India’s Electoral Odyssey: Modi, Identity, and Global Echoes

by Abdul Basit

Indian elections commenced on April 19, 2024, a monumental event in the world’s largest democracy, home to nearly 1.4 billion people and approximately 960 million registered voters. Spanning seven phases over six weeks, the electoral process is a reflection of India’s vast diversity, determining representatives from every corner of the nation.Within this expansive political landscape, over 2600 political parties vie for power, with the ruling BJP, led by Narendra Modi, holding a prominent position. The prospects of Lok Sbha elections 2024 reflect a third time premiership for Narendra Modi under the rant of religious and ethnic politics.

Since assuming power in 2014, the BJP has fervently pursued Hindu nationalist agendas, effectively fostering identity politics under Modi’s leadership. However, the government faces criticism for its failures, exemplified by issues like the electoral bond scam, escalating unemployment rates, and an increasing number of citizens pushed below the poverty line. India’s billionaire boom has skyrocketed income inequality, surpassing even the U.S., Brazil, and South Africa. The number of billionaires rose to 271, amassing nearly $1 trillion, yet income distribution is worse than under British rule. Despite the inter-war colonial era’s high inequality, India’s current income distribution surpasses it. The top 1% held 20-21% of income then, now increased to 22.6%, highlighting worsening inequality. In Modi’s India, a fair contest of ideas and equal treatment of citizens are lacking. Opposition, like Congress, faces frozen bank accounts, while enforcement actions target opposition politicians disproportionately. Since 2018, Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party has received about £1.25bn from wealthy donors, more than all other political parties combined. Granting immunity to amass wealth from the nation’s billionaires while offering them preferential treatment for their enterprises, and suppressing political adversaries through allegations of financial misconduct, has been a central strategy employed by the Modi government.

Despite these challenges, Modi strategically harnesses the narrative of identity and historical resurgence, encapsulated in the 2024 election slogan “Ab ki baar 400 par.” This narrative shift underscores a societal inclination towards identity-centric politics, with a significant portion of the populace emphasizing Hinduism, Hindi, and religious sentiment. Yet, this trend also reveals a troubling decline in moral principles and an embrace of exclusivist ideology over inclusivity. Moreover, the proliferation of illiberal practices since Modi’s incumbency raises concerns about the erosion of democratic norms and social cohesion.

Modi’s Policy Initiative: Shift from Performance-based voting to Reliance on Popular Support

In recent Indian elections, there has been a notable shift from performance-based voting to a reliance on popular support. Narendra Modi has strategically positioned himself as India’s preeminent leader, boasting an unprecedented 78% approval rating, surpassing his global counterparts. Key policy initiatives, including the revocation of Article 370 in Indian-administered Kashmir, the construction of the Ram Mandir, and the implementation of the Citizens Amendment Act, have been pivotal in garnering public favor. These measures, designed to resonate with the electorate, reflect Modi’s adept utilization of identity politics and nationalist sentiments to solidify his political dominance. It is pertinent to discuss that, Public opinion reflects Modi’s perspective on Indian identity. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between late 2019 and early 2020, a significant majority of Hindus (64%) emphasized the importance of being Hindu to being truly Indian. Additionally, 59% regarded speaking Hindi as fundamental to defining Indianness, while 84% considered religion very important in their lives, with 59% praying daily. This accentuates the demand-driven nature of the BJP’s dominance.

The Hindu majority is actively seeking a resurgence of their identity, driven by political ambitions for increased influence. Historically, India has been governed by non-Hindus, fostering a sense of victimhood and a desire for retribution among Hindus. Narendra Modi capitalized on these aspirations, rallying the masses to support his cause. He successfully unified the diverse Hindu society, cohesively advancing his agenda. However, this assertiveness within the Hindu community not only exacerbates identity crises for minorities, particularly Muslims, domestically but also risks sparking regional tensions. Modi’s approach to bolstering Hindutva involves dual strategies: a “near enemy” approach targeting Indian political rivals like Congress, and a “far enemy” approach vilifying Muslims as external threats. Congress has been accused of lacking a vision for national transformation, contrasting sharply with the BJP’s vision of establishing a Hindu Rashtra. Through the suppression of both perceived enemies, using organizations like the Sangh Parivaar, Modi has marginalized Congress and diminished the influence of Nehruvian ideology.

On the global stage, India under Modi has asserted its strategic autonomy, using its strategic partnership with the US, which has implications for US interests in the region. Foreign affairs experts such as Ashley J. Tellis, Denial Merkey, and Farid Zakariya acknowledge the challenge posed to US efforts to engage with India as a leading democracy. Modi’s administration has adeptly navigated this relationship, leveraging US support while also maintaining autonomy. However, attempts by the US to critique India’s democratic principles have sparked nationalist sentiments, questioning foreign interference in domestic affairs. Modi’s political acumen is evident in his utilization of the US both domestically and internationally. While he has strategically employed US support to bolster his domestic image, he has also resisted US attempts to dictate India’s democratic standards. This nuanced approach underscores Modi’s shrewdness as a leader, capable of leveraging international relationships for both domestic and international gains.

Decay in Democratic Norms in India’s Socio-political Arena:

The constant decay in democratic norms is visible in India’s sociopolitical arena. Reporters Without Borders ranked India 161st for press freedom in 2023, a stark decline from 80th in 2002. Freedom House categorized India as only “partly free” in its 2024 report, with Indian Occupied Kashmir labeled as “not free.” The World Economic Forum’s 2023 Global Gender Gap Index ranked India 127th out of 146 countries, and the World Justice Project placed India 79th out of 142 countries for adherence to the rule of law, significantly lower than its 2015 ranking. India has seen more internet shutdowns than any other country in the last decade. Concerns about religious freedom have escalated under Modi’s BJP, with legislative measures favoring Hindu interests. The Modi administration’s silence amid escalating tensions for Indian Muslims is troubling. The dominance of Hindu supremacy has led to questioning of Muslim loyalty, eroding the principles of secularism. Modi’s consecration of a temple on the site of a demolished mosque symbolizes a shift towards national pride, marking a departure from previous condemnations of violence.

Ripple Effects of Domestic Politics:

As India navigates these complex dynamics, the ripple effects are felt far beyond its borders, influencing not only regional stability but also shaping global perceptions of democratic governance. Since Narendra Modi assumed office, India’s relations with its neighbors have undergone a marked deterioration. While Pakistan remains a longstanding adversary, the anti-Pakistan narrative has become increasingly central to India’s electoral rhetoric. However, the strain extends beyond Pakistan; over the past decade, India’s interactions with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, and China have witnessed stagnation, marked by a palpable sense of hostility. Tensions along various borders, particularly with China, Nepal, and Bangladesh, have escalated, further complicating the regional landscape. While in Indo-Pak relations, the Modi administration has reinforced traditional rivalries, exacerbating existing tensions and hindering diplomatic progress. This hardline stance not only perpetuates animosity but also hampers efforts toward constructive dialogue and cooperation. The Guardian’s 2024 report implicating New Delhi in target killings in Pakistan, followed by Defense Minister Raj Nath Singh’s provocative remarks, reflects India’s assertive foreign policy under Modi, prompting concerns about regional stability and global security. India’s alleged involvement in transnational terrorism complicates its international relations, raising questions about its evolving role. India’s hybrid war against Pakistan, characterized by proxy warfare and Hindutva ideology, extends to global fronts, impacting Sikh activists and drawing scrutiny from the international community.

Moreover, the erosion of democratic norms and the growing embrace of theocratic principles in India pose significant challenges to regional stability. The consolidation of power by political elites and the manipulation of democratic institutions raise concerns about the fragility of democratic governance in the region. This trend not only undermines the democratic ideals upheld by India but also threatens to destabilize neighboring nations, contributing to regional volatility. The repercussions of India’s internal dynamics extend beyond its immediate vicinity, reverberating across the international stage. The global community closely monitors India’s democratic trajectory, and any deviations from democratic principles can have far-reaching implications.

The ongoing Indian elections suggest a probable victory for the incumbent Modi regime, signaling a continuation of policies that have raised concerns about the erosion of democratic values. This trend not only threatens to deepen internal divisions within India but also has far-reaching implications for regional stability and global dynamics. The prevailing atmosphere of identity politics, exacerbated by the ruling party’s agenda, risks worsening social rifts and communal tensions, potentially spilling over into neighboring countries. Of particular concern is the BJP’s confrontational approach towards Pakistan, which has escalated tensions in South Asia. The expansionist rhetoric and saber-rattling from Indian officials not only undermine prospects for peace in the region but also pose a significant challenge to global security. The international community, including the United States, must carefully consider India’s deviation from established international norms and the potential consequences of its actions. While the US has historically provided India with a degree of impunity, primarily to advance strategic interests, this approach may ultimately prove counterproductive. India’s rapidly advancing military capabilities, including its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, present a direct threat to global peace and stability. Moreover, India’s increasingly assertive stance in regional affairs, coupled with its expansionist aspirations, raises concerns about the potential for conflict escalation and destabilization.


Abdul Basit is Associate Research Officer at Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK


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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir