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IndiaScope: A Tale of Two Elections

By Tinaz Pavri Email By Tinaz Pavri
May 2024
IndiaScope: A Tale of Two Elections

 India’s Modi and Turkey’s Erdogan. The similarities are striking, but so are the differences.

A short while ago, voters in local elections in the five largest cities across Turkey delivered a blow to the ruling AK Party, and a rebuke to Erdogan in particular. After two decades (as prime Minister first, and then as president) of consolidating power across the country, this appears to be the first crack in his regime, and perhaps a harbinger of things to come in national elections.

Over the last two decades, many have compared the rise of the AKP in Turkey with that of the BJP in India, and the sway of the charismatic but controversial Erdogan with that of Indian PM Modi. There were many similarities: both nationalists buoyed by the ardent support of traditionalists and devotees of the majority religion; both expansive personalities that dominated the print and airwaves and mesmerized their supporters in large and flashy rallies; both riding the wave of massive economic and infrastructural development in their countries, while, critics alleged, willing to use the legal framework to arrest their loudest critics.

But Turkey has suffered painful economic headwinds in the last few years that have seen large spikes in inflation and cost of living, and Turks were ready for dramatic change. In India, we have a very different picture. Currently benefiting from one of the highest rates of growth in the world, Indians are poised to return the BJP and Modi to power for a third term in overwhelming majorities. The national election in India will be conducted in seven separate phases starting on April 19. Almost 970 million people are eligible to vote. There will be over a million polling stations, 15 million polling and security officials, and over five million electronic voting machines (EVMs). In past elections, polling officials have been known to travel miles to reach single voters and ensure their vote. Putting aside the political controversies elections bring, and this election will certainly bring some, these statistics in themselves are a cause for celebration.

Unlike the setbacks Turks delivered to Erdogan, Indians are overwhelmingly in favor of Modi. A 2023 Pew poll found that over 80% of Indians have a favorable impression of the PM. If this figure is correct, then it almost certainly includes religious minorities as well, although the poll does not break down the voting. This is despite the divisions that were formed around the building and inauguration of the Ram Mandir earlier this year, a temple that the BJP promised to bring to fruition on the grounds of a 1500s-built mosque, the Babri Masjid. While some wondered whether the BJP’s embrace of this cause would dent their favorability, the party has calculated well that the momentum and voter motivation that they would gain as a result would far outweigh what their critics could muster.

And so we are on the brink of the national election, with the BJP poised to make the greatest gains in their history. Already commanding a winning ruling coalition, the BJP and partners are projected to win almost two-thirds of the total seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house). The Congress, once the dominant party that held sway over post-independence India for decades, has been reduced to a sad shadow. Rahul Gandhi, once thought of as an inevitable future leader, seems to have squandered his legacy through a series of missteps and a general misgauging of the country. His continued embrace of socialism seems out of touch, and his compassionate eloquence and thoughtfulness on world politics, which are his strengths, somehow have not got traction on the Indian political scene. Instead, he seems ill-prepared for the hurly-burly and combativeness of India’s new politics, and he is not able to connect with the nation’s aspirations.

And so, as India continues to transform at a breakneck speed, as millions move upward in the economic mobility ladder, as tech jobs are created and bridges built, and dazzling skyscrapers dominate the skylines in major cities, Indians have decided that their future will be secure in the hands of the current party and the current PM. This won’t be a nail-biter election by any means.

Tinaz Pavri is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Asian Studies Program at Spelman College, Atlanta. A recipient of the Donald Wells Award from the Georgia Political Science Association, she’s the author of the memoir Bombay in the Age of Disco: City, Community, Life.

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