Situating India’s general elections in the global context

Niranjan Marjani

6 mins - 15 de Abril de 2024, 07:00

India will hold its general elections between April and June. The elections for the 18th Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament, will be held in seven phases from April 19 to June 1. The results will be declared on June 4. General elections in India, held every five years, are important not only because of its volume but also because of India’s overall position in the global order. India, termed as world’s largest democracy, will see 970 million people casting their vote. While through these elections, Indian citizens will get to decide the future course for their country for the next at least five years, it is equally important to follow these elections from the global perspective. 

Overall Indian polity has enjoyed relative stability for the past 25 years. However, the period from 1999 to 2014 was marked by domination of coalition politics. It implies that the national parties like the BJP (1999 to 2004) and the Congress (2004 to 2014) had to take support from smaller parties to form government and lead the country. 

The coalition politics imposes several restrictions on functioning of a government as demands of the coalition partners need to be met. This affects the country’s economic, foreign and security policies to some extent. 

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From 2014 till 2024, India had a stable and a strong government as the main ruling party, the BJP, managed to secure absolute majority on its own in the 2014 as well as in the 2019 general elections. The last 10 years have witnessed India taking strides to becoming one of the major powers in the world. As a country that is claiming its rightful position in the world affairs, this article attempts to contextualize the role that general elections play in giving a strong and decisive mandate which in turn is reflected in the country’s performance at global level. 

The general elections are taking place in India in the backdrop of a global order that has been in flux for the last almost half a decade. During this period the world has witnessed three major events that have had a destabilizing impact in economic and strategic terms world over. These events are the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war. As the world continues to grapple with the impact of these events, it would be pertinent to underscore India’s role in the global affairs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect not only in terms of loss of lives worldwide but also in terms of economic hardships caused due to extended lockdowns and disruption of supply chains which affected the international trade. At a time when most countries are still trying to counter the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian economy comes across as an exception. According to the World Bank, in the post-COVID-19 period, Indian economy has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. After facing challenges in the financial years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, Indian economy registered a growth rate of 6.9% in the financial year 2022-2023. This was achieved on account of robust domestic demand and government’s push for investments in infrastructure. 

While not disrupting the liberal economic policies, the current political dispensation is attempting to give a greater role to the domestic manufacturers and also incentivizing foreign investors to set up manufacturing plants in India under the Production-Linked Initiative (PLI) scheme and the Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India) scheme. This way India is now positioning itself as one of the major hubs for global supply chains.

India is currently the fifth largest economy in the world and is expected to be the third largest economy by 2027. India’s GDP stands at $3.73 trillion as per the data for 2023. India’s GDP growth rate for 2023 was 7.2%. This makes India one of the key stakeholders in the global economy and so the elections assume importance as continued political stability would ensure India’s continued constructive role in the economic domain in the world. 

Similarly, India’s role in the strategic and diplomatic domain has also been prominent in the past one decade. Along with being a part of the top economies in the world, India has also emerged as a major voice of the Global South – the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. India has on the forefront in highlighting the challenges faced by the Global South due to the conflicts currently going on in different parts of the world. 

Further, India has taken a balanced approach in case of the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war. India has continued to engage with all the entities on its own terms by withstanding the international pressure. During the past few months India has also emerged as the net security provider in the Western Indian Ocean by conducting several operations to intercept and rescue the commercial ships hijacked by the Houthis and by the Somali pirates in the Red Sea. 

Political stability and a strong mandate have reflected in India’s foreign engagements from two perspectives. First, India has been able to expand its sphere of external engagements. The past one decade has seen India focusing on the strategic aspect in its foreign relations. The emergence of the geostrategic construct of the Indo-Pacific Region and China’s growing belligerence has accelerated this shift in India’s foreign policy. Political stability has also afforded India to take certain decisive steps such as the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The special status had ensured limited authority of the central government in Jammu and Kashmir which caused that state to become prone to Pakistan-supported terror activities and a continuous security threat to India. With the abrogation of Article 370, India is now able to address the security concerns better as the central government can now exercise direct control. The central government has also initiated several developmental projects in Jammu and Kashmir which has now a status of a Union Territory.  

Second, by having an absolute majority in the parliament, the BJP-led government is also immune from the pressures of coalition politics. Though the government has coalition partners, they are not able to threaten the existence of the government. This gives the government a free hand in taking some hard decisions mentioned previously. 

General elections in India are not just a domestic exercise to choose a government. India’s emerging stature and stakes at global level make these elections an important element in shaping India’s role in the international order. 
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