Why the World is Watching India's Elections
This OpEd was originally posted on Foreign Policy's website.
India’s election, which begins this week and rolls through May 16, will be the largest peacetime exercise in human history. It will feature 815 million voters, including 100 million new ones. It will boast 300 million more voters than in the next three biggest democracies (America, Indonesia, and Brazil) combined. And there will be decisive contests in single states like Uttar Pradesh, alone home to as many people as Germany, France, and Britain combined.
As I argue over in the Nikkei Asian Review, the election may also prove a turning point in India’s political history – one in which a new “politics of aspiration,” to use the journalist Shekhar Gupta’s phrase, replaces the old “politics of grievance” that was about redistributing the economic pie rather than growing it. The emergent urban, youthful, middle class India -- the India of 900 million mobile connections -- will displace the old rural peasantry as the decisive demographic. Restoring economic vigor through good governance and decisive reform will be the clear mandate of the electoral victor. Polling shows Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party set to win decisively.
For the region and the world, India’s revitalization under a new leader would have consequences far beyond its borders. The government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is investing heavily in India as a geopolitical counterweight to China -- and an alternative market for Japanese companies increasingly rattled by China’s authoritarian nationalism. Southeast Asian states meanwhile want a strong India as a player in regional security alongside the U.S., China and Japan. Beijing knows it cannot speak for Asia when a neighboring civilization-state of 1.3 billion people contests its leadership. And any true U.S. “pivot” to Asia must be anchored by robust partnerships with the predominant powers of the Indo-Pacific littoral – India and Japan. In short, there is more at stake for Indian voters in the upcoming elections than their own domestic politics.
Dan Twining is a senior Fellow on GMF's Asia Program.
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