A Closer Look At How Partition Changed Punjab’s Religious Map

When I wrote my first post on this blog about a year and a half ago, I only had access to religious data at a district-by-district level for Punjab (and also Bengal). When I wrote my post on Kashmir, I switched to using sub-district (or tehsil) data, which is more detailed. Since then, all of my posts on Partition have used that more detailed data from the 1931 Census. I decided to revise the Punjab map using the tehsil data. I won’t rewrite the whole post here though I encourage you to read it here. Instead I’ll compare the original map to the new one, and discuss a few features that the increased resolution reveals.

Punjab Religions 1941

Punjab 1931 Religion Tehsil

Apart from the obvious improvement in quality, and my addition of much of the North-West Frontier Province to the second map, there are a few details worth commenting on, though obviously the overall picture remains largely unchanged. First there was an overwhelmingly Muslim pocket due south of Delhi, far from any other Muslim majority area. Second, the increased detail really emphasizes the concentration of Sikhs in the southern half of what is now the Indian state of Punjab. The northern half of Indian Punjab was very mixed, with large Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh populations. Third, Amritsar and Tarn Taran tehsils, which are the Sikh-plurality (blue) tehsils directly in the middle of the province, were mostly surrounded by Muslim-majority or Muslim-plurality tehsils. This will be relevant when we look more closely at the partition lines later in the post. Finally, I noticed the Sikh-heavy area west of Amritsar centered on Lyallpur (modern-day Faisalabad). This part of Punjab was the focus of a major British plan to irrigate previously arid parts of Punjab and turn them into agricultural centers. Often, Sikhs migrated to these so-called canal colonies, where they were given plots of land to farm. The west-central part of Punjab, where most of these colonies were, tended to be Muslim-majority, but with a larger Sikh than Hindu population. Farther west, the Muslim majority became more pronounced, but the minority population was mostly Hindu. Below is a map of the non-Muslim Punjab population, to reveal the Hindu/Sikh distribution (the “Sikh” category actually includes all other religions, but the Sikhs made up the overwhelming majority of the non-Muslim, non-Hindu population).

Punjab 1931 Hindu:Sikh

I adjusted the opacity so that the colors look more faded as the non-Muslim share of the population decreases. As you can see, the Sikhs are mostly concentrated in the central Punjab. Hindus are much more numerous than Sikhs in the south and west of the state. I think this may be due to the canal colonies, which were located in the west-central Punjab and were a major magnet for Sikh migrants in the early 1900s. Farther west and south, the main minority is presumably the ten or fifteen percent of the original Hindu population who didn’t convert to Islam during the seven centuries or so of Muslim rule over western Punjab.

In this post, I experimented with a few different ways of presenting the data. The map below, requested by Vikram, a commenter, is a map depicting the Muslim vs. non-Muslim breakdown, which was the basis of the British partition lines.

Punjab Muslim:Non-Muslim

Now here is the same map, but with the partition line drawn in.

Punjab Muslim:Non-Muslim Radcliffe Line

Here we see clearly that the Radcliffe Line (the official name of the border between India and Pakistan) in Punjab was very favorable to India, as I noted in my original post. Not a single non-Muslim-majority tehsil or princely state ended up in Pakistan, while nine Muslim-majority tehsils or states ended up in India. Furthermore, seven of these were contiguous or near-contiguous with Pakistan. Here is the same map with the nine Muslim-majority tehsils given to India highlighted.

Punjab highlighted tehsils

The seven Muslim tehsils near the Pakistan border plus the two non-Muslim tehsils they surround, Tarn Taran and Amritsar, had an overall religious profile of 52.0 percent Muslim, 27.3 percent Sikh, 18.4 percent Hindu, and 2.1 percent Christian. Therefore, theoretically, the concept of  “two nations” would have been better served if the whole block had gone to Pakistan. That way, only four tehsils would have been “stranded” on the wrong side of the line, two per country. That still wouldn’t have been a satisfying solution to me though because the goal of Partition should have been to minimize displacement of people, not create a solution that was abstractly “fair” to both India and Pakistan. I think a better option would have been to give as much of this Muslim-majority block as possible to Pakistan while keeping Tarn Taran and Amritsar in India. There would have been two obvious options for achieving this goal. One would have been for Kapurthala state, southeast of Tarn Taran and Amritsar to accede to India while the remainder of the Muslim tehsils went to Pakistan. Alternatively, Gurdaspur and Batala tehsils, just to the north of Amritsar, could have remained with India while the other Muslim-majority tehsils and Kapurthala state went to Pakistan.

I judged which of these would have been better by assuming that all “stranded” Sikhs and Hindus would have moved to India, all Muslims would have moved to Pakistan, and Christians would have stayed put, as that is how Partition played out in general. Then I calculated how many refugees would have been expected under each scenario. The first scenario, Partition as it actually occurred, resulted in about 1,359,000 refugees from this pocket of Muslim-majority areas given to India. The second scenario, Kapurthala staying with India, would have generated 1,167,000 refugees and would have looked like this:

Punjab Non-Muslim option 1

The third would have involved Gurdaspur and Batala staying with India, would have resulted in 1,177,000 refugees, and would look like this:

Punjab Non-Muslim Option 3

A possible fourth option would have been for the whole area to go to Pakistan. That would have resulted in 1,195,000 refugees and look like this:

Punjab Non-Muslim Option 4

Obviously, if we reject the rules set up by the British and think outside the box, there are other possible outcomes that could have reduced or eliminated refugees. Some such possibilities include a multi-religious neutral zone in central Punjab, an independent and united Punjab, or no Partition of India at all. However, accepting the rules as defined by the British, the second option of Kapurthala going to India would have had the fewest refugees. Unsurprisingly, the British chose the one that created the most refugees. It is quite possible that the British wanted to make sure that the Sikhs, who were left in a very bad situation by Partition, would not be forced to abandon Amritsar, their holy city. Thus all the Muslim tehsils around Amritsar were given to India to make Amritsar more defensible and less exposed. It isn’t obvious to me though that the border in option two above was dramatically less defensible. Amritsar was more exposed, but any border through that part of Punjab would be difficult to defend given the flat topography. And the British left Pakistan divided in two and separated by the length of India, presumably a much greater obstacle to defensibility than a zigzag in the Punjab border. It should also be noted that the actual border drawn in that exact region proved impossible to defend for Pakistan in the 1965 war, when India invaded and ended up on the outskirts of Lahore by the time a cease-fire was declared.

Perhaps the British were willing to give India a favorable deal in Punjab (and as commenters have pointed out, in Bengal too) as a way of convincing the Congress leadership to accept Pakistan’s creation. I think that the main reason the British supported Pakistan’s creation is that it kept the most strategically valuable parts of British India in somewhat friendly hands. The North-West Frontier Province, parts of Kashmir (which the British expected to go to Pakistan), and perhaps Balochistan were strategic in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which was already underway by 1947. As long as those territories ended up in Pakistan, the British probably weren’t too picky about what else ended up where. They may have promised and delivered India a favorable deal to ensure that India’s leadership wouldn’t get difficult and prevent the British from leaving the subcontinent quickly and unobtrusively. The British also wanted to ensure that India’s leadership wouldn’t drag its heals on recognizing Pakistan’s legitimacy (India voted in favor of Pakistan’s admission to the UN, Afghanistan was the only country opposed). So maybe the generous amount of land given to India in Punjab and the strategic headwaters in Bengal were meant to quietly grease the wheels for the British Empire’s withdrawal from South Asia and Pakistan’s entrance onto the world stage.

Finally the original goal of this project was to examine how Partition affected the religious demographics of Punjab, so I will post the original map with the 1931 populations, and the map with 2001 (India) and 1998 (Pakistan) populations so you can see how Partition changed Punjab forever. It is especially worth noting the change in the Muslim-majority teshils that remained in India, which must have lost a majority of their population in 1947, and the narrow Muslim-majority tehsils in Pakistan, which lost just a bit less than half.

Punjab 1931 Religion TehsilPunjab Religion Today

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How Did Partition Affect North India?

Last time I wrote here, I looked at Sindh, a province that was overwhelmingly Muslim in 1931, but had a few regions with Hindu majorities. I wondered why Sindh hadn’t been partitioned along with Punjab, and I got some really great responses from readers in the comment section. I have a theory now that I think makes sense, which I will get to later in this post. First though, I want to discuss north India. As I mentioned in the Sindh post, a large group of Urdu-speaking Muslims from north India migrated to Sindh upon Partition. I decided that an examination of how they changed their new homeland was incomplete without looking at how their departure affected the place they left. Did north Indian Muslims leave in large enough numbers to have an impact on the overall demographic profile of north India? The Muhajirs, as the migrants and their descendants are known, didn’t all come from one place, and typically any person who voluntarily moved to Pakistan in 1947 is defined as a Muhajir. However, the largest number came from the Urdu-speaking north, mainly the state of Uttar Pradesh (then called the United Provinces), and to a lesser extent Bihar. In this post, I chose to focus on those two states, as well as the modern-day states of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, which were separated from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively only a few years ago.

Like Sindh, these provinces of British India were not partitioned in 1947; instead India got all of Bihar and the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. The Muslim population of both provinces was relatively sizable though, and had traditionally wielded significant power. The Mughal capitals of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri are in UP, as is Lucknow, which was the cultural capital of north India in the post-Mughal era and is still one of the centers of Shia Islam in South Asia. Deoband and Bareilly, the founding locations of the Deobandi and Barelvi movements of Sunni Islam, are both in Uttar Pradesh. UP was also an early source of strength for the Muslim League. In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League won 26 seats in the United Provinces, compared to one seat in the North West Frontier Province, Punjab, and Sindh combined (these territories make up most of modern day Pakistan).

As usual, I’ll give a sketch of the basic demographic picture pre-Partition. According to the 1931 Census, Bihar, which included the modern-day states of Bihar and Jharkhand (as well as Odisha, which I excluded here), was 80 percent Hindu, 12.7 percent Muslim, and 7.3 percent Other. In this case, most of the “Others” were followers of the so-called “tribal” religions that may predate Hinduism in South Asia. There was also a fairly sizable Christian minority, numbering in the several hundred thousands. The United Provinces had broadly similar demographics: 84.4 percent of its population was Hindu, 15 percent Muslim, and 0.7 percent Other. Obviously, the big difference between Bihar and UP was the presence of the tribal religions in Bihar.

Both Bihar and the United Provinces were classified in the 1931 Census as overwhelmingly Hindustani-speaking. Hindi and Urdu, which are two standardized forms of Hindustani, are in fact spoken in Uttar Pradesh. This classification is a bit problematic for Bihar, because today the language spoken in Bihar is typically classified either as a separate language (Bihari), or as a cluster of related languages. Linguistically, the most interesting part of the region is the Chota Nagpur division, which is roughly equivalent to today’s Jharkhand state, which at the time was in southern Bihar. The 1931 Census suggests that 47.5 percent of the population was Hindustani-speaking. Obviously, we don’t know how those languages would be classified today, but according to Wikipedia, the Bihari languages spoken in Jharkhand include Maithili, Khortha, and Angika. I don’t know how accurate that is, but if correct, it suggests that Chota Nagpur division’s “Hindustani” speakers in 1931 spoke a Bihari dialect and not modern Hindi.

The remaining 52.5 percent of Jharkhand/Chota Nagpur’s population is even more interesting. 21 percent were Bengali speakers, concentrated near the border with Bengal. These areas were transferred to West Bengal after Partition. 3.4 percent spoke Oriya, which is the dominant language of neighboring Odisha (then called Orissa). 6.6 percent spoke Kurukh, a Dravidian (South Indian) language. 18.8 percent spoke one of three Munda languages – Santali, Mundari, and Ho. These languages are really unusual, as they belong to the Austroasiatic language family. Their closest relatives are spoken in Southeast Asia. Vietnamese and Khmer (the main language in Cambodia) are the two largest languages in this family. One possible solution to this puzzle is that the Austroasiatic peoples were the indigenous population of India before the Indo-Aryans swept through north India 4,000 years ago, and even before the Dravidian peoples arrived several thousand years before that. The small pockets of Munda speakers in India’s most remote areas could be the last remnant of that long-lost chapter of India’s history. It is also possible that they arrived in India much more recently.

Like the Muslim-majority areas of Punjab, Kashmir, Bengal, and Sindh, where Hindus were disproportionately present in urban areas, Muslims were overrepresented in Hindu-majority north India’s cities. The United Provinces had seven cities with at least 100,000 people, and all of them had a higher percentage of Muslims than the state as a whole (15%). Its largest city, Lucknow (251,000 people), was 56.7 percent Hindu, 40.5 percent Muslim, and 2.8 percent Other. The next six cities by population were Cawnpore (68.6 percent Hindu, 29.9 percent Muslim, 1.5 percent Other), Agra (61.8, 35.1, and 3.1 %), Benares (68.5, 30.8, and 0.7 %), Allahabad (65.6, 31.2, and 3.2 %), Bareilly (46.8, 52.0, and 1.2 %), and Moradabad (39.1, 57.6, and 3.3 %). Patna, Bihar’s only city with over 100,000 people, was 74.9 percent Hindu, 24 percent Muslim, and 1.1 percent Other.

Below is my map of religion in north India in 1931:

North India, 1931

To me, a few things stand out. Obviously, north India was heavily Hindu at the time, but there was considerable regional variation. The northwestern reaches of the United Provinces, what is now Uttarakhand, was nearly 100 percent Hindu. Just to its south, in what is now northwestern Uttar Pradesh, the population was approximately evenly split between Hindus and Muslims and some parts were Muslim majority. The rest of UP and much of modern-day Bihar were solidly Hindu. Several of north India’s large cities stand out as a bit less overwhelmingly Hindu than the surrounding countryside; Agra, Lucknow, and Allahabad in particular caught my eye. The very northeastern tip of Bihar was solidly Muslim. In the south, in what is now Jharkhand, the religious picture shifts from Hindu/Muslim to Hindu/Tribal. Northern Jharkhand blends seamlessly with southern Bihar and was largely Hindu. The two pockets of tribal religion (with a Christian minority) are very noticeable. These areas are also where the Austroasiatic languages I mentioned earlier were spoken. The bright red pocket nestled between the two tribal strongholds is where the Bengali-speaking population of the state was located. This region was transferred to West Bengal after Partition, presumably because it was a more natural fit with that Hindu-majority Bengali-speaking state. When I started making this map, I was most interested in the Muslim population of north India. This was a fairly urbanized Urdu-speaking population, which supposedly made up the bulk of the Mohajirs who migrated to Pakistan in 1947. I wanted to see if there was a noticeable drop in the Muslim population of Uttar Pradesh after Partition. Below is the religious map of north India as of the 2001 Census:

Religion in North India, 2001

Clearly, Uttar Pradesh did not experience an exodus of its Muslim population in 1947, as the general map didn’t change much from 1931 to 2001. There are a few marginal changes though. First, a few areas in Uttar Pradesh seem to have become more Muslim since 1931, which is presumably a reflection of the much higher Muslim birth rate. Still, the Hindu nationalist hysteria about north India being swamped by high Muslim fertility is not borne out by these maps overall. Second, it appears that some of the cities have become less Muslim. That may be a product of the higher resolution of the 1931 map, but the Mohajirs are generally reported to have originated in the cities of north India, so maybe the urban Muslim population left in 1948, while the rural Muslim population stayed behind (similar to Sindh, where the urban Hindus left and the rural Hindus remained). Third, the northeastern corner of Bihar seems to have become less Muslim (though the borders have changed slightly). There was a population in Bangladesh, called Biharis, who were sort of similar to the Mohajirs. They numbered only a few hundred thousand, and lived mainly in the big cities of the former East Pakistan. After Bangladesh gained its independence in 1971, they were left in a bad situation, because the Bengalis saw them as foreigners, and linked them to the West Pakistanis, and India and Pakistan had no interest in taking them. Perhaps they originated in the northeastern part of Bihar. If so, their absence is faintly noticeable. The fourth point of interest is that about half of the followers of “tribal” religions in 1931 are no longer classified as such. The northeastern cluster of “others” on the first map has vanished. Most of the population seems to be Hindu, though there are a few more Muslims in the area too. I don’t know whether there has been mass conversion of these people since 1931, or if they still have the same religious practices but are not categorized as Hindu. Because Hinduism is a flexible religion, they might have started identifying as Hindu without significantly changing their beliefs.

These are details though. The larger picture is that the religious map of north India has remained largely unchanged since 1931, with the small number of Muslims leaving in 1948 cancelled out by the high birth rate of the majority who remained. India has about five times as many Urdu-speakers as Pakistan, which would imply that about 85 percent of north India’s Muslims stayed in India. So it seems that Partition didn’t affect north India very much, even though the minority of the Muslim population that left played a large role in Pakistan’s early history. Bihar and the United Provinces were both hit by the communal riots of 1946 and 1947, and they linked Punjab in the west to Bengal in the east. So they were certainly part of the larger Partition story, but were peripheral compared to the epicenters in Punjab and Bengal.

Finally, as mentioned above, in my last post, I wondered why Sindh wasn’t partitioned by the British, and I received a number of very interesting responses from readers. Debraj Chakrabarti pointed out that perhaps the better question was why Congress didn’t demand for Sindh to be partitioned. Vikram theorized that Congress might have avoided a partition in Sindh to prevent the Muslim League from demanding Muslim-majority areas in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. I think they were on the right track. The missing piece, I believe, was why Congress would care whether India had a piece of Sindh versus a piece of Bihar. The answer, I suspect, is in other readers’ comments. Abdul Khair Khan and Indy both made the point that Congress might have wanted the strange lines in the Bengal partition because the Muslim-majority areas of northwestern Bengal were important for Calcutta’s economy. The argument they made is that Congress was willing to swap Hindu and Buddhist-majority areas in less strategic parts of Bengal in order to hold on to the economically important headwaters of the Hoogly River. Combined, these theories lead me to conclude that Congress chose not to request a partition in Sindh because they were afraid that the Muslim League would respond by claiming Muslim areas in Bihar, as well as adjacent Muslim-majority parts of West Bengal containing the headwaters of the Hoogly River. This would have necessitated new partition lines in Bengal that were less favorable to India, although more logical from a purely demographic perspective. Additionally, had Pakistan received northeast Bihar, eastern India would have been physically divided from the rest of the country. I think that explanation makes sense, so thank you to the commenters who helped me gain a better understanding of why the final lines were drawn the way they were.

Indian Election Results Map

I don’t have that much to add to the conventional wisdom about India’s election results. It was an even bigger landslide for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) than expected, with the NDA’s leading party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), winning enough votes to rule without a coalition. This is the first time one party has won enough seats to form a government by itself since Congress after the 1984 elections. It is very likely this will turn out to be a pivotal election in Indian history, and only time will tell whether Congress will recover enough to compete for a majority. The BJP clearly has broken through the ceiling that appeared to cap its share of the vote in the low 20s. I have created a map of the election, which, unlike some of the maps I have seen so far, doesn’t paint all of the NDA parties one color, the UPA parties another, and every other party a third. Every party that won more than one seat gets its own color, which allows one to see that India’s politics remain extremely messy and fractured despite the NDA’s landslide.

2014 Lok Sabha Results

First, I notice that Wikipedia has a map up that uses the same base map as me, and even some of the same colors (to be fair, orange for the BJP and blue for Congress is pretty standard). I’m posting this anyway because I have a little more detail with the small parties and because I already made the map. Here are a few of my takeaways:

1. The Regional Parties Fizzled– There was some chatter that a third front would emerge in the space between the unpopular and exhausted Congress and the toxic and divisive BJP, but it totally failed to materialize. Some regional parties did quite well, and overall the non-NDA and non-UPA parties didn’t lose much ground, but the formerly inexorable rise of the regional parties has been halted. For the first time since 1999, the BJP and Congress combined for more than half of the popular vote. By my count, there were six major regional parties that suffered near total wipe outs this year. In two cases, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) losing to the All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s drubbing at the hands of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, the change is of little import on the national stage.  None of the parties involved were part of either coalition heading into the election. Three parties fell victim to the BJP’s surge in north India. The Janata Dal (United), which won 20 of Bihar’s 40 seats in 2009, won zero seats this year. Similarly, two of Uttar Pradesh’s most important parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) went from 23 and 21 seats respectively in 2009, to 5 and zero in 2014. Finally, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, which has been the dominant party in Jammu and Kashmir since Independence, lost all three of its Lok Sabha seats to the People’s Democratic Party. While some regional parties did fine, the overall trend of the election for smaller parties was negative. In 2009, the BJP and Congress combined for 47.4% of the popular vote and 322 seats out of 543. This year, they won 50.3% of the popular vote and 326 seats.

2. The BJP’s Strength Comes from the Hindi Belt– One  result that really jumps out to me is that much of the BJP’s support comes from the Hindi-speaking parts of India. Hindi is a very poorly defined language, but the broadest definition of the language would include standard Hindi, the various regional dialects in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc., and the languages spoken in Bihar and Rajasthan. If we use this definition, that gives us a Hindi belt containing Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. These states hold 225 (41%) of the Lok Sabha seats. The BJP, not including its coalition partners, won 190, or 84.4% of these seats. Add in the BJP’s coalition partners, the number goes up to 201 and 89.3%. The rest of India has 318 seats, of which the BJP won 92 or 28.9%. With coalition partners, the numbers go to 135 and 42.5%. To make the difference more visual, I have two maps below, the first with the non-Hindi areas whited-out, the second with the Hindi belt whited-out:

Hindi Belt

Hindi Belt Election Results

Non-Hindi Belt

Non-Hindi Belt Election Results

Obviously, the BJP did well in the non-Hindi areas, but its dominance was nowhere near as pronounced as it is in the Hindi belt. As to why the BJP did so much better in the Hindi belt, I can only speculate. The north and west of India have always been more receptive to the Hindu nationalist ideology. One possibility is that the Hindi-speaking peoples don’t have an ethnic identity that transcends caste and religion. People who speak Tamil also belong to the Tamil ethnic group. The same is true for Kashmiris, Bengalis, etc. Hindi is one of only a few languages that does not have an ethnic group attached to it. As a result, religious and caste identities play a larger role in the Hindi belt in defining a person’s identity. It is probably not a coincidence that caste-based parties such as the BSP and SP typically do much better in the north, although they did poorly this year.

3. Congress Lacks an Obvious Base from which to Launch a Comeback– The other aspect of this map that I find striking is how comprehensive Congress’s defeat was. Congress didn’t just lose a few critical swing areas, but hold onto its strongholds; it lost nearly everywhere. This wasn’t John Kerry in 2004; it was George McGovern in 1972. Even in areas that the BJP failed to win, Congress lost badly to the key regional parties. Obviously, Narendra Modi could stumble, but it looks like Congress has a lot of work to do even to be competitive on a national level, let alone win a general election. This election showed that all of Congress’s post-Independence goodwill has totally evaporated. If the party wants to win in the future, it will have to move away from relying on its admittedly illustrious history being enough to win it votes by default. I also think that it’s time for the Gandhi family to go. Congress hasn’t had a leader with any real political talent since Indira Gandhi, and even she had a very problematic legacy as Prime Minister. Jawaharlal Nehru was a legend and India’s most important leader other than Mohandas Gandhi, but there is no reason that his mediocre great-grandson should be in control of what is still India’s second largest party. Congress needs to become a true left-wing party to provide a counterweight to the BJP. It should not continue as a vehicle for members of the Gandhi family who have nothing better to do with their time.

Finally, I just wanted to consider how Indian politics might look now if Partition had never occurred. It has been argued, persuasively in my opinion, that Partition created the conditions necessary for radical Islam to flourish in Pakistan. Obviously, it is too soon to tell if Narendra Modi will end up moderating like Atal Vajpayee, the last BJP Prime Minister, or catering to the radical Hindu fringe of his party. Still I wonder if Partition didn’t create the necessary conditions for Hindu fundamentalism as well, but the effects have been delayed by luck and better leadership in India. Hindu-Muslim relations in north India have always been worse than in the rest of the country, and India as currently constituted is politically dominated by the north. I wonder if an undivided India, with 500 million Muslims instead of 180 million would have elected a party like the BJP. Right now, Muslims are too geographically dispersed to be a powerful voting block. But the BJP won only 9% of the Muslim vote, according to this New York Times article. If they’d had to compete in Lahore, Peshawar, or Chittagong, that level of Muslim support probably would have been crippling to Modi’s Prime Ministerial hopes. It has been clear for years that a Pakistan ripped away from the traditions of South Asia and reoriented towards the Muslim world will suffer from a lethal combination of extremism and rudderlessness. I wonder if a democratic India, shorn of two thirds of its Muslims, lacks a necessary check on the authoritarian tendencies of its Hindu nationalists, but we’re only just starting to realize it.

Update 07/30/2014: When I first wrote this post, I neglected to mention how Modi’s election could change India’s relationship with the United States. To me, it isn’t yet clear what effect the new Prime Minister will have. President Obama apparently had a strong personal relationship with Manmohan Singh, but the U.S. disengaged from India under Obama, possibly because it was clear that the Congress government would not recover from numerous corruption scandals and was essentially living on borrowed time. Now that the Indian government has a strong mandate, perhaps the U.S. will seize the opportunity to recommit to the relationship with India despite the fraught history the U.S. has with Narendra Modi. Modi was the subject of a travel ban in the aftermath of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, but that ban has been lifted, and Modi is expected to visit Washington D.C. in September. On the American side, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to India this week and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will follow next week. Modi has billed himself as an economically focused leader, which could lead to improved economic ties with the United States if, as promised, he passes reforms that make it easier to do business in India. In the short-term, the U.S. is likely to be cautious with Modi, trying to balance the need to strengthen one of the U.S.’s most important relationships in Asia while also remaining wary for now about Modi’s checkered past and questionable commitment to multiculturalism and democratic values.