Change is on the way in India, but is this a good thing?

From Niharika Mandhana in the Wall Street Journal:

India’s voters chose a Hindu-nationalist, pro-business politician to be their next prime minister—tossing out the party that has led the country for most of the past 67 years in a historic political realignment.

Riding a wave of voter discontent with the incumbent [and hard Left-wing] Congress party and a sharply slowing economy, the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], led by Narendra Modi, was on track Friday evening to win 282 of the 545 seats in the lower house of Parliament[…]

If so, it would be the first time in three decades that a single party has won so decisively and captured an outright legislative majority, something that would give the BJP a strong position from which to push its governing agenda.

And what, exactly, is the Hindu nationalist and pro-business BJP’s governing agenda?

Mr. Modi hasn’t detailed his economic plan, but in a country with a strong legacy of state economic control, his slogans for small government, private enterprise and reduced bureaucracy have excited pro-market economists and given Mr. Modi a right-of-center image.

Still, Mr. Modi and his party’s economic agenda is far from clear. The BJP, for instance, is unlikely to roll back expensive food subsidies and opposed foreign investment in the retail industry […] But economists and analysts expect Mr. Modi will try to rein in India’s famed bureaucracy, and stimulate international trade and investment in other areas. On the campaign trail he has talked about rolling out a “red carpet” for business rather than “red tape.”

I think Prime Minister Modi will probably not be able to get through India’s massive  parliament as easily as his supporters hope. On foreign policy Mandhana reports:

On the world stage, Indians have also grown frustrated with a foreign policy that some saw as too soft on rival neighbors Pakistan and China. Mr. Modi is expected to build a more robust one based on trade, particularly with countries in South and Southeast Asia.

Analysts generally view Mr. Modi as more hawkish than his predecessors from Congress, a reputation some say gives Mr. Modi a better shot at making peace with Pakistan.

This, I think, is the most troubling aspect of Modi’s election victory. The BJP is, as the article states, a Hindu nationalist party (nevermind for the moment that Hinduism is a religion, not a nation) and its nuclear-armed neighbor (Pakistan) is basically a “Muslim nationalist” (again, bear with me in the horrible terminology) state.

If Modi lets the radicals in his party take the lead on foreign policy, and Mamnoon Hussain (a member of the center-right – for Pakistan – Pakistan Muslim League)  in Pakistan lets the radicals dictate foreign policy in Islamabad, the world could suddenly get a lot hotter in South Asia.

Still, I think Modi’s election is a good thing overall for India (and South Asia). The Left-wing Congress Party has been impoverishing India for half a century now, so even if the BJP is pro-business rather than pro-market I think prosperity will increase slightly and the potential for better foreign policy decisions is definitely there.

Addendum 5/17: Here is Geeta Anand and Gordon Fairclough with more on India (also in the Wall Street Journal).

7 thoughts on “Change is on the way in India, but is this a good thing?

  1. It’s not just the national level he’ll have to wrestle with, the states are clogged with red tape as well.

    • Interesting. Your point brings up, in my mind, the issue of federalism in post-colonial states. On the one hand, it seems as if India is poor because of the protectionist tariffs and politically expedient subsidies coming from New Delhi.

      On the other hand, states in India were given quite a bit of leeway after the revolution and I wonder if they were given too much. For example, do you (Dr Amburgey) or anybody else know if states in India can set up tariffs of some kind within the borders India?

      Federalism, if done right (by creating and enforcing a free trade zone within a country’s borders), will lead to peace and prosperity. But if federalism doesn’t incorporate a legal mechanism that rigorously enforces free trade within a federal system, then a society may end up like India (I may be wrong about how Indian federalism functions, of course).

  2. I don’t know. I don’t think that states can set tariffs on interstate trade, but I don’t really know.

    • It’s amazing how little North Americans seem to know about India. Maybe it’s just my circles, but It seems as if India is still treated as an exotic entity by the vast majority of Americans and Canadians. Perhaps the British aren’t as useless as we thought after all!

    • There’s really no excuse for it in Canada, 7.6% of the population of Toronto is of Indian ethnic origin [I’m surprised it’s that low]. Mea culpa.

    • That’s interesting. In Los Angeles and the Bay Area the Indians know very little about India as well.

      Or at least they tell me they know little about it. I wonder if there is a cultural stigma attached to talking about their poor, uneducated cousins with white Westerners or something like that.

      The Indians from Pakistan are a little more open to talking about life there, but only if you don’t veer off course from religion and food.

  3. “The Indians from Pakistan are a little more open to talking about life there, but only if you don’t veer off course from religion and food.”


    One of my oldest son’s best friends is a second generation immigrant from Pakistan; I think he’s spent more time at our house than his own the last 15 years. I swear Umar can talk for hours and hours about food!

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