Big election, big changes?

Assistant Professor of International Relations Shubha Kamala Prasad comments on India's 2024 general elections.

Beginning today, Indians will be going to the polls to elect 543 members of the lower house of India’s parliament, the Lok Sabha. The election period will last from 19 April to 4 June, a total of 44 days – the largest election the world has ever seen. In an interview, Hertie School Assistant Professor of International Relations Shubha Kamala Prasad explains India’s political landscape, why the election period is so long, what the election means for India’s international relations, and what the results might be.

What is important to know about India’s 2024 general election?

The 2024 national election in India is essentially a battle between the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (with a few allies) and an alliance of opposition parties campaigning under the acronym INDIA. The BJP is a strongly centralised Hindu right-wing political party that envisions India as a Hindu country and downplays its secular credentials. The party formed the last two federal governments and currently holds 347 out of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. The BJP is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose charisma and mass appeal is a major factor in the party’s success. The BJP manifesto for 2024 is titled “Modi ki Guarantee (Modi’s Guarantee)”, which highlights the persona of Modi as the leader over the party itself.

The INDIA coalition comprises a motley collection of 41 political parties covering a full spectrum of ideological and regional diversity. The coalition parties are united in their goal to unseat the BJP-led government and are fighting to reclaim a non-Hindu nationalist narrative for India. The largest party in the bloc is the Indian National Congress, which headed the government for much of the country’s postcolonial history. Its 2024 election manifesto claims, “Pluralism and diversity constitute the ethos of India.”

Why is the 2024 election period so long?

Conducting elections for an adult population of around 968 million people in a developing country that spans 3.28 million square kilometres is a monumental task. India’s federal structure of 28 states and 8 union territories, 22 constitutionally recognised languages, high rates of illiteracy, and some of the most difficult terrain in the world make administering the elections especially challenging.

Would a third term for the BJP government affect India’s role on the international stage?

Indian foreign policy has not changed dramatically in its goals or practices across different governments. India has maintained its independence in foreign policy issues, emphasising non-interference by foreign powers in its domestic affairs. India has always considered itself a leader of the developing world and has aspired for a more prominent role in the UN. Modi’s potential third term as Prime Minister would not deviate substantially from this; however, a new Modi-led government would be more likely to emphasise Hindu cultural heritage and symbols. This includes encouraging yoga and ayurveda around the world and the BJP’s new insistence on referring to India by its Hindi name “Bharat”.

How is the election likely to turn out?

The BJP is still popular among voters, with a recent public opinion survey showing that 44% are willing to give the Modi government another term in office. However, 39% of voters are opposed to re-electing the BJP due to the country’s high unemployment and inflation rates, the BJP’s agricultural policies and corruption. Despite the BJP’s poor track record on these issues, it looks like the party is poised for another electoral success, but whether it reaches the 400 seats in parliament it hopes for remains to be seen.

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