How to Figure Out The World’s Largest Election
The national elections for the next Prime Minister of India that began on April 11 is the largest democratic exercise in the world. With almost 900 million eligible voters, being far greater than the 235 million people eligible to vote in the United States. This month, Indians face a difficult choice between extreme Hindu nationalism and extreme corruption. This comes as India’s importance on the international stage continues to grow as its population is well on its way to surpass China while its growth rate already has. According to World Bank estimates, China’s economy is said to have grown by 6.7% compared to India’s 7.1% in 2016, which is remarkable considering India’s demonetization debacle.
As of April 22, India has completed two of seven phases of the election process and opinion polls show that the National Democratic Alliance—a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is favored to win the election. It’s not difficult to see the dilemma Indians face. The BJP’s Hindu nationalism goes against India’s secularism, which is enshrined in the constitution. India is a country that has always been extremely proud of the diversity it boasts of and the BJP threatens that. It is important that Indians recall how the British systematically exploited their country for almost 200 years on the basis of their “divide and rule” policy. On the other hand, the Indian National Congress promises to preserve India’s secular values but is drowning in corruption scandals. It is imperative that India learns from past mistakes and does not allow itself to be divided again.
India has a parliamentary form of government with a total of 543 seats in parliament and the party with half or more seats will choose the next Prime Minister. However, it is extremely difficult for any one party to get the requisite majority and this often results in the country being led by a coalition of parties. However, the BJP under the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi succeeded in securing enough seats in the 2014 election and did not have to resort to building a coalition. For a single party to lead a country as diverse as India is quite the feat. Yet, an overwhelming majority of Indians were growing weary of the Indian National Congress’ (the party in power before Modi) numerous corruption scandals. Modi brought with him the promise of “acche din” (good times)—a campaign slogan that struck a chord with Indians who were yearning for positive change.
There is no denying that Modi has been good for India’s economy especially considering India’s stunning growth rate. Furthermore, all of the top 10 fastest growing cities in the world are in India, which is indicative of India’s stellar economic future. However, Modi’s time as Prime Minister has also been characterized by increasing Hindu nationalism, which is a massive problem given India’s diversity. Dozens of people have died in cases relating to cow lynching—something that was unheard of in India prior to Modi’s leadership. Whilst Modi did later say that he did not condone these killings, it does not change the fact that some of his party members and supporters were behind the gruesome acts. The nationalist rhetoric used by Modi and members of this party coupled with their association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — a right-wing, nationalist organization that wants India to “stand before the world as a self-confident, resurgent, and mighty nation” — only adds to the problem. Furthermore, following the recent attack in India by Jaish-e-Mohammed — a jihadist terrorist group which is widely believed to operate from Pakistan — Modi took a firm stance against terrorism on Indian soil, which only served to bolster his chances of reelection.
Modi’s primary opponent in the 2019 elections is Rahul Gandhi (no biological relation to Mahatma Gandhi), who is essentially political royalty in India. His father, grandmother, and great-grandfather also served as Prime Ministers. However, it is safe to say that the political gene clearly skipped him for he is neither eloquent nor politically astute. Furthermore, his party—the Indian National Congress is engulfed in a series of corruption scandals. In fact, the 2G spectrum case was a wide-ranging scam perpetrated by the Congress government and was ranked by Time Magazine as the second worst abuse of power after Watergate.
Though Modi is charismatic, eloquent, and has no dearth of political acumen, his commitment to Hindu nationalism and his arrogance are highly unattractive. Gandhi, on the other hand, boasts of none of those positive qualities. Perhaps, his only redeeming quality would be that his party is committed to preserving a core value enshrined in the constitution — secularism. However, Rahul Gandhi has been the subject of numerous jokes and memes throughout the country because he is not a natural born leader and has clearly failed to hone any skills he might have. In a country with the world’s largest youth population, being 20 years younger than the current Prime Minister should have been an advantage for Gandhi, but his inability to charm the masses and lack of political acumen has prevented him from tapping into that advantage.
Today, more than ever before, India needs to focus on hope and not fear. India needs to focus on the future and not the past. India must not allow itself to be divided again. In 1971, India’s army was commanded by a Parsi; its air force in the northern and eastern sector was commanded by a Muslim and a Sikh respectively, and the general who flew to negotiate the surrender with Pakistan was a Jew. This is the diversity India boasts of and should be sustained by the secular values that India committed to when it became independent on 15 August 1947. The country must do everything to ensure that the sacrifices made by its founding forefathers for a free and inclusive country were not in vain. India must recognize that its strength is derived from its diversity, not in spite of it.