Is Dravida Nadu possible in the near future

Modis India

Elections in India often come with surprises. In 2014 no one would have thought it possible that the BJP would have its own absolute majority of the seats. It seemed equally unlikely that it would even surpass this success in 2019.

According to many experts, the first Modi government had mixed records. Economic growth of 6–7 percent and low inflation contrasted with high unemployment and problems in rural areas. Social polarization had intensified. From 2014 to 2017, religiously motivated riots had increased by 28 percent.

The BJP focused its election campaign entirely on the person of the prime minister. Modi focused less on economic success and more on nationalist issues. After the terrorist attack in Kashmir and the air strikes against Pakistan in the spring of 2019, Modi presented himself as a strong leader who takes decisive action against terrorism. Through his rise from tea seller to head of government, he embodies for many a new beginning beyond the traditional parties and dynasties, corruption and caste membership. 32 percent of BJP supporters said that they would not have voted for the party if Modi had not been prime minister.

The success of the BJP

In the 2019 election, the BJP won 303 seats, 21 more than five years earlier; the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by it, won 352. In contrast, the Congress party only had 52 seats, while its electoral alliance, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), won 91 seats.

Political party

number
Seats

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

303

Indian National Congress (INC)

52

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)

23

Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSR)

22

All India Trinamool Congress (AITC)

22

Shivsena (SS)

18

Janata Dal (United)

16

Biju Janata Dal (BJD)

12

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)

10

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS)

9

Samajwadi Party (SP)

5

Other parties and independent candidates

50

total

542*

* The total number of seats is 543. In one constituency the election was postponed.

The election was characterized by a number of records. The voter turnout reached a peak of over 67 percent. The proportion of women in the new parliament is higher than ever, even if it is only 14.4 percent. Other records are less encouraging. It was the most expensive option to date, and the BJP benefited more than average from the new campaign funding. The new parliament will be the richest in history. While the average income in India is less than 10,000 rupees per month (2018), 88 percent of the MPs have assets of more than 10 million rupees. The criminalization of politics has also continued. 29 percent of MPs are charged with serious crimes, such as murder, rape and kidnapping.

The success of the BJP 2019 is perhaps a stronger turning point in the political development of India than its election victory in 2014. With the repetition of this success, the BJP has finally established itself as the most important national party.

So it dominates again in the populous northern Indian states. This was all the more astonishing since she lost three states in the state elections in December 2018. It has also continued its advance into other parts of the country and gained seats in important states in the east such as West Bengal and Odisha. Only in the south, in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, is the BJP not yet represented. It has also increased its share of the vote from 31 percent (2014) to over 37 percent (2019). The NDA she cited achieved a total of 45 percent.

For the Congress party, the election result is as devastating as it was five years earlier. It only won seven seats more than in 2014. This debacle sparked a discussion about the future of its chairman Rahul Gandhi, who was unable to reorganize the party in terms of organization and content. His opponent, BJP boss Amit Shah, on the other hand, has forged regional alliances and did not hesitate to exchange BJP MPs for candidates with better election prospects.

The other opposition parties also had nothing to oppose Modi and the BJP. The electoral alliance of the caste parties Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh, where 80 parliamentary seats were allocated, could not break the dominance of the BJP in the largest state. The established communist parties together won only five seats, making them largely insignificant at the national level. Strong regional parties such as DMK, YSR or AITC have little weight at the federal level.

The 2019 election also shook the certainties of many experts. Economic aspects such as unemployment were apparently not decisive for the voting decision. In addition, topics such as secularism and the protection of minorities had no chance against the self-confident Hindu-nationalist narrative and the strong leadership personality Modi. The large increase in votes of the BJP suggests that its narrative has also found acceptance among the electorate beyond politically relevant caste identities.

The new India

Modi's India, however, could pose an ideological and institutional challenge to Indian democracy. The election was also stylized as a decision about the "soul of India", which, after the success of the BJP, will in future be defined more in the sense of the Hindu majority.

The ideological clock in the background is the National Volunteer Corps (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS), from which Modi also comes. The RSS advocates the concept of »Hindutva«, according to which the values ​​of the Hindu majority should determine the political system. This religious connotation was reflected in the election manifesto of the BJP, for example in calls for the building of a temple in the city of Ayodhya, for the introduction of a uniform civil law and for the abolition of the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. In addition, the RSS forms the organizational backbone of the BJP and is therefore largely responsible for its election success.

The prime minister's successful populism follows well-known strategies. Since 2014 there has been a strong centralization of power in the prime minister's office. Modi maintains a direct line to high-ranking bureaucrats in the ministries. He attended his first press conference at the end of his first term, but did not answer any questions there. Instead, he relies on direct communication with his followers, be it via radio, Twitter, his own app or other social media. Modi also cultivates an anti-elite discourse that is directed not only against the Gandhi dynasty of the Congress Party, but increasingly also against Delhi's elite circles.

With the new abundance of power, the erosion of state institutions, which has been observed since 2014, will probably continue. The electoral commission, which was once regarded as independent, drew much criticism in the 2019 election because it often criticized violations of the electoral code by members of the government late or only mildly. The central bank, the federal police and the statistical authorities have also been the subject of political disputes.

If the triumphant advance of the BJP continues at the state level, it could also achieve a majority in the upper house in 2021, the composition of which will be determined by the state governments. Then the way would be free for far-reaching constitutional changes, for example with regard to secularism, i.e. the religious neutrality of the state in India. At this point at the latest, there could be conflicts with the Supreme Court. Controversy could also set in earlier if the Modi government tries again to change the procedure for appointing judges.

Old and new political challenges

Modi's new mantra "Support, Development, Trust for All" and his appeal for an "inclusive India" are intended to alleviate the fear of religious minorities that the Hindus will dominate. In addition to civil law, Ayodhya and Kashmir, there are other areas in which the BJP wants change. The new interior minister, BJP party leader Amit Shah, called immigrants from Bangladesh "termites" during the election campaign and announced that they would set up a national register of citizens. Such a register had already been introduced in Assam in 2018 to take action against illegally immigrated Muslims from Bangladesh. The government could also try to gain more influence over the states through its national welfare programs.

In terms of economic policy, the government faces well-known challenges. Despite the high economic growth, too few jobs have been created for years. The “Make in India” initiative launched by Modi in 2014 has had some success in the defense industry, but the share of the manufacturing sector in the gross national product has so far not increased significantly. With its new majority, the government could tackle delayed reform projects again, such as land acquisition for companies or labor legislation. The new government will also push ahead with export promotion, whereby for India services and not goods are in the foreground.

However, the RSS traditionally advocates a protectionist economic policy. The Modi government has not signed a free trade agreement since 2014. The growing international trend towards more protectionism suits the RSS.

Like Modi, the new Foreign Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, once Undersecretary in the Foreign Ministry, stands for India's stronger international role. The strategic partnership with the US is burdened by bilateral trade disputes as well as Washington's sanctions against Russia and Iran, which are important partners of India. Although the USA and India are cooperating with Australia and Japan in the Quadrilateral Initiative (Quad), they have a different view of the geostrategic concept of the Indo-Pacific. The US sees it as an instrument to contain China, while Modi wants to work closely with Beijing.

At the informal summit in Wuhan in spring 2018, Modi established good personal relationships with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The "spirit of Wuhan", which is also a consequence of the difficult relations with the USA, has significantly improved relations with China after the 2017 Doklam crisis. In May 2019, after many years, China finally agreed to put Masood Azhar, the leader of the Pakistani terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, on the list of "global terrorists" in the United Nations. The group carried out a serious attack in Kashmir in February 2019.

It remains to be seen whether the new government under Modi will accept the offers from Pakistan. So far India is unwilling to hold talks while there are terrorist attacks. Beijing's decision on Azhar is, on the one hand, a signal to Pakistan that China will no longer tolerate its policy of supporting terrorists. On the other hand, it could give India the opportunity to resume dialogue with Pakistan in the medium term.

outlook

Germany and Europe will have to adjust to the fact that India will become more religious and nationalistic as a result of the election result. Modi's new power gives him a strong mandate to transform Indian democracy according to the ideas of the Hindu majority. This indicates old and new domestic political conflicts, for example over secularism, the protection of minorities or the procedure for filling the Supreme Court.

Despite good political and economic relations and common foreign policy interests, especially in dealing with China, new points of friction could arise in India's relationship with Germany and Europe. These concern, for example, the work of Western non-governmental organizations that campaign for religious minorities. Economic relations could also become more difficult if the protectionist forces and not the liberal forces gain more influence over Indian economic policy.

Dr. habil. Christian Wagner is a Senior Fellow in the Asia Research Group.

© Science and Politics Foundation, 2019

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ISSN 1611-6364

doi: 10.18449 / 2019A33