India’s Historic Elections Bring Uncertainty, And Hope For Democratic Governance

The failure of the Manmohan Singh government to overcome the impression that it was listless and corrupt contributed to its losses in last week’s elections. It also was unable to achieve a balance between “promoting economic growth and ensuring distributive justice,” writes Pradeep Taneja, a University of Melbourne lecturer in Asian Politics at the School of Social and Political Sciences.

That failure permitted the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, to sweep into power and has left many wondering where he will take India’s foreign policy.

Kevin Lees of The National Interest says Modi’s election might pose a challenge to US-Indian relations, which sit at the lowest point since Obama took office.

“Among the priorities of the Obama administration in its final two-and-a-half years, the challenge of restoring strong ties with India should lie at the top of the Asia agenda. No amount of pivoting will matter much if U.S. ties to the world’s largest democracy—and, despite its current stumbles, one of the world’s largest emerging economies—lie in tatters in January 2017. The most beguiling aspect of Modi’s likely victory is that no one knows exactly how Modi will approach U.S. relations,” he posits.

The Brookings Institution’s Tanvi Madan says there will be some continuity in the nation’s foreign policy, but also the possibility of institutional reform of India’s foreign, energy and trade policymaking apparatus. Although, he notes, the feasibility of this is unknown.

“There has been talk of capacity increases, bringing in outside experts to a greater extent, as well as institutional reorganization. In addition, it’ll be interesting to see whether and how Modi brings in the states and the diaspora into his foreign policy approach – also something he has talked about on a number of occasions. Furthermore, there might be specific changes in India’s relationships with particular partners, for example, a new Indian government might bring relations with Israel more out into the open,” says Madan.

The Washington Post editorial board echoes the uncertainty surrounding the direction Modi and the BJP will lead India.

“What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Modi will be the Deng Xiaopeng of India or its Vladi­mir Putin — a leader whose economic ambitions are derailed by nationalism and authoritarian temptations. For India’s 165 million Muslims, and for much of the outside world, Mr. Modi is still notorious for his lifelong membership in a quasi-martial Hindu nationalist movement and his failure to stop anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. Though he has recently steered away from sectarianism, Mr. Modi remains intolerant of critics, both in his own party and in the media,” the editors ponder.

The road forward for India may be unclear, but columnist Anne Applebaum suggests the recent elections demonstrate the potential of democracy to take root in a country of diverse religions, languages and plagued by high poverty rates. And the example it and other nations can set for alternatives to US-styled democratic rule.

“No other system could have fostered the bargaining, the deal-making and the local and national coalitions that have kept relative peace on the subcontinent for more than 60 years. India, which just held the biggest election in history — 814 million people were eligible to vote over 36 days — has, contrary to many outsiders’ assumptions, also lifted millions of people out of absolute poverty in recent years. Many of them turned out to vote,” she notes.


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