The Speaker
Saturday, 18 May 2024 – 10:11

Indian Elections: How important are they?

The upcoming Indian general election is the largest democratic process in the world with over 900 million eligible voters in the country alone and is split up into phases lasting from April to May – with different dates for elections in states and districts.

The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party which is led by Narendra Modi is seeking another term, whilst the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attempts to restore his party’s tarnished reputation since the last election in 2014.

It will be watched closely by many other countries around the world as India continues its attempt to make its mark on the global scale.

Poised to become one of the foremost economic superpowers this century, whilst also being a key military and nuclear weapons state, this election could determine what the country has in store in the coming years.

Since coming to power in 2014, Modi’s government and the BJP have been met with praise and opprobrium alike. One of his key policies implemented was demonetisation in 2016, where 500- and 1000-rupee notes were withdrawn overnight in a moment’s notice, with the aim of fighting back against the black-market economy.

However, it was considered a major failure which failed to even scratch the surface on black-market dealings in the country, as well as leading to the loss of 1.5 million jobs and leaving millions of Indian families cashless for months on end.

Many seriously criticised the lack of organisation of the government in printing out enough new notes in time, but Modi urged the public to give the policy time to work and took aim at corrupt, wealthy Indians and ensured the public that those in the Indian elite holding “black money” will be punished.

Whilst an argument can be made that more money was inserted into the formal banking system and India’s digital economy received a long-awaited impetus, criticism was not lacking in the slightest and reverberations of the policy are still being felt today.

People still have plenty to be angry about.

As well as this, Modi has been frequently criticised for his part in stoking Hindu nationalist propaganda and inciting religious tensions as a result. Modi and his party are sticking to this as it has brought key support, especially from the northern Indian states.

Furthermore, the recent heightening of tensions between India and Pakistan, in which a suicide blast was orchestrated by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, led to the deaths of 46 Indian troops.

This ignited a tit-of-tat military exchange where both sides took down fighter jets to the point where Pakistan held an Indian fighter pilot prisoner.

Modi’s tactic was to energise his party base and to amplify the nationalist rhetoric which helped to bolster support for the BJP further and it saw Modi’s approval ratings improve considerably.

Finally, the Indian economy is underperforming; youth unemployment is on the rise and the economy is slowing down from its previously high levels.

And despite these criticisms, Modi’s policies have helped the poor in terms of providing cheap cooking gas, village toilets and a health insurance scheme, as well as introducing the Goods and Services Tax.

Modi’s main contender for the top job is the leader of the Indian National Congress, Rahul Gandhi, who although is trailing behind Modi in the polls, his popularity is rising especially with younger voters and those who are against Modi’s nationalist rhetoric.

His party has recently pledged for a rollout of Universal Basic Income, guaranteed to help over 250 million Indians who are in poverty, with each family being guaranteed 12,000 rupees a month.

Whilst Congress leaders have not disclosed how the ambitious project would be funded, the BJP has criticised the plans by stating its supposed unaffordability and accusing the Congress of promising the “moon”.

Furthermore, looking at Rahul Gandhi’s social views, he has pushed for greater female empowerment by backing the Women’s Reservation Bill which would allow 1/3 of all seats in the Lok Sabha (Lower House) to be reserved for women.

He has also backed the repealing of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and the decriminalisation of homosexuality and has therefore shown himself to be a progressive candidate who is gaining popularity among younger voters.

Whatever the outcome will be in this month-long election, it is sure to grab people’s attention worldwide.

India’s path to becoming a global superpower will be eagerly watched by friends and foe alike and whether Modi stays in power or a new leader takes the reins, they will be responsible for forging a new path for the country’s 1.3 billion people.

Now, with serious unavoidable challenges facing the country, it is unclear as to whether the next leader is able enough to solve these critical issues as effectively as possible.

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