On Monday, Narendra Modi will be sworn in as Prime Minister of India, following the biggest elections in history. The Bharatiya Janata Party has won an outright majority for the first time in India's 543-seat Lok Sabha - the lower house of Parliament - with 282 seats. It displaces the Congress Party, which has ruled for over three decades. What does this striking change mean for India? And what does it mean for the Commonwealth?
The BJP's central pledges fall into two categories. Firstly economic: they pledge to implement inclusive and sustainable development, improve quality of life in villages and cities, provide basic amenities to all, support the agricultural sector, create jobs for youth, build robust physical and social infrastructure, and nurture an innovative and technologically driven society in order to achieve a quality, strong, effective and futuristic ‘Brand India’. Secondly, the BJP has pledged to tackle corruption - endemic under the ruling Congress Party - by promoting vibrant and participatory democracy, empowered and inspired people, an open, transparent and systems-based government, and good governance.
These central pledges are welcome aspirations, and align with many of the values outlined in the Commonwealth Charter. They are mutually supportive: tackling corruption also supports economic growth, enticing greater foreign investment through stronger, safer institutions. With economic growth having shrunk from over 10% to less than 5% in the past four years, spiraling food prices, and rising unemployment, reform is badly needed. There are around 13 million young people entering India's job market each year, but not enough jobs are being created to support this labour force. Narendra Modi has a strong record of economic success as Chief Minister of Gujarat, and strong policies to support economic growth and inclusive development can only been welcomed as a means of tackling widespread poverty.
Whilst the BJP’s manifesto strongly supports economic and social rights through inclusive development; civil, political and cultural rights are not given an equal space. The BJP is often labelled the Hindu Nationalist Party in a country with over 177 million Muslims, and 23 million Christians. Modi's election campaign has been overshadowed by re-surfacing accusations of his implication in the 2002 Gujarat riots where around 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, some 20,000 Muslim homes and businesses and 360 places of worship were destroyed, and roughly 150,000 people were displaced. Mr Modi has been accused of not doing enough to stop the violence, and some claim that he ordered officials to take no action against rioters – although he has not been found guilty of any crime.
With the largest population in the Commonwealth, India must be looked to as a leader within the group. However, recent judgments criminalizing homosexuality, along with reluctance to act to tackle levels of child marriage indicate that there are many Commonwealth values on which India does not show leadership. The second value outlined in the Commonwealth Charter – just after democracy – is a commitment to the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document emphasizes the indivisibility of human rights. Mr Modi should be sent a strong message from across the Commonwealth that economic growth does not solve every problem – civil, political and cultural rights are of equal importance, and will not wait.