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Modi’s magic narrowly scores another electoral win in India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has won a third term.
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By John J. Metzler, June 6, 2024

This year has turned out be the time of major elections; Mexico, South Africa, Taiwan, European Union, Pakistan, Russia, soon the United Kingdom and in November the United States.

And now India, probably the world’s most populous country, has just finished national elections for parliament,  reelecting a conservative and populist prime minister who has delivered progress for the people during the past decade. He now embarks on a historic third term.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s win was narrow and bittersweet, with a reduced majority, given a divisive campaign and a stronger than expected challenge from the opposition. Indeed, the powerful Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flagged winning only 240 seats on its own thus calling for a coalition government.

Narendra Modi (73) is variously described as populist and often polarizing figure. His BJP party,  once largely Hindu nationalist, has broadened its appeal emerging as the guiding political and economic driver of long awaited prosperity for a land still facing the undertow of poverty but with a chance now for upward change. The party has also tread a careful line between the country’s 80 percent Hindu majority and a 14 percent Muslim minority, along with smaller Christian and Sikh denominations.

India, a land of 1.4 billion people, equally remains the world’s largest democracy. In India everything is big so the national election was not held all on the same day but over a grueling six week marathon in different states and regions starting in mid-April and ending in late-May.

There are more eligible voters India than the entire populations in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and France combined!

Until the 1980’s India’s economy was saddled with a low-growth, democratic socialist model.

The long-ruling Congress Party since independence from Britain in 1947 held to a democratic political model but fell woefully short for social economic progress for its people. India exported its talented population to Britain, Canada and the U.S., while not creating a middle class between the super-rich and horrifically poor people.

Politically congress held to a policy of international nonalignment, which under leaders such as Indira Gandhi, really meant a decided tilt towards Moscow.

This flawed model changed by the early 1990’s originally under congress where long-cherished “self reliance” and the storied “Hindu rate of growth” was supplanted by economic development and a cut in the stifling government bureaucracy and corruption.

Significantly the fall of the Soviet Union, the political polestar and patron of much of progressive leftist India, meant the country needed new political moorings.

Bi-partisan consensus in the United States emerged that India, who long played the aloof nonaligned game, stood at an inflection point. Starting with the Clinton and Bush Administrations, until the present day, Washington’s relations with New Delhi have become close and improving.

A decade ago, the BJP party emerged to confront and defeat the once-mighty Congress Party political juggernaut. By 2014 BJP won the legislative majorities in the 542-seat parliament, the <em>Lok Saba </em>with Modi as prime minister; In 2019 the party won again. A party or coalition needs to win 272 parliamentary seats to form a government.

Currently the BJP-led coalition the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is expected to win 286 seats. The rival Congress India coalition, led by Rahul Gandhi a scion of the old political dynasty unexpectedly surged to win 234 seats.

In the past few decades India’s once sluggish economy has expanded through global commerce. India’s two-way trade with U.S. a decade ago stood at $66 billion. Last year trade reached $124 billion but with a $44 billion deficit favoring India.

Actually, the enterprise-oriented economy and an expanding middle class is a strong suit of Modi’s administration; India’s GDP grew an impressive 6 percent last year.

India now boasts the world’s 5th largest economy, just behind Germany and ahead of Britain.

Strategically too India has assumed new political clout as a viable counterweight to China but NOT a formal military ally as many in Washington presume.

The New Delhi government has had longstanding border confrontations with China and equally with Pakistan concerning the disputed Kashmir region.

At the same time India as a member of the Quad,  an informal strategic group focusing on the Indo-Pacific region, is happy to be in closer political harmony with the United States, as well as Australia and Japan in thwarting Beijing’s maritime aspirations in the Indian Ocean.

A third Modi administration offers India an economic vote of confidence but with a dented luster.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]
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