come from? What drives them? And what role can media play? During the workshop, which took place in the afternoon, journalists from India, together with German think tank experts on India, developed plausible scenarios for India in 2025.

Sven Hansen, a journalist with German national newspaper TAZ, started the morning off talking about historical and current developments of nationalistic movements in Europe. Following the recent influx of refugees into Europe, nationalistic movements have seen an up-tick in countries like France, Austria and Germany. This is reflected in anti-European, often islamophobic parties like Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Front National. Hansen considers a lack of a common culture of values within the EU community, as well as missing participatory mechanisms for European peoples within European Union insttitutions reasons for this recent nationalistic trend. Moreover, European middle classes increasingly feel insecurity about their precarious economic situations.

Following Mr. Hansen's discussion of recent European trends, Ms Dunaina Kumar, Senior Assistant Editor of Indian daily Indian Express, shone a light on the history of nationalism in India. Nationalism in India, according to her, is mainly seen as a symbol of freedom and liberty, as nationalistic forces helped bring about the end of colonialism and were important during the Independence Movement of 1947. Since Modi and the hindu-nationalistic party BJP gained power in 2014, nationalistic sentiments are being instrumentalized to distract from disappointments with Modi's performance. Current trends, especially the increasing polititical polarization between the Hindu majority and religious minorities, according to Kumar, are cause for concern.

Mr Subodh Ghildiyal, Senior Assistant Editor with Indian daily The Times of India, emphasized the differences between nationalism in India and Europe. According to the journalist, nationalists in India, as opposed to those in Germany, are more religiously than politically motivated and have a long history dating back to British colonial times and the Mogul times of Muslim leadership. According to him, historic roots still have an influence on how religious groups in India live together, as is visible in the prevalence of inter-religious violence between Hindus and Muslims since the 50s. Gildiyal affirmed that with Modi taking office, this type of nationalism has become more politiziced, and incresingly leads to further polarization and fragmentation of Indian society.

In the following Q&A, the role of media for nationalistic movements in India and Germany was the main topic of discussion. Kumar argues that the media landscape in India has shifted considerably since Modi took office. English-speaking TV in particular has moved towards being a government mouthpiece, and now mainly propagates the party line of hindu-nationalistic party BJP. Thereby, they contribute significantly to increasing polarisation of societal debates. Print media, however, are more moderate, and try harder to report in a balanced fashion on the political camps, according to the journalists.

Mr Hansen also pointed out the difficult relationship between media and politics in Germany. On the one hand, some political groups feel under-represented in media, as was recently obvious with the phenomenon of "lie press". On the other side, there's a lack of trust in media visible in many politicians. Hansen concedes that both parties will need to approach each other and confront the problems together.

Scenario-Building Workshop India in 2025

The increasing polarization of Indian society was also an important topic of discussion in the afterrnoon session, a short scenario-building workshop. Journalists from India and India experts from German think tanks in groups identified four critical uncertainties that will shape how India develops until 2025: Social stability, reform pace, economic growth and environmental impact. For scenario purposes, reform pace and economic growth can be assumed to have a linear, positive relationship: A scenario with slow reforms, but high economic growth seems unimaginable. Therefore, two different, but interlinked sets of scenarios for India 2025 were developed: First, those that focus on economic growth and environmental impact, and secondly, those that focus on social stability and reform pace.

Social stability was seen as key for India's future, and many participants expressed doubts as to the development. While there has been a trend towards polarization, both across caste and religious lines, participants agreed that this trend is still reversible, especially if the current ruling party (BJP) does not stay in power.

Reform pace similarly is considered important. Participants agreed that India would need structural economic and policy reforms. Modi came to power on a mandate of quicker, more streamlined reforms. However, so far his ambitious reform agenda has not materialized, which is why particpants agreed that both slow and fast reform pace are conceivable in the next 10 years.

Moreover, participants agreed that economic growth is important for India's future, because India is still a developing country, and needs economic growth to create additional jobs and lift people out of poverty. Participants saw economic growth as interlinked with reform pace, and agreed that both high economic growth and low economic growth is plausible for the next 10 years.

Participants were worried about India's environmental future. Many expressed their concern regarding fresh water, but they agreed that there is a way to make India's future less environmentally-damaging.

These four critical uncertainties were combined into two sets of scenarios that together reflect the varied nature of possibilities for India's future until 2025. They range from a very negative "collapse" scenario with low economic growth and high environmental damages to a very positive "India's Rise/India Shining" scenario with fast and effective economic reforms and high social stability. While participants agreed that these extreme scenarios are less likely than some of the more moderate ones, thinking through the different paths India could take helps decision-makers and India-watchers alike better anticipate possible futures.

Workshop participants