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India’s New Five-Year Trajectory

With a clear tilt towards multipolarity, it is clear that India will have to reckon, first of all, with China, as well as with its neighbors.

7 mins read
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the meditation session at the Vivekananda Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari. [ANI]

In early June in India ended parliamentary elections, which lasted about two months. The votes were counted relatively quickly and it turned out that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost a significant part of the seats compared to the last elections five years ago, dropping from 303 to 240 in the parliament, which has 543 deputies.

Moreover, for the first time in 15 years, Modi‘s party failed to win a majority of seats in India‘s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which is indicative of national elections. It should be noted that Uttar Pradesh is the center of faith of the majority of the Indian population, widely supporting Modi‘s Hindu–nationalist program, and over the past decade it has represented the nuclear electorate of the BJP. The party won only 33 seats there. And the opposition – 43.

Modi himself won his seat from the state, representing the holy Hindu city of Varanasi, by just 152,000 votes compared to almost half a million votes in 2019.

The BJP candidate also lost in the constituency representing Ayodhya, despite the fact that Modi inaugurated a controversial Hindu temple there in January this year, built on the site of the destroyed historic Babri Mosque.

Why did Modi, who has large oligarchs in his entourage, when using rather clever populist rhetoric, which also included foreign policy, give up his position this time?

Firstly, we can recall the covid times when serious restrictions were imposed in the country. Secondly, unsuccessful attempts to change the legislation on agriculture, which led to mass protests by farmers. Thirdly, and most importantly, because of the struggle in the format of alliances. If earlier the opposition parties competed with each other, this time a coalition was created called I.N.D.I.A. Because of this, the BJP faced stronger rivals in a number of states.

In this election, the Indian National Congress won 99 seats from this group; Samajwadi – 37; All India Trinamool Congress – 29; Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – 22, and smaller ones less than ten.

The BJP also has a coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The BJP took 240 seats respectively; Telugu Desam – 16; Janata Dal (United) – 12, and others also took single seats.

If you look at the electoral map of India based on the results of the elections, we will see a cross-section where the preferences of voters change dramatically from state to state and from district to district. Only the central part of the country represents an array of right–wing supporters, with small splashes of opposition. Although in the south (Tamil Nadu), West Bengal (the traditional patrimony of the left) and in the Christian states of Goa and Kerala, I.N.D.I.A. dominates.

Critics and human rights organizations have also accused Modi of intensifying rhetoric against Muslims during his election campaign in an attempt to mobilize the Hindu majority. At his rallies, he called Muslims “infiltrators” and claimed that the main opposition Indian National Congress party would redistribute national wealth in favor of Muslims if it won. But this strategy failed to attract Hindu voters to the BJP side, while at the same time strengthening minority support for the opposition.

There are other regional nuances. For example, if we take the state of Jammu and Kashmir (which is also claimed by Pakistan), BJP won there in the districts of Jammu and Udhampur, where the majority of the population are Hindus. And the BJP refused to participate in the elections in the Kashmir valley at all, anticipating a loss, supporting only its allies — the Peoples’ Conference, the Apni Party and the Democratic Progressive Azad Party. But even those showed poor results, and none of the candidates from these parties won.

The reason was that in 2019, Modi repealed article 370 of the Indian Constitution, depriving Jammu and Kashmir of autonomy. And anticipating mass protests, the government jailed political leaders and activists, shut down the Internet for several months and silenced the media, arresting and applying anti-terrorism laws against dozens of journalists.

Therefore, the general elections have become a kind of marker of the Kashmiri public sentiment after the repeal of article 370. Since the voter turnout was more than 50 percent, and supporters of secession did not call for a boycott of the elections, it can be concluded that such participation was “largely due to the desire to demonstrate to New Delhi that they do not agree with the repeal of Article 370,” and that “Kashmiris want to use the ballot box to express their anger against the Bharatiya Janata Party.”

It is also significant that the election was won by Sheikh Abdul Rashid, a former member of the Legislative Assembly of North Kashmir, known as “Engineer Rashid“ from Baramulla. He had previously openly called for separatism, and since 2019 has been in prison on a terrorism financing case. Rashid bypassed the former Chief Minister of the Territory, Omar Abdullah, who, after counting the votes, stated that “I do not believe that his victory will accelerate his release from prison, and the people of North Kashmir will not receive the representation to which they are entitled.”

Another candidate who won the election, Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa, is the son of the father of a former member of the Indira Gandhi security service. It was he who, along with an accomplice, shot her in 1984 in retaliation for the attack on the Sikh shrine.

In general, in the state of Punjab, where Sikh community live, the ideologue of the independent Sikh state, Khalistan Amritpal Singh, who is also in prison in Assam state and who has been charged in accordance with the National Security Law, also won.

All these are alarm bells for both Modi and supporters of Indian unity. Nevertheless, Narendra Modi‘s victory was recognized. After he was unanimously elected leader of the National Democratic Alliance (a coalition of right-wing parties of India), leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha (Parliament) and head of the board of the BJP Parliamentary Party, President Droupadi Murmu invited him to take the oath of office on Sunday, June 9.

After being sworn in, he has yet to undergo a mandatory confidence vote in the new convocation of the Lok Sabha (Parliament).

Meanwhile, the BJP has its own opposition to Modi. This is his colleague, Maharashtra politician and Minister of Motor Transport Nitin Gadkari, who is seen as a future alternative to Modi. Previously, he was the president of the BJP in his state, and then took the national post of party president. When everyone stood up in the central hall of parliament last week to greet Prime Minister Modi, Gadkari did not rise from his seat, which was assessed as actually an open challenge to Modi.

And now, even at the level of narratives, they have already begun to talk not about the Modi government, but about the NDA government, since the BJP could not gain a majority on its own.

The opinions of observers on the future political course of India differ.

One pro-Western columnist believes that “during Modi‘s previous term, India actually withdrew from the liberal international order. As Modi concentrated power in New Delhi and sought global recognition of Hindu nationalism, India abruptly departed from Western norms of democracy, human rights and international law. Modi‘s powerful nationalism has led him to pursue a more risky foreign policy, including attempts to persecute dissidents abroad and monitor the diaspora. The weakening of democratic institutions in India has also put New Delhi on the warpath against multilateral institutions, which Modi believes are dominated by Western norms. All this has narrowed the boundaries of contact between India and the West, despite the fact that New Delhi has increasingly begun to talk about peace in terms used by Beijing and Moscow. It is unclear how the new Modi government will approach these issues. But it would be reasonable to assume that carrying out many of these controversial policies will be more difficult now that Modi must rely on the support of allies who do not share his Hindu nationalist worldview.“

that “during Modi‘s previous term, India actually withdrew from the liberal international order. As Modi concentrated power in New Delhi and sought global recognition of Hindu nationalism, India abruptly departed from Western norms of democracy, human rights and international law. Modi‘s powerful nationalism has led him to pursue a more risky foreign policy, including attempts to persecute dissidents abroad and monitor the diaspora. The weakening of democratic institutions in India has also put New Delhi on the warpath against multilateral institutions, which Modi believes are dominated by Western norms. All this has narrowed the boundaries of contact between India and the West, despite the fact that New Delhi has increasingly begun to talk about peace in terms used by Beijing and Moscow. It is unclear how the new Modi government will approach these issues. But it would be reasonable to assume that carrying out many of these controversial policies will be more difficult now that Modi must rely on the support of allies who do not share his Hindu nationalist worldview.“

Another author from Pakistan says that “on the geopolitical front, Modi has successfully led India to the top league, if not to the top spot in the standings. The combination of decades of socio–economic development and a highly successful diaspora has helped overcome the inertia of the ordinary. Modi used this as leverage to make room for India. How he will turn this opportunity into a legacy — India is not without flaws and a history of conflict in the region, especially in Kashmir — remains to be seen. The only other possibility is that India will follow China‘s path, which is to preserve its economic benefits, free more people from poverty, strengthen economic potential and position, and postpone solving most geopolitical problems to a later date, unless it is possible to achieve geostrategic goals without the outbreak of war. Thus, India will be able to increase its strategic weight in geopolitical terms. By 2030, it will probably become the third largest economy, which can only strengthen its position in the world.“

With a clear tilt towards multipolarity, it is clear that India will have to reckon, first of all, with China, as well as with its neighbors. If we talk about relations with Russia, it is unlikely that a change in the balance in parliament and the new government will lead to a change of course. India, whoever is in charge, is interested in developing relations with Russia in many areas. Another thing is that there is a pro-American lobby, and a significant part of it is present among the military, who justify cooperation with Washington with hypothetical threats from China and Pakistan. However, the military should also recognize that now the political configuration is changing, the United States is far away, and the main forces of BRICS+, which are now shaping the future agenda, are close, and together with the participants of this association, the world order will have to be determined.

Leonid Savin

Leonid Savin is a geopolitical analyst, Chief Editor of Geopolitika.ru since 2008. Founder and Editor of Journal of Eurasian Affairs. Head of Administration, International Eurasian Movement. Former Chief Editor of Katehon. Director, Foundation for Monitoring and Forecasting Cultural-Territorial Development (FMPRKTP). Member, Military-Scientific Society of the Ministry of Defence of Russia. Author of books on geopolitics, conflicts, international relations, and political philosophy published globally.

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