POLICY ALERT: Asian Powers Respond to India’s Election Results
Results from India’s elections culminated in a victory for India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), lead by Narendra Modi. The polls showed that Modi and his party won the most decisive election victory India has seen in three decades, sweeping the long-dominant Congress party from power. This Policy Alert examines commentary from India, China, Japan, and South Korea on Modi’s electoral victory.
Indian media outlets and commentators discussed the “shock and awe” of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral victory, which rode the “Modi wave” to win a majority of seats without the need to form a coalition government:
- The Hindu reflected on the public’s “emphatic rejection” of the Congress Party, which “managed to surpass the worst predictions, embracing defeat on a scale too shocking to behold.” The paper concluded the victory “reflects the intensity of the desire for more effective governance.”
- Subir Gokarn, in an op-ed for the Business Standard, identified three national missions for the new Modi government: improving food security and prices, boosting infrastructure development, and accelerating job creation. This “economics first” agenda was also advanced by the Hindustan Times. Joginder Singh, in an op-ed for The Daily Pioneer, added anti-corruption efforts and governance reforms to the list.
Business leaders and stock market investors appeared to welcome the new BJP-led government with open arms:
- Shankar Sharma, a global strategist for First Global, wrote in an op-ed for The Economic Times that he will give the Modi government “plenty of slack” – 60 months – to reverse India’s economic downturn and prioritize growth over secular quarrels.
- Noting the Indian stock exchange’s record breaking highs immediately after election results were announced, The Hindu sensed “unbridled optimism” “rooted in the belief that a politically stable government free from troublesome allies and capable of taking strong economic decisions” will soon take office.
- While The Hindu predicted “a wave of economic reforms” and revived infrastructure projects, one of its columnist, C.R.L. Narasimhan, cautioned “the reality is likely to be very different” when ambitious “political promises” take time to translate into policy and overcome state-level gridlock. The Business Standard expressed similar views and called for civil service reform to get antiquated institutions ready for action.
Several observers wondered whether the Modi government would embrace secularism and govern for the whole country rather than just the Hindu majority:
- For Modi to achieve his promise of economic and social development for all Indians, The Times of India insisted “ideas which polarize society and bait minorities must be dropped.”
- The Hindu warned the incoming administration against reveling too much in their impressive victory since “any triumphalism can only further alienate one important population segment — Muslims, who will want to be reassured that they too will matter to the new regime at the Centre.”
- In an interview with The Times of India, the President of the Indian Islamic Cultural Centre wanted Modi to reach out to Muslim communities since they “in large numbers came out and voted for BJP” in pursuit his goals of better governance and economic reforms. This idea was supported by the Hindustan Times as well as Ali Khan Mahudabad in an open letter to Modi.
- Claude Arpi, in an op-ed for The Daily Pioneer, dismissed these concerns as political attacks against Modi with a “pathologic obsession with caste and religion.”
Several observers remarked on the future direction of Indian foreign policy under Modi:
- C Raja Mohan, a columnist with Indian Express, discerned “New Delhi’s partners across Asia are cheering the arrival of an Indian government that they can productively engage with” instead of a “hesitant defense partner” unwilling to take on China.
- The Hindu gave outgoing Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh “fair marks” for his supervision of Indian geo-strategic challenges despite a “mixed record of significant achievements” on the one hand and “lapsing into policy paralysis, scams and the loss of the will to govern on the other.”
- In his Hindustan Times column, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri thought Modi has “minimal interest in being a global leader” so he will “put a strong emphasis on economics” as a prerequisite for any Indian foreign policy agenda. Furthermore, Chaudhuri predicted Modi’s foreign affairs strategy will be “severely pragmatic,” eschew multilateralism, and focus on a few “key countries, the neighborhood and a few great powers.”
- The Hindustan Times ran an op-ed by Brookings scholar Bruce Riedel counseling Modi “the Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan will be one of the most immediate and difficult.”
Other opinion leaders examined what the elections mean for the broader Indian society and electoral process:
- A.S. Panneerselvan, Executive Director, Panos South Asia, urged the media in an op-ed for The Hindu to avoid cheerleading the new BJP government and instead serve its watchdog role.
- Kalpana Sharma, in her column for The Hindu, hoped for continued momentum on a national dialogue addressing growing violence against women in India. The author mentions Obama Administration initiatives to tackle the issue and hopes that after the polls close in India, “this is a conversation that must not stop.”
- The Hindu questioned the Congress Party’s continued reliance on the Nehru-Gandhi family for its legitimacy. This view was echoed by The Times of India, the Hindustan Times, and two op-eds in The Economic Times.
The Chinese media congratulated Modi for the victory and expressed hopes for continuity and growth in Sino-Indian relations.
- Chinese spokeswoman Hua Chunying congratulated the BJP on its victory and voiced hope to work with the new government. “China-India relations are facing new opportunities of development,” she said, adding that China is willing to work with India’s new government to maintain high-level visits, strengthen cooperation in all fields and upgrade their partnership to a higher level.
- Xie Chao, a visiting scholar at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, predicted “more continuities than changes in the shift of power,” adding that “as a mature power, India will take a pragmatic combination of idealism and realism, to match specific foreign policy goals with corresponding means.”
- Observing scant coverage of Modi’s victory in the Chinese media, Minxin Pei wrote, “In dealing with a Modi government in New Delhi, Beijing will most likely adopt a short-term policy of ‘listening to what he says and watching what he does,’” and pointed out that “China’s current foreign policy focus is its maritime disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited Modi to visit his country and asserted they have “the largest potential for development of any bilateral relationship anywhere in the world.” Commentators in Japan delved into the implications of the BJP victory:
- The Japan Times suggested the BJP’s ability to govern without forming a coalition government with smaller parties could either be a boon to efficient policymaking or a concern if Modi proves to be “a Hindu nationalist who will ratchet up tensions in South Asia.”
- The Asahi Shimbun insisted the BJP use their strong mandate to “put the Indian economy on a steady upward trajectory and ensure that the entire nation will enjoy the benefits of economic growth.”
- The Japan Times said the “dark cloud hanging” over Modi after the 2002 sectarian riots during his time as chief minister of Gujarat raise questions about his governing style. The Yomiuri Shimbun expressed similar views.
Several outlets in Japan explored the new government’s foreign policy agenda:
- The Japan Times believed U.S.-Indian relations would survive but doubted Modi would be “a willing partner in a policy to contain or confront China.”
- The Yomiuri Shimbun pressed Modi to improve bilateral ties with Japan, including further security and nuclear energy cooperation.
- The Asahi Shimbun directed Abe against “rushing to strike a nuclear deal” as the BJP “pledged to ‘revise and update’ India’s nuclear doctrine” and the unresolved conflict with Pakistan continues to loom over South Asia. Instead, the newspaper urged Tokyo to persuade Modi to first join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Korean media outlets focused primarily on the uneasy economic realities facing the incoming government:
- An op-ed in Korea Times worried that “replicating Modi’s success in Gujarat at the national level and confronting other development challenges will require cooperation from state governments, which is uncertain at best.”
- While The Dong-A-Ilbo also expected some initial setbacks, the newspaper said India clearly advocated for “Modinomics” by electing “the rightist politician with a humble background who stressed growth and jobs instead of populism.”