Washington: Many observers see the 2019 election as an inflection point in Indian history, according to a latest US Congressional report which said that a repeat performance by the ruling BJP in the polls could herald a new era of single-party dominance.
In the report prepared primarily for US lawmakers, the independent Congressional Research Service (CRS) on the ongoing elections said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has become the primary, if not sole target of the opposition”, but no individual challenger has emerged.
The CRS reports warns that a continuation of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led administration could entail an “unwelcome continuation of its perceived illiberal policies”. A repeat performance could thus herald a new era of single-party dominance.
Perhaps more crucially, the election pits an unabashedly Hindu nationalist prime minister and ruling party against an array of more secular minded parties, some focused on the interests of India’s large lower-caste and Muslim minorities,” said the CRS report.
The CRS is the bipartisan and independent research wing of the US Congress which prepares reports on various domestic and global issues for the lawmakers for information purposes only. The reports, prepared by subject experts, are not considered an official view of the US Congress.
While Congress president chief Rahul Gandhi, “the inheritor of a family dynasty that includes three past prime ministers”, has the highest profile among potential leaders of an opposition coalition, the CRS report says the opposition’s zeal to oust the NDA has led to some unusual alliances
“In January, the leaders of two powerful Uttar Pradesh-based parties agreed to set aside their bitter rivalry to cooperate in defeating the BJP. Other influential regional parties are maneuvering toward a potential opposition grand alliance,” said the report dated March 28.
Prime Minister Modi and his BJP aspire to win another five-year term with a ruling majority. The Congress party —historically dominant, but badly defeated in 2014—seeks to build on recent state-level wins and potentially ally with powerful regional opposition parties to dislodge the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in New Delhi, according to the report accessed by PTI.
“Many observers see the upcoming election as an inflection point in Indian history. BJP’s 2014 win, with 52 per cent of Lok Sabha seats, marked an end to 30 years of coalition politics at the national level,” it said. Coalition governments are sometimes faulted for instability, but they may also compel leaders to negotiate and take account of a wider variety of perspectives, while secure majority governments can lead to complacency and arrogance,” the CRS said.
Noting that secularism has been a more-or-less enshrined value in India, although its conception in both theory and practice varies widely, the Congressional report says Indian voters may face a landmark choice between two overarching identities for their country — one, a pluralist, secular polity where religious minorities enjoy full equality; the other, a nation in which roughly 250 million non-Hindu citizens must accept Hindu majoritarianism, with potentially dire consequences for for India’s civil liberties.
Authored by CRS’s South Asia Specialist K Alan Kronstadt, the report observes that given weak economic performance, the BJP-led government arguably is seeking to generate voter enthusiasm through Hindu identity. The February Pulwama terrorist attack and Balakot air strikes by India is likely to benefit the ruling party, the report said.
The February 2019 bombing in Kashmir, blamed on a Pakistan-based terrorist group, and an unprecedented retaliatory airstrike on Pakistani territory, pushed foreign affairs into the headlines and triggered a sharp spike of Indian nationalism that is widely expected to benefit the incumbent BJP,” it said.
As far as India-US relationship is concerned, it is unlikely to have any impact irrespective of any government that comes to power after the May general elections, it said. The trend toward closer bilateral ties most likely will continue regardless of a leadership change in New Delhi, it said.
“Many analysts contend that Modi and the BJP have been and would continue to be more open to aligning with US regional strategy— perhaps especially that seeking to balance against growing Chinese influence—and more energetic in pursuing economic reforms than would be any likely alternative Indian leadership,” it said.