Modi’s India: What does this mean for the future of Indian democracy and international risk?

During his lecture at Cambridge University in March 2023, Rahul Gandhi said, when referring to international risks and democracy, that ‘the institutional framework required for democracy is becoming constrained and the basic structure of Indian democracy is under attack.’ In a more recent speech in New York, speaking at the Indian Overseas Congress USA event, Rahul Gandhi pressed further criticism about the domestic and international risks originating from India’s Hindu nationalist leadership and the division Prime Minister Narendra Modi has created amongst the Indian population. If Rahul Gandhi is correct, what does this mean for the future of Indian democracy and risks internationally?

The recognition of India’s growing authoritarianism led by Prime Minister Modi has been shadowed through the country’s developments, where the IMF and the World Bank identified India to have one of the fastest growth after the pandemic, annual GDP is projected to be larger than Germany and Japan by 2027. However, amongst the country’s economic development, spearheaded by the technological and manufacturing industries, risks to democracy in India has increased according to the Electoral Democracy Index and the Liberal Democracy Index . Previously ranked 45th in the world in terms of democracy by the Electoral Democracy Index, in 2023 the index ranked India as 108th in the world. In response to the Index’s ratings Prime Minister Modi’s supporters argued that the indexes are flawed due to their bias. However both index’s rank democracy based on the liberal and electoral aspects of democracy according to 71 indicators, including the freedom, political and civil rights, as well as the capacity to undertake free and fair elections. Although India is labelled as the the largest democracy in the world, it can only be questioned whether or not this is true.

The the incompatible relationship between authoritarianism and democracy realised in the report by V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy), spelling out that India’s path to authoritarianism has intensified since 2020 until now further increasing risks within India and internationally. Actions that display the rise of autocracy, such as the domicile laws for Jammu and Kashmir in April 2020 that allowed people who have resided there for 15 years or those who have studied there for seven years and appeared in Class 10 and 12 exams, from acquiring permanent residence, as well as consistent polarisation against the Indian Muslim population highlights the impending lack of freedoms individuals have in India.

Those who are experiencing the risks and rise in autocracy the most are those who belong to the Indian Muslim minority, where in a Hindu Nationalist led country little to no protection for Muslims are provided against the onslaught of abuse they face. At the same time the governments efforts to limit freedom of speech, particularly freedom of press is not even specific to India. After the realise of the BBC documentary The Modi Question, Modi himself criticised the documentary and limited to it being seen inside the country due to the scrutiny of Modi’s leadership featured.

The upcoming Indian election is a specific deciding point for the future of India, specifically Indian democracy, and risks across the global. The possible continuation of Modi’s leadership sets out a risk to India’s democratic position in the world. At the same time the countries rise in global influence and economic power shifts a further decline to democratic leadership worldwide and an important risk indicator for governments and international business leaders to be closely monitoring.

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