The Indian general election of the 16th May harks the beginning of significant political change in the South Asian giant.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won an absolute majority, the first of its kind since the 1980s. In doing so, the BJP inflicted the worst election defeat in the history of its main competitor, the Indian National Congress.

The INC has rarely been out of office in the years since India gained its independence from Britain in 1947. The state of affairs after this election has put them in a position barely more influential than any of the numerous minority parties represented at the Indian lower house, the Lok Sabha.

The new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, looks set to generate and maintain conflicts between already disparate groups in Indian society.

Critics of the prime-minister elect have called into question the fairness of his campaign, with estimates of the sums of money being spent reaching Rs 5,000 crore (approximately £500 million).

This has been possible through widespread support from the corporate community of India, who have enjoyed the benefits of Indian growth and see the strong leadership style – and now significant power by virtue of an absolute majority –  of Mr Modi as a means to secure their long term survival and prosperity.

Narendra Modi has also been questioned on his track record and his claims to success. During his stint as Chief Minister for Gujarat, he inflated the importance of his role in the economic growth of the province, failing to appreciate the greater growth of other states. He also oversaw a period in which Gujarat became India’s most polluted state and was accused of Russian-style ‘crony capitalism’, under which allies of the minister were granted government contracts at low prices.

Further critics of the new regime insist that a right wing, religious nationalist party is counter to the principles upon which the independent India was founded – a modern, liberal and secular state under which all religions are treated equally.

It is widely accepted that the paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, known for organising riots and abuses against Muslim and Christian groups, is highly influential in the upper echelons of the BJP.

The worst examples of such violence occurred in 2002, when rioting Hindu nationalists in Gujarat killed 790 Muslims according to official figures. Independent observers stated that these events met the ‘legal description of genocide’.

All throughout, Modi was accused of complicity in the violence and of a sluggish response to defend his citizens.

He has since been cleared of all charges against him, but many Muslims and Christians feel that justice has not been served.

Modi’s party is clear in its views; the BJP encourages a philosophy called Hindutva, which it claims is favouring Indian heritage and culture against increasing Westernisation. What this means in practical terms, however, is redefining Indian heritage as uniquely Hindu, a prospect not enjoyed by the many minority groups in the sub-continent.

The idea of an India aligned with one religion is not attainable. Throughout the twentieth century, nationalist movements aimed to separate from the Indian federation, but were pacified by concessions from the secular central government. These concessions redefined regional borders based on religious and cultural heritage and allowed a greater sense of identity to flourish.

Prime examples of this can be found in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a primarily Hindu area, but one with a different language and culture, and calls for a Sikh state to be created in the Punjab region.

The diversity of India and the fact that its government has gone to such great lengths to encourage federalism under which all are equal puts a party reliant on the support of one demographic at odds with the interests of the persistent minority.

Hindus comprise 80 percent of India’s population; but this does not provide Mr Modi with a mandate to accept and encourage the social degradation of the 20 percent who are not.

The BJP’s explanation of Hindutva employs a plethora of derogatory references to describe Islam. The ‘barbarism of the Islamic hordes’ who invaded centuries ago, the ‘cruelty of even a moderate Muslim ruler’ are used to justify the string of passive-aggressive insults. They claim to have suffered ‘the greatest abuse of Hindu tolerance’ in the partition of ‘Hindu’ land. But worst of all they cite an Islamic ‘innate unwillingness to change’. Other religions are acceptable, just not Islam.

Rich words from a party whose leader effectively sanctioned one of the greatest pogroms of recent times.  I am glad that I do not have to experience ‘Hindu tolerance’ by his definition.

Modi’s position as the leader of a majority in the Lok Sabha is a threat to the beneficial diversity of Indian democracy. Regional parties, representing the views of their constituents, could previously campaign for improvements and have their voices heard. Now, with a majority party fighting for Hindus and not Indians, the balance of power has shifted.

He is the most powerful executive to have been elected in India for over 30 years. His decisions will likely go unchecked by his colleagues in the house. He looks set to undermine the secular and liberal basis of Indian democracy through unabashed crony capitalism and a division of India on religious lines.

Despite the largest, most successful democratic election in the world, it is truly a sad time for India’s brand of democracy.

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