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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

India elections 2024: What challenges await new government?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is poised to lead the world’s most populous country for a third straight term, but things could be quite different for him this time around.

-Next government will face ‘real pressure to perform and show results,’ says International Crisis Group analyst Praveen Donthi 

– Unemployment has been one of India’s biggest problems since the pandemic, Donthi tells Anadolu  

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is poised to lead the world’s most populous country for a third straight term, but things could be quite different for him this time around.

His electoral alliance may have come out on top in the weeks-long parliamentary polls, but his own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fell short of its ambitious targets, forcing Modi into the undesired position of having to rely on coalition partners.

Read more: India’s BJP concedes defeat in Ayodhya, where Modi opened grand Ram temple

This is a reflection of the BJP’s failure to address key issues in India, according to analysts, who say the new government faces a number of challenges, including spiking unemployment and inflation, that require a shift away from “Hindu nationalist policies” and more focus on delivery.

“There will be real pressure to perform and show results,” Praveen Donthi, a senior analyst for India at the International Crisis Group, told Anadolu.

He said there will now be pressure on the government to “sort of moderate” and “fine-tune” some of its policies, stressing the results have shown that “empty rhetoric … communal rhetoric alone won’t work.”

Read more: Indian opposition beats predictions in early vote count

“It has to be backed up with performance,” he said.

Official results from the Election Commission of India show the BJP won 240 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament – a sharp decline from 303 in 2019 that means it will not have outright parliamentary majority for the first time in 10 years.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), however, secured 293 seats, crossing the 272-mark needed to form a government.

On the other side, the opposition coalition, INDIA, has exceeded expectations by snapping up 232 seats.

Modi, who is now likely to take oath on June 8, claimed victory on Tuesday evening, terming it a “historic feat” and thanking voters for their “immense faith.”

Economic challenges

Rhetoric aside, even a prime minister cannot argue against hard data that paints a bleak picture of joblessness and inflation in India.

A recent report by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, a Mumbai-based think tank, showed India’s unemployment rate rose to 8.1% in April 2024, up from 7.4% in March.

There were simultaneous spikes in rural and urban India: the rural unemployment rate climbed to 7.8% in April from 7.1% in March, while the rate in urban areas rose from 8.1% to 8.7%.

The organization said Indian youth last year were facing “shockingly high unemployment rates” and those between age 15-24 had a “double whammy of low and falling labor participation rates.”

Overall, the unemployment rate among youth stood at 45.4% in 2022-23, it added.

Regarding India’s economic challenges, analyst Donthi said: “Unemployment has been one of the biggest problems ever since COVID. The GDP numbers are doing well for India because of its sheer size. The results have been mixed and it’s the poor people who are suffering.”

He said the election results indicate that India’s youth had voted for opposition parties.

“The new government will have to address the economic challenges, take care of the unemployment problem, because there could still be growth without job creation, so that is one trap that India will have to avoid,” he said.

Strategic challenges

On strategic and geopolitical challenges, Donthi said India’s issues have grown manifold due to its strained ties with China.

“The biggest security and strategic challenge for India right now is China,” he said, emphasizing that relations between the two Asian giants are at their lowest since the war of 1962.

He said both sides have “sort of militarized the border,” making the situation “very sensitive and unstable.”

Talks to resolve the issue have not progressed and “there is an impasse,” he said.

The new government will be under pressure to break the deadlock and make progress on this front, he added.

“That will allow the government to sort of focus on the real challenges, and not spend all the resources on bolstering the border or importing the military equipment,” said Donthi.

He said tensions with China have inadvertently led to some sort of stabilization of India’s relations with Pakistan, but added that Modi has said “he’s not keen to sort of reopen dialogue” and “just wants to freeze it for now.”

Donthi also pointed out that India’s competition with China is now extending into the wider neighborhood, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

“All this has sort of become a contested territory for influence between India and China. It’s playing out in the Maldives as well,” he added.

Another issue for the new government will be areas like Manipur and Indian-administered Kashmir, according to Donthi.

While Manipur is an “ethnic conflict at one level,” geopolitical factors are also playing into it, such as the civil war in neighboring Myanmar, he said.

He said the central government’s failure to “bring the conflict under control” was a reason for the Congress winning both of the state’s constituencies this time.

That is “very rare because in the northeastern part of India, usually people choose the party that is already in power in the center,” he said, adding that this will add to the incoming government’s problems.

Internal challenges

Donthi also warned that movements, such as the massive protests by farmers, will continue and be “emboldened” as the new government will be weaker than the previous majority setup.

“Because the Modi government has come back with lesser numbers, the farmers will feel emboldened and they might renew their demands and will continue with more determination,” he said.

As the new government will be dependent on allies and the opposition has become stronger, the next administration “will not have the similar kind of power to crush any people’s movements,” he said.

One more consequence of the 2024 elections is that the new government will be “forced to engage with the opposition more,” he said.

“That’s good to make the government more accountable,” he added.

On the overall election results, Donthi said they were surprising, but not shocking, apart from places like the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where “everybody expected the BJP to do well.”

“It is sort of a setback for Modi personally because the last two times, both the governments came to power largely due to his charisma and popularity, which seems to have declined. It is surprising and it is a setback for the BJP,” said the analyst.