Indian Election Results: Opposition BJP Poised for Single-party Majority

  • photo courtesy of Yogesh Mhatre https://www.flickr.com/photos/mhatrey/6886404209
    May 16, 2014

    India held its national election between April 7 and May 12. Today the Election Commission has been opening the electronic ballot boxes and releasing the vote counts.

    The Indian National Congress has ruled India for the last 10 years. The party’s focus has been to create/expand social programs, with much less attention on economic development. Over this period, U.S. strategic interest peaked and waned as India could not deliver on the initial promise of nuclear and military trade (at least in terms of a particularly large fighter jet deal). U.S. business interest, too, has faded as the economy slowed and antibusiness policies were introduced. Voter sentiment surveys ahead of the election pointed toward widespread dissatisfaction with the nation’s economic conditions, even as various studies show that many people directly benefited from the government’s new social programs.

    Q1: What do the vote results look like?


    A1:
    Votes are still being counted, but Congress has already conceded defeat. Current estimates suggest the party will win less than 50 of the 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament—the first time in India’s history that Congress has been below 100 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is projected to win around 280 seats; we should know the final total by midday on May 16. Even if the total has it a bit below a single-party majority (272), BJP’s close coalition allies are projected to win nearly 40 seats. The party or coalition of parties that can show a majority in the lower house of Parliament forms the government.

    Q2: What is next?


    A2:
    Mr. Narendra Modi will soon be asked by India’s president, Pranab Mukherjee, to form the government. He will be formally named the nation’s prime minister at some point in the next week or so. He is expected to bring a new focus on economic development (infrastructure, manufacturing). Opponents will look for signs that he will try to introduce elements of a Hindu fundamentalist agenda. He will also likely “slow-walk” relations with the U.S. government after it denied him a visa in 2005 (following his alleged, though never proven, role in facilitating an anti-Muslim riot in his state of Gujarat three years earlier).

    Q3: Are there limits to the BJP’s power?


    A3:
    The BJP will still hold a very small proportion of seats in the upper house of Parliament, so legislative reforms will not be possible without the participation of Congress or a wide range of regional parties. The BJP is also in charge of a small minority of states—only 5 of India’s 29 states—so its actual reach cannot quite be termed “national.”

    Q4: What does this mean for U.S.-India commercial relations?


    A4:
    U.S. business can expect a more stable, friendly environment and will be quick to grow. Lots of potential direct investment has been on the sidelines in the last few years, hoping for a more friendly business environment. Institutional investors have already been jumping back into India, with the expectation of a BJP victory. But it is unclear if the BJP will roll back some of the specific policies (tax, patents, local manufacturing mandates) that have angered a vocal minority of U.S. companies.

    Q5: What does this mean for the U.S.-India bilateral relationship?


    A5:
    Government-to-government relations will start slowly—particularly those involving the U.S. Department of State, due to the visa denial “hangover.” But we can expect a renewed interest in defense collaborations, combined with renewed business interests, which will, once again, drag the U.S. government’s attention back toward India. The major bilateral forum, the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue—involving the State Department and India’s External Affairs Ministry—typically meets in June; getting a date set for this forum (maybe in July) will be a major priority and set the trajectory of the relationship during the remainder of President Obama’s second term.

    Richard M. Rossow is a senior fellow and holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.


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