The World’s Largest Democracy
Today Canada is known as a multi-party system, with two dominant political parties and a few smaller parties that have risen to prominence in recent years. The turnover of political parties can mark important changes in a country’s values, and can indicate significant shifts in the relationship between the state and the populace. Many have claimed that such a change is taking place in India as recently as their 2014 elections, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became the first single-party majority since 1989 in India’s lower house of parliament (Hintson, Vaishnav).
Some political analysts were dismissive of this win, while others saw it as a major turning point for India, which is the world’s largest democracy. India’s parliament comprises the upper house, the Rajya Sabha, which represents the states of the Indian federation, and the lower house, the Lok Sabha, which directly represents India’s populace. While the BJP did not gain a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the fact that it did gain a majority in the lower house is significant (Hintson, Vaishnav). Still, sceptics of the fact that this one election represents an indicator for overall change in the country pointed out that 75% of votes for the BJP came from just eight of India’s twenty-nine states (Hintson, Vaishnav). While this could have indicated that the BJP’s victory was more of a blip and less of a trend, the May 2019 elections resulted in even greater support for the BJP, proving to everyone that this party was bringing real political change to India. Not only did the BJP seal a greater majority in the Lok Sabha, it also gained about one third of the seats in the Rajya Sabha. Furthermore, many analysts project that they could gain a majority in the upper house in the next election (Hintson, Vaishnav).
The BJP’s win in 2019 was especially significant since it was the first time there has been a single-party majority twice in a row since 1971 (The Guardian). While the Indian National Congress, the party that brought India its independence, dominated the political sphere in the 1950s and 60s, the 1970s and 80s were marked by opposition to this party (Hintson, Vaishnav). By 1989, India’s politics had completely fragmented, with votes being dispersed across several smaller parties. There appear to be three main reasons for this major disruption in Indian politics that ultimately settled into a BJP majority. First was the Mandal Commission, a government task force intent upon creating and enforcing quotas in higher education and civil service jobs for people in lower castes (Hintson, Vaishnav). Second was the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a mosque in Ayodhya, India, which was meant to make way for a Hindu temple, seeing as Ayodhya is known as the birthplace of Rama, a major deity in Hinduism (Hintson, Vaishnav). The demolition was organized by groups associated with the BJP, and it resulted in about 2,000 deaths during the ensuing riots (Hintson, Vaishnav). This event, while extremely controversial, nevertheless made the BJP more visible as a political group, and certainly popularized it among Hindus (Hintson, Vaishnav). The last factor that lent itself to the BJP gaining majority was India’s decision to welcome globalization in its economy, completely rethinking India’s economic discourse (Hintson, Vaishnav).
The reasons the BJP emerged from over two decades of political fragmentation as the majority party are also arguments against the BJP’s leadership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the face of the BJP, has recently come under fire for introducing an overly liberal economy that is too pro-business and ultimately disregards Indian minorities, specifically those based on class and religion (The Guardian). The BJP and the Congress represent competing streams of political thought. Is it the state’s purpose to serve society, or is society realized through the state? The BJP ascribes to the former idea, which is in line with Hindu political thinking. These ideas were traditionally seen as influence from the Brahmin caste, which is made up of priests and scholars (Pillalamarri). The BJP has indeed gained most of its support from more privileged castes of Brahmins and Banias (Hintson, Vaishnav). India has a huge population that can be divided by caste, region, religion, and differing social customs. One indication of just how deeply ingrained certain social norms are, is the fact that 95% of Indian marriages are within the same caste (Pillalamarri). The BJP is largely seen as a party for Hindu Nationalism, effectively relegating India’s Muslim population of 195 million to the status of second-class citizens (The Guardian). Furthermore, Modi has passed legislation to keep political donations from being transparent to the public, allowing him to receive 10.3 billion Rupees (about 190 million CAD) from large businesses during his 2019 campaign (The Guardian).
While the BJP has professed it will establish caste-quotas and attempt to keep certain religions from gaining a political majority, Modi’s office has proven the opposite (Pillalamarri). News of the government turning a blind eye to Muslims being lynched, as well as Modi’s preference of emphasizing the divides within the Indian populace reveal the truth of the BJP’s campaign (The Guardian). One problem is that political parties shy away from wanting to represent the interests of Muslims for fear of angering the Hindu majority. If India is to come together as a nation, either the BJP must start giving equal representation to all Indian citizens, or India will have to wait for the rise of a new political group dedicated to egalitarianism.
“The Guardian View on Narendra Modi's Landslide: Bad for India's Soul | Editorial.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 23 May 2019, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/23/the-guardian-view-on-narendra-modi-landslide-bad-for-india-soul.
Pillalamarri, Akhilesh. “Understanding India's Political Evolution.” – The Diplomat, For The Diplomat, 13 Dec. 2018, thediplomat.com/2018/12/understanding-indias-political-evolution/.
Vaishnav, Milan, and Jamie Hintson. “The Dawn of India's Fourth Party System.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 5 Sept. 2019, carnegieendowment.org/2019/09/05/dawn-of-india-s-fourth-party-system-pub-79759.