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Event Series Event Series: Asia in Review Election Monitor 2024

The World’s Largest Democracy Votes – India’s Elections: Background, Dynamics, Prospects

May 31 from 15:00 - 16:30 BMT

Asia in Review Event Series on Elections in 2024

May 31, 2024, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. (GMT+7), online via Zoom video teleconferencing

organized in cooperation with the Asian Governance Foundation

Description

On April 19, India kicked off its 18th election for the Lok Sabha, its Lower House of Parliament. Nearly 970 million eligible voters – more than 10 percent of the world’s population – will cast their vote in seven staggered phases until June 1 to decide who will fill the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and who will become India’s next prime minister. The final results will be announced on June 4.  

This election is seen as one of the most consequential in India’s history, primarily due to the aspirations of incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for another election victory and the impact it would likely have on India and its constitutional identity and geopolitical trajectory. If Modi wins again as expected, he’ll be the second Indian leader only to retain power for a third consecutive term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister. 

Modi´s BJP had come to power from 1998 to 2004 leading a coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). After the return to power of India´s long-term ruling party, the Indian National Congress (INC) in 2004, the BJP managed to come to return to power in 2014, this time under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. Modi and the BJP then enjoyed a landslide victory in 2019, clinching an absolute majority by 303 parliamentary seats.  

Modi, who had been chief minister of the prosperous western state of Gujarat since 2001, originally portrayed himself as an avatar of economic development but has since transformed into one of the most popular—and polarizing—leaders in the nation’s history. During his decade-long tenure as India’s prime minister steep economic and governance reforms stand out, accompanied by a sharp ideological shift of the constitutionally secular Indian state towards right-wing Hinduist policies. 

At this heart, Modi’s rule has been consistently characterized by a strong undercurrent of Hindu nationalism, exemplified in the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and a new law offering fast-tracked citizenship to people fleeing neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan — as long as they aren’t Muslim, and other policies. While these actions have galvanized support among large segments of the population, 80 percent of whom are Hindus, they have also raised concerns about the erosion of India’s secular fabric – enshrined in the country’s constitution. 

On the economic front, Modi’s leadership has overseen impressive growth, with India’s economy nearly doubling in size and its stock market experiencing significant gains. However, this growth has been accompanied by widening wealth inequality, with the benefits primarily favoring the affluent – exemplified by figures like Gautam Adani – while the majority of the population still grapples with poverty. 

At the same time, Indians admire Modi’s efforts to turn the country into a major power on the global stage with a highly effective foreign policy under External Actions Minister S. Jaishankar. Most notably, by infusing diplomacy with a strong sense of national purpose, the Modi administration has steered a distinctively independent path in the Russia-Ukraine war and positioned India as a prominent voice of the so-called Global South, at the same time proving its ability to attract substantial foreign investments, cooperating with the U.S. on containing neighboring China’s assertiveness, hosting the G20 summit last summer, and taking a role in driving forward the expansion of the BRICS grouping. In August, last year, New Delhi also successfully deployed a rover on the moon, marking India as the fourth nation to achieve this remarkable space milestone. 

Against this backdrop, the Modi administration is boosting ambition and self-confidence, claiming the BJP-led coalition can sweep three out of every four parliament seats in the ongoing elections. To secure that goal, the Modi-led NDA will especially have to replicate its exceptional showing in the Hindi-speaking heartland comprising most of central and northern India– the so-called “Hindi Belt” – in the 2019 election but also to win more seats in the south — which has so far proved immune to Modi’s charm — and wrest power in the west and restive eastern parts of the country. 

In attempting to do so, the BJP will be primarily challenged by the Indian National Congress (INC), once the dominant force in Indian politics. Having ruled the nation for more than 50 of its 77 years since independence, the INC has faced setbacks in recent electoral contests, securing only 44 seats in 2014 and 52 seats in 2019. Despite these defeats, Rahul Gandhi, scion of the INC’s most influential political dynasty, remains a central figure within the party, assuming a de facto leadership role even after resigning as its president following the 2019 election defeat. In an attempt to rejuvenate the party’s image and to generate political momentum, Gandhi embarked on cross-country marches in late 2022 and early 2024, emphasizing the BJP’s alleged failure to deliver economic and social justice to the masses. 

To contest the BJP, the INC last June also formed an alliance with more than 40 other political parties — including powerful regional parties on the federally structured sub-continental like the All India Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — under a banner called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA. But this united oppositional front – which is yet to decide on its candidate for prime minister – has suffered several blows, including parties and party leaders defecting from the alliance over the INC’s insistence on putting forth its own candidates for many seats, as well as ideological differences and personality clashes. 

Furthermore, the Modi administration’s tough stance on the opposition has added to its woes. Instances of such a stance are for example: the freezing of INC’s bank accounts by tax authorities, the arrest even of chief ministers affiliated with smaller opposition parties, the detention of key figures like AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal in a money laundering case, or the poaching of other candidates from opposition parties with law enforcement cases that are seen by critics to be used as mere leverage to be then dropped after the respective politicians join the BJP. Actually, nearly one-third of current BJP candidates announced so far are opposition defectors. For critics, all these actions tilt the electoral playing field and deeply undermine the integrity of the parliamentary election process. 

In conclusion, the ongoing Indian parliamentary elections come with great weight for the Indian nation’s history. With the campaign rhetoric echoing the deeply entrenched divisions within Indian society and politics, the election poses deep implications not only for the country’s constitution´s secular fabric and democratic principles but for the chances for a new social contract as well as for India´s geopolitical future. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to secure a historic third term, his geopolitical leadership and tilt towards Hindu nationalism stand as likely determents of a future India. Meanwhile, the Indian National Congress and its allies, despite facing internal challenges and external pressures, are striving to present a viable alternative, an endeavor, however, that seems not to be blessed with great chances of success. 

Against this backdrop, our seminar aims to provide a nuanced exploration of the multifaceted dynamics shaping India’s political landscape and the potential ramifications for its future trajectory during and after the 2024 elections.

Speakers (in alphabetical order)

Dr. Mohammad Faheem

Dr. Mohammad Faheem is an Assistant Professor in Indian Studies, at Pridi Banomyong International College, Thammasat University, Thailand. He holds Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Geography from Aligarh Muslim University, India. Dr. Faheem’s research areas include India’s relations with ASEAN, Diaspora Diplomacy, Social and Economic Demography, Global Geopolitics and Geoeconomics, Geography of Tourism, and Regional Geography. He used to work as a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University. He has also taught as a guest lecturer at Srinakhrinwirot University and Bangkok Thonburi University. He has published several articles in internationally referred journals and presented papers at conferences and seminars. Dr. Faheem served as a resource person in numerous conferences. He has also published book chapters in reputed publishers. He has two edited books on India-ASEAN Engagements: Economic and Social Dimensions published by New Century Publications and Evolving Narratives in Humanities and Management published by New Delhi Publishers. He has given his opinions and interviews on India in Thai newspapers and magazines. He is also a member of the Thailand and Malaysia Think Tank Scholars Network and Scholars Network for Peace. He used to be an International Advisor for FICCI Global Youth Entrepreneurship and Industry Connect (GYEIC).

Prof. Dr. Rahul Mukherji

Professor & Head of the Department of Political Science, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, Germany. 

Moderator

Lucas Meier

Senior Program Officer & Asia in Review South Asia Regional Editor, CPG

Registration

Event registration is essential for participation; individuals interested are encouraged to do so by visiting the link or QR code provided below. For more information, please email us at events@cpg-online.de

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Agenda

Contact Information

Contact Mr. Lucas Meier at lucas.meier@cpg-online.de for program content.

Contact Ms. Venus Phuangkom at events@cpg-online.de for administrative matters.

Details

Date:
May 31
Time:
15:00 - 16:30 BMT
Series:
Event Category:

Organizer

CPG

Other

Event Type
Panel Discussion / Roundtable
Location
Online
Registration
Required