India, extending over the Asian subcontinent of the same name, is the second most populous country in the world after China, with 1 billion and 267 million residents, and represents the fifth world economy by GDP at purchasing power parity. This Asian giant, since independence from the British Empire in 1947, is also the most populous democracy in the world. Between April and May 2014, 834 million voters were called to the polls (553.4 million). Winning what were the largest democratic elections in history was Narendra Modi, of the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who became India’s 14th prime minister. With a record percentage of 31% of the electorate, the BJPhe secured a solid majority of 51.9% of the total seats in the lower house of parliament, despite the fact that the upper house (made up of representatives of the federated states) remains in the hands of the opposition, headed by the historic Indian National Congress.
Internationally, India has progressively assumed the role of a regional power, promoting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The organization has political and economic goals, but it also has a key role in stabilizing the area and, above all, preventing conflicts with Pakistan, a historic political opponent. Relations with Islamabad, marked by conflicts that date back to the period of independence and also linked to the dispute over Kashmir, resumed in 2011 thanks to the intermediation of the then US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. However, the meetings between the respective foreign ministers, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar, did not bring concrete solutions.
In strategic terms, the relationship with China and Afghanistan is crucial. While the border between India and Tibet is a source of tension, cooperation between China and Pakistan, which depends on China for arms supplies and economic-military aid, worries New Delhi. The presence of US troops in Afghanistan and the Taliban presence in Pakistan are a deterrent to two countries that have already clashed three times since 1947 (1965, 1971, 1999). In 2008, a free trade agreement was concluded with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A sean), which at the time of the agreement accounted for 10% of India’s foreign trade. Modi also appears to be moving closer to Japan from a commercial and defense point of view (which has some influence on relations with Beijing).
The rapprochement with the USA is also of importance. Relations between the two countries have traditionally been cold due to India’s ties to the Soviet Union. The US interest in containing Chinese influence in Asia and the fear of the power vacuum in Afghanistan following the complete withdrawal of the troops, however, made possible a cooperation treaty on civilian nuclear power in 2008. In the same year, India has also signed a similar agreement with France. With the election of Prime Minister Modi, relations with the US and the West seem to have made a qualitative leap, mainly guided by the cordial relationship established between the Indian leader and President Barack Obama.
A member of the G20 and a member of the BRICS, India was a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2012-13 and is aiming for a permanent seat in the context of the Council’s reform.
Institutional organization and internal politics
India is a parliamentary republic with a federal structure. The bicameral parliament consists of a lower house, Lok Sabha (people’s chamber), whose members are elected by universal suffrage every five years, and by an indirectly elected upper chamber. For the first, the Constitution provides for a maximum of 552 members: up to 530 represent the states (29), up to 20 represent the territories of the Union (7), no more than two members of the Anglo-Indian community are appointed by the president if, in his opinion, the group is not adequately represented in the lower house. Representatives of the upper house, Rajya Sabha (chamber of states), are elected by the legislators of the respective states according to population-based quotas. The prime minister, who chairs the executive, is elected by the Lok Sabha while the president, who heads the state, is elected every five years by both chambers. The two main political forces are the BJP, the nationalist party that won the historic general elections of May 2014 with 31% of the vote, corresponding to a majority of 282 seats in parliament – adding to 56 of the allies in the National Democratic Alliance; and the Indian National Congress (Inc), a secular center party that presided over the federal government for the first fifty years of independence. Having gone out defeated at the polls, the Inc, which had governed since 2004, managed to keep only 44 of the 218 seats it had in parliament (the center-left government coalition reached 262). For India political system, please check politicsezine.com.
The débâcle of the Inc can be explained in part by the existence of a family structure hated by many in the country, belonging to the political dynasty of the Gandhi, in part by the lack of charisma of the young Raul – epigone of the family and candidate of the I nc in the last elections – but above all it is determined by the disappointing economic and political performance of the country during the last term of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The dynastic continuity of the Gandhi, not devoid of dark sides, had also made it possible to maintain a dual structure in the force that guides the ruling coalition: on the one hand, the party president; on the other, the prime minister. The agreement between the two parties was essential to the processes ofhigh-level policy making and, therefore, for the entire Indian democratic structure. All this changed with Narendra Modi, known for having a centralized and decisive management of power, as shown during the twelve years of government of the state of Gujarat. The behavior that the new prime minister will hold towards the extremist Hindu faction that supports him, the Rashtryia Swayamsevak Sangh (Rss) party – where Modi has grown politically, is cause for concern. The ‘ Hindutva, the Hindu doctrine of supremacy, is promoted by a majority of the party that has not missed an opportunity to launch provocative messages to the Muslim minority in the country and thereby raise tensions between the two religious groups.
Sectarian tensions are another source of concern for the stability of the country and fuel internal political and social conflicts in unpredictable ways, as demonstrated by the protests of the Patel caste in Gujarat (from which Prime Minister Modi hails) in August of 2015.