In partnership with UWA’s Public Policy Institute and the Australia India Business Council, the Perth USAsia Centre had the pleasure of hosting Professor Craig Jeffrey for a roundtable discussion on the drivers of India’s general election outcome and their implications for India, Australia and the world. Professor Craig Jeffrey is the Director and CEO of the Australia India Institute, one of Australia’s leading research organisations devoted to strengthening Australia’s understanding of and relationship with India. The following is a breakdown of the key issues discussed at the roundtable, conducted under Chatham House Rule.
Over five-plus weeks during April and May, a record 67% of 900 million eligible voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots to re-elect Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to government. Of the 543 elected seats in India’s Lok Sabha lower house of parliament, the BJP party won a majority 303 seats in its own right, - an increase of 21 from Modi’s historic 2014 election triumph. Another 47 seats were won by BJP’s alliance parties, and only 52 by the Rahul Gandhi-led Indian National Congress (Congress) opposition. A strengthened Prime Minister Modi will now lead India for another five year term.
The key drivers of BJP’s re-election were analysed and included: Prime Minister Modi’s significant personal popularity, charisma and appeal to many Indian voters; the visible achievements of the Modi Government over the last five years, including in infrastructure and essential services delivery; a timely swell of Indian nationalism in response to recent border clashes with Pakistan; the sheer effectiveness of the BJP ground and social media campaign to mobilise voter support, particularly among young people; and the ultimately lacklustre campaign of a diminished Congress.
The major challenges facing Modi in his second term were canvassed, and on the domestic front included: the increasing scale of both India’s unemployment and underemployment, as the education system strains under the weight and complexity of India’s skills demands; the increasing inequality of India’s income and wealth distribution, compounded across various class, gender, occupation and geographic sectors; and the monumental scale of India’s social services needs and reform requirements. On Modi’s leadership style, discussed was a desire for Modi and the BJP to deliver for all Indians, irrespective of background and ethnicity, especially in the face of a weak opposition.
In foreign policy, it was argued Modi’s resounding victory will ensure India continues to grow in confidence on the global stage, as the country in the eyes of many inexorably rises as a South Asia power to become an Indo-Pacific and eventually global power. As India’s economic weight and strategic heft increases, it was expressed that India is very much in transition – from a leader of the old Non-Aligned Movement, to a global power with its own strategic autonomy. How India navigates its diplomatic relationships with both the United States and China was focused on, with the surprise appointment of highly respected former foreign secretary S Jaishankar to the portfolio of External Affairs Minister applauded. For Australia, in line with Peter Varghese’s India Economic Strategy
, the view that Australia needs to work tirelessly to grow its economic and strategic relationship with India was unquestioned.
Left to Right: Professor Stephen Smith, Michael Carter, Professor Shamit Saggar, Professor Anu Rammohan, Professor Craig Jeffrey, Nilesh Makwana, Professor Gordon Flake, Acting Consul General Sudhansu Kumar Ray