The change of government in India will have far-reaching global as well as regional implications. It is too early to speculate whether dynastic politics have become irrelevant in the South Asian political culture but it has been somehow challenged due to bad governance and mismanagement of the ruling elite, which has been unable to cope with the changing ground realities.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, has secured a decisive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, thus enabling the BJP to form a government even without coalition support. The BJP has won 282 seats — more than the 272 seats needed for a simple parliamentary majority. The Indian National Congress got only 44 seats, the worst ever defeat and a political setback for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The Congress-led government in India could not meet the increasing socio-economic challenges of the country. Apart from these two leading political parties, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) could not get significant representation in parliament as it only secured four seats on the basis of its anti-corruption agenda. In December, the AAP appeared to make headway for the general elections of 2014 as it had deprived the BJP of winning a majority in Delhi’s state elections, exposing the mounting frustration in the masses.
Public anger over graft scandals of the coalition government led to countrywide protests when hundreds of thousands of people supported and joined social activist Anna Hazare in his anti-corruption movement, which eventually led to the acceptance of the Jan Lokpal Bill by the government of India. The bill proposed the establishment of a separate body to investigate and curtail corruption in India. These anti-corruption protests of 2011 provided an opportunity to Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare’s protégé, to launch a political party, the AAP. Kejriwal, after becoming chief minister of Delhi, could not face the joint opposition of the BJP and Congress against his efforts to set up an anti-corruption commission and resigned after only 49 days. His resignation eliminated all chances of getting a major chunk of seats in the general elections.
Mr Modi, the new Indian prime minister, is expected to take oath on May 26. In his address to BJP’s lawmakers he vowed to eradicate poverty, create employment opportunities for the Indian youth and provide a safer environment for women. Mr Modi, a controversial figure in Indian politics, in his informal address to his party has tried to reassure the people about his government’s future agenda but he did not mention the most complicated issue of communal harmony in India. The minority issue — the Gujarat riots and Muslim pogrom of 2002 — is an issue that earned him worldwide condemnation. He was denied a visa by the US and the UK cut off its ties with him in the backdrop of the Gujarat riots.
Given his past bigoted attitude, in his address he should have tried to relieve the fears of the minority communities, which are still probably in a state of shock. The BJP’s manifesto had in it some controversial points as well regarding a uniform civil code for India, construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and a revision of Article 370, which grants the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status under the Indian constitution; all the provisions of the constitution that are applicable to other states are not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir. While having separate status, Kashmiris have been denied civil and political rights, what to talk of human rights and freedom of speech during the so-called Congress-led secular government. To illustrate my point, around 70 Kashmiri students were expelled from a university for supporting the Pakistani cricket team during the Asia Cup Tournament. If the BJP government follows these guidelines enunciated in the manifesto, the goal of economic prosperity will be difficult to achieve. India’s election victory also highlights the power of social forces at work in India. One ought to ponder over the fact of whether the BJP’s economic incentives attracted the voters or if the voter turnout was driven by ideological forces.
Apart from these concerns, India’s international image as a secular state will also suffer. In this regard, Congress has been the architect of building such an image. It has many foreign policy achievements to its credit as well. It initiated a strategic partnership with the US, signed a civil nuclear agreement and got itself a dominant role in Afghan affairs but could not make any progress on the composite dialogue with Pakistan. We should not infer much on the basis of election manifestos because states have to formulate foreign policies keeping in view regional imperatives and the global environment but we should not be too optimistic either because the future is uncertain. Will Hindutva ideology exert itself or will the Indian government adopt a pragmatic approach at home and at the regional level?
The writer works at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and can be reached at email@example.com