The aspirations of the world’s largest middle class population will find answers in India’s 16th federal parliament when it forms later this month. India’s national elections, a ritual held every five years, saw over 814.5 million voters exercising their democratic right in the biggest elections. The nine phases of this Indian election make it the most expensive elections India has ever seen. This election cost India over $600 million, and this excludes expenses on security and expenses incurred by individual parties.
The past five years were not constructive, any way you look at it. Apart from the few who lined their pockets through the many scams, the majority of the people felt like this recent period was a slow crisis that unravelled over five years. Most Indians consider Manmohan Singh’s second term as weak and ineffectual. The government lost focus as it got embroiled in scandal after scandal, and showed no willingness to address the aspirations of a young population, or address the issues of women’s rights. Even on the foreign policy front, the government has no major achievements to its credit. The government’s handling of the diplomatic fall-out with America, its inability to foster better ties with Australia, its failure to convince the global community of the need to include India as a permanent member in the UN will all be judged as lost opportunities.
From an Australian perspective, one could argue that India was totally absorbed in its internal politics and the nation’s foreign policy largely focused on its ties with America. Australia made many serious attempts to build its ties with India, but India, in this period, failed to deliver anything substantial to boost these ties. The Australian government set up the Australia India Institute during this period, the Victorian government funded an Indian film festival, the government addressed security concerns of the community and much more. The Indian government set up a consulate in Victoria during this period, but overall, the local Indian community’s needs were not
This lacklustre period in Indian history also saw the rising angst of its young population. But this angst also shows signs of strength. As the Congress and dynasty loyalists are being shunted to the opposition, the new forces will compete to win the youth. India has a large population of young adults: 65 per cent of its population is under 35, and half the country’s population of 1.25 billion people is under 25 years of age. This is what gives India a competitive edge over the rest of the world, and this is what the Congress failed to see or address, and this is what Narendra Modi captialised on and built his campaign around.
For the first time in many decades, communal and caste politics were not the highlights of an election campaign. It was a campaign that saw Narendra Modi calling for “toilets first, temples later”, it was an election that saw the youth rallying behind Arvind Kejriwal demanding more accountability and corruption-free governance.
One can’t but look towards India with hope. It’s hard to imagine that Modi, if he comes to power, will disappoint these aspirations and put religious matters above development. Indians are cynical about their politicians. But Modi, or anyone who comes to power in India post-16 May, cannot undermine this mandate for development and accountability.
India has a responsibility towards the world to democratically address its challenges. If India manages a decent growth rate, handles its internal strife and conflicts without exacerbating them, it will clearly send a message to China on the need for that country to explore democracy; India will also gain the respect of the West as a super power, and it will inspire the rest of the under-developed world to democratically address their challenges.
The world surely has expectations of India rising as a responsible super power. For us in Australia, it is time to expect the Indian government to take Australia more seriously and give this country the attention it deserves on the world platform. India cannot ignore Australia’s geo-political significance, its resources, and above all its growing Indian diaspora. A government that has a clear strategy for Australia is an absolute must for better ties. Let’s hope that the new Indian government will make rapid diplomatic overtures towards a favourable relationship.