This paper examines the changing nature of Muslim political mobilization in contemporary India in the context of Hindu nationalism’s ascendancy into power and the consequent crisis of traditional Muslim politics. Through an ethnographic case study of the Popular Front of India, we argue that a qualitatively new form of political mobilization is taking place among Indian Muslims centered on an articulation of “self-defense” against a “Hindu nationalist threat.” This politics of self-defense is constructed on the reconciliation of two contradictory processes: use of extensive legal pragmatism, and defensive ethnicization based on Islamic identity. The paper also examines the consequences of the emerging politics of competing ethnicization for even a normative and minimal idea of secularism and how it contributes to the process of decoupling of secularism and democracy in contemporary India.

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