It’s been a while since the elections in India, and to be honest, I don’t know enough about Indian politics and politicians, sadly enough. But I have heard my parents discussing the new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the implications of the BJP sweep in the parliament. So I decided to learn more about the Indian political system, with the help of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and his segment “India Jones and the Elections of Doom”. (Which is worth watching to understand the fundamentals of Indian politics.) So this post is technically late, but I had to take some time to learn more about Modi – or “NaMo” as he is affectionately called by his followers.
So let’s start at the very beginning: the basics.
Disclaimer: yes, I am Indian-American and yes, I was born in Hyderbad, in the former Andhra Pradesh (now split up into 3 sections thanks to cultural unrest in the former state). But I’ve practically lived in America for all my life, save for the first 3 months of my life. So I consider myself to be more American than Indian, and I don’t have a problem with that. I love being Indian and I love being American, and it’s very interesting to have a foot in both cultures and societies. But as I’m not extremely interested in the state of affairs in India, I didn’t really pay much attention to the elections there. But now, with the BJP holding the overwhelming majority of the parliament, I’m curious as to see how things will play out there.
Ah, India, where bribery starts from the birth certificate and ends at the death certificate. Not exaggerating that at all. But I digress.
So let’s start with the political system in India, shall we? In the US, there are 2 major political parties, which makes the elections much simpler, as it is more of a republic than a democracy. In India, there is a multi-party system, as the country leans toward being a democracy than a republic. So there are 6 national parties, 47 state parties, and 1563 unrecognized parties (Wikipedia). To keep things simple, let’s just focus on the national parties because regional/state politics in India is pretty messed up. (Take the breaking of Andhra Pradesh, which honestly is based off of dialect differences and the economic associations/prejudices/etc based on dialect — Telugu is upper-class and Telangana is more lower-class. But I still don’t even fully understand that.)
The major party in Indian politics had been the Indian National Congress party (symbol: hand), and had played a part in pre-1947 India, the fight for independence, and the beginnings of the new India in post-1947. The INC has had extremely well-known prime ministers, including Nehru and Indira Gandhi (India’s first female PM). The recent leader of the INC has been Sonia Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law. Policy-wise, the INC has been more socialist-leaning, believing that prosperity comes with uplifting all sections of society and nonalignment to keep India out of foreign squabbles.
The other major party is the Bharatiya Janata Party (symbol: lotus), which is widely regarded as the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh, the Hindu nationalist group. In summary, the BJP believes in self-reliance, social conservatism, and a foreign policy based on nationalist principles.
So if I were to compare these 2 main parties in India, the INC is more like the Democratic Party and the BJP is more like the current Republican party — which includes the TEA Party faction.
From the 1950s to 2004, the BJP has held power in the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of the Indian parliament (similar to the House of Representatives in the US). In 2004, the INC held power and has consistently done so, with a slight majority to a majority of the seats of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha. So it is surprising to see such a huge sweep by the BJP, going from 159 to 282 seats, and see such a defeat of the incumbent INC, going from 262 to 44 seats.
But now, let’s move on the man people call “NaMo”: Narendra Modi. I’m not going to go into great detail about his early life and rise in politics. I’m mostly going to focus on his political career starting from being the Chief minister of Gujurat (which is similar to the Governor of a state in the US) in 2001. His economic policies are praised, for he increased the economic growth in the state of Gujurat from 2001 to 2014; however both him and his administration have been criticized for not doing enough for the human development of the state. Especially in 2002, when riots in Mumbai killed thousands of people, the majority of which were Muslims. Remember, the population of India is mostly Hindu, with about 80% of the population, and Muslims make up only 14% of the population (Wikipedia). There is also plenty of Hindu nationalist fever, perpetuated by BJP ideologies and media. So I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if there was a faction of the BJP that initiated the 2002 Mumbai riot, which is probably why Modi and his administration were extremely slow to respond. In the eyes of the radical Hindu nationalists, how much are the lives of thousands of Muslims worth? Probably not that much. Then again, I’m probably making extreme generalizations; however if this isn’t blatantly said by the majority of Hindu nationalists, this may be the attitude or even part of the subconscious. After all, no action is just as bad as misguided action. The same can be applied to thoughts and words.
But the demographics of Gujurat is completely different from that of the entire nation of India. So Modi and the BJP may be forced to tone down their language and nationalist ideologies. But if the TEA Party in the US has taught us anything, it’s that putting power in the hands of radical minds hinders the country from progressing. Which is why I’m worried about the future of India, and how the new PM’s administration will treat the religious minorities, LTGBQQ community, and women, to name a few. As it is, India is struggling to balance patriarchal traditions and modern movements for equality. So the new Modi administration may just see plenty of social movements to change some aspects of Indian culture, just like how the Singh administration saw the beginnings of social movements with the increase in the usage of SNS. If that is the case, will the Modi administration do nearly nothing, as the Singh administration has done? Or will they crack down on civil unrest and social movements? Or will they use their BJP majority in the Lok Sabha to pass progressive legislation? Or will they abuse their power in the Lok Sabha to turn back the clock on progress India has seen the past decades? Honestly, none of us can tell – save for the head officials of the BJP. But perhaps they don’t even know what sorts of legislation they want to pass. They may be a unified front or they may become divided because of the vast differences in ideologies from region to region, state to state, culture to culture.
So it’ll be extremely interesting to watch the new PM and his administration and the new makeup of the Lok Sabha in the next few years. Because the next few years will indicate in which direction India will be heading. And whether or not the BJP will abuse their power, and perhaps even dig their own grave for the next round of elections. As much as I hate this cliched phrase, time will only tell.