India's Inexorable Path to Autocratization: Looking Beyond Modi and the Populist Lens

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Routledge Handbook of Autocratization in South Asia

Publication Date

Winter 12-30-2021


Sten Widmalm




New York, New York



First Page


Last Page



Political Science

Publisher Statement

This handbook offers a comprehensive analysis of the processes and actors contributing to autocratization in South Asia. It provides an enhanced understanding of the interconnectedness of the different states in the region, and how that may be related to autocratization.

The book analyzes issues of state power, the support for political parties, questions relating to economic actors and sustainable economic development, the role of civil society, questions of equality and political culture, political mobilization, the role of education and the media, as well as topical issues such as the Covid pandemic, environmental issues, migration, and military and international security. Structured in five sections, contributions by international experts describe and explain outcomes at the national level in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The final section analyzes conditions for democracy and autocratization and how they are affected by the interplay of political forces at the international level in this region.

India ? building an ethnic state?

Pakistan ? the decline of civil liberties

Bangladesh ? towards one-party rule

Sri Lanka ? the resilience of the ethnic state

How to comprehend autocratization in South Asia ? three broad perspectives

This innovative handbook is the first to describe and to explain ongoing trends of autocratization in South Asia, demonstrating that drivers of political change also work across boundaries. It is an important reference work for students and researchers of South Asian Studies, Asian Studies, Area Studies and Political Science.? -- publisher


Scholarly literature has extensively theorized about populism authoritarian strongmen and democratic backsliding in recent years. It is tempting to view Narendra Modi’s ascent to power in India as part of this trend, and correlate the Bhartiya Janata Party populist success with the decline of democracy in India as reflected in the global rankings. In contrast, this chapter highlights the role of grassroots Hindu radical right mobilization as the confounding variable that has paved the way both for Modi’s success as well as mainstreaming of ethno-national majoritarianism. It looks at the targeted mobilization of varied constituencies by grassroots Hindu right organizations in Bengaluru, Karnataka, to demonstrate the central argument. This chapter expands our understanding of both populism and autocratization by more firmly connecting local dynamics to national outcomes.