The country of India– the world’s largest democracy– headed to the polls to vote in their general election last week. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling alliance with the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is projected to win a majority in parliament, exit polls show. A party needs to win 272 seats for a majority in parliament, and the BJP’s victory in 2014 was the first time in three decades that a party has been able to win that number of seats on its own, according to BBC. In 2019, the BJP is projected to win anywhere from 287-306 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament, gaining anywhere from four to 24 new seats in parliament. On the other hand, Al Jazeera wrote that the opposition, the Indian National Congress Party (INC), was predicted to more than double its 44 seats to 128-136 seats.
One exit poll conducted by CVoter said the BJP is projected to win 287 seats, followed by 128 for the INC. In another exit poll, Times Now television, predicts Modi’s BJP is likely to win 306 seats, an extremely clear majority while projecting the INC will win 142 seats. News18India-IPSOS’s poll said the Modi-led BJP will win 336 seats, while the INC will be reduced to just 82. On the other hand, one exit poll by Neta NewsX, forecast Modi’s alliance falling 30 seats short of the majority mark of 272.
This election falls at a crucial time, as right-wing governments and parties are making a reappearance around the world. The United Kingdom’s Brexit and the president of the United State’s “America First” policy represent a shift away from globalism and towards nationalism. Prime Minister Modi’s BJP party is a Hindu-nationalist party, riding the wave of militaristic nationalism which gripped the nation after the military escalation with Pakistan in February, earlier this year. According to Rana Ayyub, a TIME reporter who has reported on Modi for a decade, Modi’s strategy is to paint an immediate threat to Indian nationalism from– all thinly veiled references to Indian Muslims. Modi has made no effort to curb the rising tide of Hindu nationalism, and the BJP fielded a candidate that is currently facing anti-Muslim terrorism charges.
Pragya Thakur, who is accused of organizing the Malegaon bombing of 2008, ran in Madhya Pradesh state and if she wins, she will be the first Indian MP facing “terror” charges to secure a seat in parliament. Despite nation-wide outrage, BJP’s senior leaders, including Modi, defended their decision to nominate her.
Additionally, since Modi assumed the position of prime minister in 2014, his government does not have a good record of preserving the integrity of democratic institutions. During his first term, there have been a number of reported infringements against the judiciary and law enforcement, and Modi expressed his frustration with any constitutional watchdogs if they stand in the way of the unbridled power of the judiciary. His extremely centralized executive administration raises concerns over the checks and balances system of the largest democracy in the world. Modi is the only Indian prime minister to have never given a press conference in his own country, a possible result of his dislike and distrust for the press.
Since Modi took office in 2014, there has been an increase in attacks on and alienation of religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs, throughout India. In states with large Muslim populations, the Muslim vote has consolidated to oppose the BJP, but Muslims are still grievously underrepresented in parliament and are not represented in the ruling party.
The rise of religious nationalism, more specifically Hindu nationalism, is in direct conflict with secularism which is enshrined in the Indian constitution. India is a very diverse country that is home to 22 languages and every major religion including Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Christianity, and Sikhism. As a result, India’s political playing field is very diverse as well, with around 470 different political parties represented in the 2014 election. To secure power, parties must team up to create coalitions in order to win. But, in 2014 Modi and the BJP party won enough a majority as a single party, the first to do so since 1984. Modi and the BJP won this landslide victory built on Modi’s rags-to-riches story, charisma, and economic promises for the poorest in India.
The 2019 Indian general election is more than simply a routine to vote for new representatives. This election represents the battle for the soul of India and what it means to be Indian. Prime Minister Modi’s last five years are a warning sign that the largest democracy on earth is in the midst of religious nationalism and at risk of declining democratic principles.
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