India: Civil movements, not elections, will bring change

India is considered by many to be the world's largest democracy. Photo: Gilbert Kolonko

The country is at the forefront of global capitalist expansion and is a prime example of global democratic decline. But there is still hope. Guest post.

Except for brief periods, India has been luckier than many other countries in maintaining parliamentary government for the past 77 years.


Economic growth

With 900 million voters – more than the combined populations of Europe and Australia – India's elections are often described as the greatest example of democracy in action. The country's economic growth over the past 30 years – one of the fastest in the world – also makes this election important on a global scale.

India has undoubtedly been at the forefront of the expansion of global capitalism, although this process has led to a huge increase in inequality. The magnitude of this gap reminds us of the darkest times of the colonial era.

“Modi Miracle”

Like his far-right extremist and fascist predecessors, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi can rally large crowds at home and abroad to cheer him on. His party, the BJP, once an important part of the governing coalition, has achieved remarkable electoral success under his distinguished leadership since 2014.

With a dual focus on Hindu nationalism and neo-developmental politics, the party has also succeeded in establishing ideological dominance. It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze the BJP's nationalist views in detail.

However, the author of this article can claim that the party has created a new nationalist narrative that is accepted by the majority of voters. Furthermore, the BJP has also succeeded in defining and perfecting the narrative regarding the economy and economic growth.

BJP strategy

The BJP's strategy hinges on several key elements. First, the Modi government is unabashedly pro-business, especially when it comes to Indian-owned companies. He also cleverly linked India's reputation abroad with the improvement of the Indian economy.

After being elected in 2014, Modi boldly promised to catapult India in the World Bank's ease of doing business rankings into the top 50 in the world. In the World Bank's latest annual assessment, India ranked 63rd out of 190 countries.

Second, Modi has succeeded in showing himself as a reformer in eradicating corruption. He has proven his ability to turn most ineffective initiatives into media hits due to his skills in public speaking and message management.

Of course, corruption does not affect this: Newspaper investigation Indian Express showed that 23 out of 25 criminal cases against politicians from other political parties were dropped after them turning to Modi's BJP is.

His promises

Third, the Prime Minister's portrayal of himself as the creator of a modern welfare state in India was well received by voters.

The reality: In 2014, when Modi took office, he promised that Indians didn't need government help, they needed jobs. Five years later, India has highest unemployment in 45 years and the lowest economic growth in 11 years. That's when Modi discovered it Welfare gifts to voters in the previous government for themselves.

Now 800 million people in India receive free food packages from the government every month.

The overall development raises concerns about the future of democracy in the country.

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Systemic weakness

India's electoral system is riddled with systemic weaknesses. The “first past the post” electoral system (i.e. the system where the winner gets the most votes) established in the Indian Constitution based on the Westminster model is one of its major weaknesses.

In the past, the Congress Party consistently won large majorities in Parliament, although its vote share began to wane. The BJP took advantage of this and, since 2014, Modi and his entourage have had a disproportionate number of representatives in Parliament compared to their vote share.

Second, it is increasingly clear that money dominates elections in India. Exorbitant spending is now recognized and regretted as a fundamental aspect of the country's political economy. In addition, transparency of political donations is very low.

It is almost impossible to know who has donated money to a politician or party or where the politician got the funds for his election campaign. Donors are reluctant to publicize their political contributions for fear of repercussions if their preferred party loses power.

Against this backdrop, in 2017, the Narendra Modi government announced an ambitious campaign finance “reform” called “electoral bonds”, describing it as an effort to increase the transparency of political finance.

Corporate donations and electoral bonds

According to the latest analysis, between 2016 and 2022, the BJP received three times more money in the form of direct corporate donations and electoral bonds (Rs 5,300 billion, $639.36 million) than all other national parties combined (Rs 1,800 billion, $217.17 million ).

Voters in India certainly have the right to know where a party gets its voter resources from. Are these bond companies legitimate, or were they created to funnel dark money into political donations? Will public sector companies (the equivalent of state-owned companies in India) be forced to contribute?

Recently, the Supreme Court declared the Indian government's electoral bond program illegal. He stressed that a system that allows anonymous political donations violates the constitutional right to information.

We can only hope that this decision will allow voters to make more informed decisions and make it easier for political parties to level the playing field ahead of this year's elections.

Money and politics

The decision also makes it clear that this type of right is more than just freedom of opinion and expression. It is important to promote participatory democracy by holding government accountable.

The decision highlights the close relationship between money and politics and how economic disparities lead to different levels of political participation. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that monetary donations to political parties will result in rewards.

The court ruled that the amendment to the Companies Act to allow companies to make unlimited political payments was arbitrary.

Lastly, the Election Commission of India has de facto limited independence and can be controlled and manipulated by the government in power.

Democratic institutions are being undermined

India is a prime example of global democratic decline.

Increasing polarization, media persecution, censorship, compromised election integrity, and reduced space for dissent are threats to India's democracy.

The BJP-led government, which came to power in 2014 and will remain in power in 2024, has come under fire for its poor performance on democracy indices.

Ideologically, it is becoming increasingly illiberal

Home of freedom holds Indian status”some are free” was enforced, but commentators argue that the country is increasingly ideologically illiberal. The ruling BJP has emboldened radical Hindu nationalists, leading to increased attacks on religious minorities and discrimination against Muslims and Christians.

Project Types of Democracy (V-Dem) made India a “Electoral autocracy” and it Economist Intelligence Unit as “flawed democracy“, which highlights the decline of democracy in the country.

Anti-democratic tendencies in the Indian government are becoming increasingly severe and leaving little room for dissent and protest.

Even opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was expelled from Parliament after he was found guilty of defamation for a joke about the prime minister.

The government also took control of one of the few remaining independent television channels, causing India to drop significantly in the World Press Freedom Index rankings in 2023. India ranked 161st out of 180 countries.

Trapped in neoliberal economic doctrine

India's upcoming general elections are taking place in a context where voters' freedom of choice is increasingly undermined by structural and technical factors.

At this point, it is widely believed that the BJP is likely to win, even as the opposition tries to create the impression of a united front against it.

However, the opposition is also stuck in the same neoliberal economic doctrine, and there is little to differentiate the policies of the two opposing camps.

Change through civil movements

The only force capable of bringing about progressive and transformative change in Indian politics is popular mobilization from below.

A few years ago, India's farmers' movement showed that a strong grassroots movement had the potential to defeat the juggernaut Hinduvita, more than just a temporary electoral alliance.

However, social movements have little influence on electoral politics. Despite protests by farmers in 2020-2021, the BJP won easily in the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), especially in the agricultural areas of western UP, where a large portion of the Jat population lives and supports the movement. broad enough.

Opportunities for progressive transformation

Undoubtedly, this movement has motivated millions of people around the world to fight for justice, democracy and solidarity, but there is still a long way to go to create political hegemony beyond militant protests. The challenge is to figure out how to bring them all together to develop a transformational agenda.

How to explain the inability of social movements to create political hegemony despite numerous struggles throughout the country? Yes, the absence of leftist and progressive forces has created an ideological vacuum that has caused many movements to reach a dead end, even though they managed to achieve success after a difficult struggle.

Instead of solidarity and promoting alternatives, public dissatisfaction and anger has fueled the rise of the far right in India due to the absence of an ideologically motivated anti-capitalist agenda. In this context, the rebirth of new radical left-wing groups is more important than ever.


The BJP's possible defeat could certainly provide important breathing space to build an alternative agenda. However, this is only a means and not an end.

Author Sushovan Dhar is an economist and journalist based in Kolkata.

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