Over the next few weeks, more than 800 million Indians will head to the polls to vote in a general election in the world’s largest democracy. Early signs indicate that Narendra Modi, the opposition candidate from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will beat the ruling Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi despite the latter’s ties to the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. While this is testament to Congress’ poor performance during its decade in power, the eventual election outcome—whatever that may be—could in fact bring more continuity than change for India.
When Congress defeated the BJP in an upset election in 2004 and cobbled together its United Progressive Alliance coalition, expectations were initially sky-high. Despite winning the election, Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, asked Manmohan Singh, the architect of India’s economic reforms of the 1990s, to become prime minister in her place. Ten years later, Singh, the once revered Oxford-trained economist, is reviled for leaving the country in tatters. At home, India has seen double-digit growth rates shrinking to less than 5 percent, the rupee depreciating to all-time lows and inflation soaring to uncontrollable levels. Key reforms have been stymied by fierce political backlash, while a seemingly endless string of corruption scandals implicating government ministers has triggered massive street protests. While analysts project that the Indian economy will improve this fiscal year, the Congress party nevertheless enters the election with a record 35 percent of Indians saying the national economy is getting worse.
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