by Nadeem Khan, Class of 2020, FT MBA
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization”
– Mahatma Gandhi
It is this very unity that is at stake in the upcoming elections in India. Over the next month, 900 million voters will select 545 elected representatives out of 8251 candidates, to ultimately elect the Prime Minister of India. While this celebration of democracy happens every five years, many see this as a pivotal moment in our country’s history- never have elections left a country of 1.3 Billion people so divided on caste and religious lines.
The election is a direct battle between the ruling right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), led by the dynamic yet controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and India’s oldest political outfit, the Congress Party, led by Rahul Gandhi, son of ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi.
Modi’s tenure as Prime Minister has been characterized by gross mismanagement of the economy, attacks on independent institutions, allegations of mass corruption, and deliberate attempts to decay the social fabric of India by pitting one community against the other.
Under his watch, the government has adopted disastrous economic policies, such as the infamous demonetization of currency bills, that have slowed down growth to a four-year low of 6.7%. In addition, the government has proved incapable of creating jobs, with unemployment at a 45-year high at 6.1%, and 11 Million people losing jobs in 2018 alone. Furthermore, a poor roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax adversely impacted small businesses, further stifling growth. As damning these numbers might be, the ground reality is worse, with experts (such as Prof Raghuram Rajan) doubting the legitimacy of the data published by the current government.
The BJP has also left no stone unturned to establish supreme control over the country, by systematically dismantling key democratic institutions- the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Judiciary, and the Election Commission. The government removed the head of the CBI overnight, as he conducted an inquiry on corruption allegations against an officer close to the Modi Government. In an unprecedented move, four judges of India’s highest court publicly raised concerns about judicial appointments and distribution of cases to judges, citing undue government influence.
Despite these gross misadventures, what is most worrisome is how blatantly the party has used communal hatred to divide the population to win over the conservative Hindu voter. For example, in one shocking incident, the party’s “educated and progressive” face, HBS grad and the country’s Civil Aviation Minister, Jayant Sinha publicly garlanded eight men convicted in a case of a mob lynching a Muslim man. Above all, what is most telling of BJP’s divisive agenda is this statement made by none other than the party president- “We will ensure implementation of NRC (National register for Citizens) in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs”. While communal hatred is a proven strategy for Modi to win over the electorate, it will have lasting consequences on the social fabric of the country.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Congress party has focused its attention on development, releasing a detailed and well thought-through manifesto. The flagship promise of the party is the Minimum Income Support Scheme- a promise to give INR 72k to 50 million families. To rejuvenate the rural economy and provide employment, the government has promised MNREGA 3.0, guaranteeing each person 150 days of work in a year, focusing the scheme on addressing issues of water security, soil quality and other issues that aggravate farmers' distress. To promote clean governance urban areas, the party has come up with an important new reform- directly elected city mayors, enabling greater transparency and accountability in the system. These are only a handful of innovative ideas that the party has promised to implement in a holistic and realistic manifesto.
In summary, with the elections underway, the voter in India has an important decision to make, and I strongly hope that my countrymen stand up for equality and hope, in the face of hatred and division. If each of us is enabled to live our lives without fear, we thrive, India thrives.