The 5 Things You Need to Know About the Indian Election
In case you didn’t know (which wouldn’t be surprising considering the woefully inadequate coverage in the national news media), India had a parliamentary election this month. It is astonishing how little attention this received, considering India is the world’s largest democracy and a growing world power. Frankly, it’s bizarre how uninterested Americans seem to be about it. Here are a few things everyone ought to know about it.
1. It was the biggest election in world history
The sheer size of the Indian election is staggering. In total, 553.8 million people voted. That’s close to twice the entire population of the United States. That makes it by far the largest election ever held. India is a vast, multicultural, multi-ethnic nation. The success of its democracy is an example for other developing world democracies to emulate. Americans should be paying attention because the growing clout of the developing world will make these elections ever more important.
2. The sitting government was booted out
The Congress Party, which had been in charge of India’s government since 2004, was soundly defeated in the election. In fact, Congress had its worst performance in its history. Replacing Congress is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the other major national party. In the first years of its term, Congress was dedicated to opening India to trade, reducing red-tape, and generally galvanizing economic development. That dynamism was replaced with complacency in recent years, and Congress has lately been bogged down with corruption scandals. The BJP defeated the sitting government by promising a return to pro-growth, pro-development policies.
3. The BJP’s leader is very controversial
Narendra Modi is the BJP’s leader, and prime minister of India as of May 26th. A self-made man, Modi has pledged to improve the Indian economy by fostering competition and allowing businesses to develop and thrive without the choking regulations that have long been the bane of the Indian economy. As chief minister of Gujarat, which has a population of more than 60 million people, Modi demonstrated a great aptitude for managing government and for promoting economic development. A dark cloud still remains over his reputation, however. In 2002, Gujarat erupted in sectarian rioting, with as many as 2000 muslims murdered by Hindu nationalists. Modi has long been a champion of Hindu chauvinism, but he has promised to be a prime minister for all Indians. His election could have serious implications for India, and for all multi-ethnic nations in the developing world currently struggling with democracy.
4. The election could spell the end of a political dynasty
The Congress Party, and thus India, has been dominated since independence by a powerful political dynasty. The Nehru-Gandhi family (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi) has produced three generations of prime ministers and numerous other important officials. The family has been compared to the Kennedy political dynasty, as well as to various monarchical dynasties. Yet the recent election has resulted in a loosening of the family’s stranglehold on the party. Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the family, was the face of the party during the election and the devastating defeat has seriously damaged his brand. Rahul’s mother, Sonia, is the president of the party, but her grip looks far weaker in the face of electoral disaster. The next few months could see one of the most significant changes in Indian political history if the Nehru-Gandhis are driven from power by discontented party members. That defeat likewise would have very significant effects on the future on politics on the Indian sub-continent.
5. The results are hopeful, but unclear
The problem with a party coming to power after a decade in the political wilderness is a lack of expertise. The BJP has not been tested with national government for a long time, and whether they are up to the task remains to be seen. What is certain is that the listless course India has been on for the last few years cannot be maintained if it is to have the economic development necessary to improve the lives of the millions of people still in dire poverty. Narendra Modi and the BJP have promised to improve the environment for economic growth. If they make good on that promise, the world will be a much better place.