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India’s general election 2024: its impact on India’s foreign policy

Narendra Modi, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The expected result of India’s general election 2024: Prime Minister Modi secured his third consecutive term in government and was sworn in on 9th June. Unexpectedly, however, he owes his parliamentary majority not to one more landslide victory of his party BJP, but to the total number of seats won by the coalition NDA. Against all predictions and Modi’s declared goal, BJP alone lost massively and lost the parliamentary majority on its own. The reasons are clear for observers: BJP’s mainly Hindu voters were dissatisfied with the results of BJP’s economic programme. Modi’s massive Hindu-nationalistic rhetoric and policies had not achieved to convince his voters, let alone to fulfill his electorate’s aspirations. The poorer half of the population still gets no benefits from the country’s overall economic growth; joblessness and social misery continue to be wide-spread.

While the BJP lost voters in its heartlands, the reinvigorated opposition, assembled in a coalition around the Congress Party called INDIA, gained considerably and promises to become a more relevant opposition in Parliament then during the last ten years. A stronger opposition and a coalition government, the hallmarks of a functioning democracy, have returned to India’s system of government.

Now, what is this new Indian government gaining and what is it loosing on the international stage on the basis of that new conditioning at home?

PM Modi’s unchanged ambition is to raise India’s relevance in world affairs to that of a global power. He will continue to aspire at the recognition as a world power by actual world powers, i.e. the USA and China. With regard to the necessary economic power and strategic weight India lags far behind the US and China and the prospects of catching up with the two only global super powers are slim for coming years despite strong economic growth rates and increased defence budgets.

In pursuing his ambition, Modi has systematically been calling for a new world order, a multi-polar order, in which India could more easily play a global role. As part of this strategy, he refused to align his country with any “bloc”. On the one hand, he further developed his strategic partnership with the US. More recently he even enhanced military cooperation with the US in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the QUAD structures (quadrilateral security dialogue comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India as members), thus documenting his determination to contribute to the containment of Chinese expansion in the wider region. But at the same time, he maintains the old relationship with Russia in the field of military procurement cooperation, dating back to the late Soviet-India friendship and reminding us of India’s role in the Non-Aligned Movement of the past, and continues to buy Russian oil.

Therefore, he has increasingly been associated with the growing camp of anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, Iran and others. The lack of domestic checks and balances in parliament, media and public opinion had added to this new reputation and was about to genuinely change the nature of the Indian system of government.

Now, that his time with unmatched authoritarian powers and without relevant parliamentary opposition has ended, global politics, and in particular the liberal, rules-based world order of Western inspiration is hoping to gain India as a renewed important asset in its fight against the Chinese strategy aiming at replacing the current order with a vision of a world split in exclusive zones of influence and the rejection of the rule of law in international relations. Modi is set to lose abroad some of his strong man appeal, but will possibly gain in international recognition as a genuinely democratic government and society … provided domestic opposition succeeds in undoing Modi’s anti-Muslim policies. This would be a fundamental requirement in view of Modi’s aspiration to become a leading voice of the Global South.

It was clear that one day Modi’s domestic anti-Muslim persecution would turn against India’s foreign strategy since the Muslim world is an essential part of the Global South and would not accept an Anti-Muslim power to speak for them.

In international affairs, the newly conditioned Indian coalition government will be able to gain in its standing and ultimately in its effective action for the protection and pursuit of national interests. Coalition governments may be slow in implementing policies, but their final decisions carry a higher democratic legitimacy and provide international partners with a more reliable cooperation. The setting for Modi’s third term is more promising for the good of India … and of the liberal, democratic and rules-based world order.

11th June 2024 / Philippe Welti

 

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