Indian General Election: True State of World’s Largest Democracy is in Question

As China and Russia seek to change the international order by force, all eyes are on how India responds. India considers itself the leader of emerging countries and should behave in a manner befitting of being called the world’s largest democracy.

The general election of the lower house of Parliament, in which 543 seats are being contested, began in India on Friday. Due to the country’s size, voting is held region by region until June 1, with vote counting taking place on June 4.

According to a public opinion survey conducted by a local media organization, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to win a landslide victory. Modi, who has been in power since 2014, is regarded as likely to serve a third term in office.

A tailwind for the Modi government is the country’s strong economy. Last year’s gross domestic product growth rate for the October-December period stood at 8.4% from the same period last year. The population is the largest in the world, at over 1.4 billion, and the average age is young, at only 28 years old. There is great deal of room for growth in the future.

India’s economy is currently the world’s fifth largest, but it is expected to overtake Japan and Germany within a few years to become the third-largest economy after the United States and China.

Now, more than ever, India needs to be aware that it is responsible for global peace and stability.

However, there are signs of coercion in the administration’s behavior in connection with the general election, which is causing unease in the international community.

Last month, the Indian government announced that it would enforce a revised nationality law that grants Indian nationality to illegal immigrants from neighboring countries after screenings.

The law, which was passed four years ago, limits the granting of nationality to Hindus an some other religious groups, but excludes the Muslim minority. This led to widespread protests, calling it religious discrimination, and enforcement of the revised law has been postponed.

The sudden decision to enforce the nationality law may be an attempt to appeal to the religious beliefs of Hindus before the election, as they make up about 80% of the Indian population, and to solidify support for the BJP, which advocates Hindu nationalism.

Late last month, the leader of a prominent opposition party, known as the spearhead of criticism of the current administration, was arrested on suspicion of corruption.

If authoritarian politics are allowed to run rampant in India, a leading country among emerging nations, many emerging and developing countries may follow suit. India’s international reputation would inevitably deteriorate, and this would likely run contrary to its national interests.

Questions are now being raised about the true state of India’s democracy. Even if India maintains the appearance of a democratic state, if universal values such as the rule of law and freedom are not respected, trust in India will be undermined.

Japan should take advantage of its good relationship with India and persistently approach Modi about the importance of maintaining these values.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 21, 2024)