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US and India: A tale of two democracies

India is the largest democracy and the United States the oldest and both have witnessed tectonic shifts in recent years in their political landscape. The rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India in 2014 and Donald Trump in the US in 2017 was seen as the emergence of the far-right politics, marginalising liberal/moderate parties at the other end of the political spectrum. If the US saw the rise of white supremacists that fuelled racial divisions in the US, the rise of the Bhartiya Janta Party in India emboldened many right-wing vigilante groups across India. As the social fabric in the US lay tattered following the death of George Floyd triggering Black Lives Matter movement the Republicans were pushed on the back foot by the Democratic Party. In India, the political milieu has remained divided as the Narendra Modi government passed a series of legislations such as the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (providing sanctuary to minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh), Triple Talaq, Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 (abrogating Article 35A and amending Article 370 to alter J&K’s special status). The Modi government also benefitted from the favourable Supreme Court ruling paving the way for the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, and adopted a tough counter-terrorism policy striking on the terrorist hideouts in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and standing up to China’s aggression in Doklam and Ladakh. These measures have profoundly expanded BJP’s voter’s base wooing women, restive youth and the poor.

US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Unlike Trump, who faces defeat, in 2019 Modi could have been voted out too, but instead retained power with 21 more seats in the parliament. The victory of the Democratic Party under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—notwithstanding Donald Trump’s alleging electoral irregularity—has been read as the beginning of the decline of the far-right in international politics. Political pundits and scholars in India were quick to draw parallels with US politics predicting a liberal-secular comeback against the Modi government. In this backdrop, elections were held in the state of Bihar, along with the by-elections in Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Telangana among others. Unlike in the US, the BJP secured a resounding victory. The results have reinforced the broad trend since Modi’s rise in 2014 wherein the under-privileged and women, largely in the rural and semi-urban areas have benefitted from the government’s schemes such as Ujjwala scheme (providing LPG connections to Below Poverty Line families at subsidized rates), Swacch Bharata Mission (Clean India campaign constructing over 80 million toilets), PM’s Awaas scheme (affordable housing for urban and rural poor), Jan Dhan Yojna (opening bank accounts with Rs 0 for direct transfer of financial sustenance), Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (financially self-reliant education schemes for girls), PM Mudra scheme (loan to small businesses up to 1 million rupees), Atal Pension scheme (monthly pension for people in the unorganised sector aged between 18-40), PM Jyoti Bima scheme (life insurance of Rs, 200,000 for people between 18-50), Ujala scheme (low priced LED bulbs) and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (free ration up to 6kgs per person) at the heels of Covid-19 outbreak, reaching over 800 million. India’s democracy has presented an anti-thesis of the trends in the US politics, perhaps because the Modi government has delivered a large number of schemes aimed at the poor and women, and resolved complex and contentious disputes festering for decades. It would be fair to argue that the Indian voters have risen above their ideological biases and voted for good governance and strong leadership, which should be the hallmark of any thriving democracy and the benchmark for any effective government, irrespective of the ideology it represents.