Modi unveils election manifesto as ~1 billion Indians prepare to vote


Few world leaders enter a re-election campaign as sure of winning as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but that’s no excuse to slack off. So last Sunday, just before voting kicks off this Friday, his Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party, or BJP) unveiled its election manifesto named Modi’s Guarantee.

What’s in the manifesto? The pro-Hindu BJP is promising things on the home front that’ll be familiar to many of us, like: 

  • More jobs – unemployment among India’s youth is triple the country’s overall unemployment rate
  • New infrastructure – they’re promising 5,000km of new train tracks each year, and energy independence by going nuclear and green
  • Support for families – the country’s poorest folks will continue to receive up to 5kg of grains per month under India’s ‘free ration’ program, which Modi is extending for another five years

But Modi’s party is also proposing some ideas at home that’ll grab attention:

  • A Unified Civil Code (UCC) – Indians are already subject to common criminal law, but personal matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance are often left to individual communities and faiths to regulate. The idea of bringing that under a single law rattles some of India’s minority groups
  • Modi is also adding a dash of inspiration, with promises such as putting an Indian on the Moon and bidding to host the 2036 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, looking abroad, Modi is pledging to:

  • Lift India’s international profile, especially through soft power (he’s promising to open Yoga and Ayurveda Institutes across the world) 
  • Become a permanent member of the UN Security Council (though regional rival and original permanent member China will likely tap the brakes)
  • Build more infrastructure along its troubled borders with Pakistan, Myanmar, and China, and
  • Expand India’s “defence footprint” in the region (framed locally as a response to China’s increased presence in the Indian Ocean).

But it’s worth looking at what’s missing from the manifesto, too.

India’s opposition says Modi’s manifesto is “meek” on China, making little reference to the ongoing border dispute that killed 20 Indian troops in 2020.

The opposition also alleges Modi has no plan to tackle inflation, while some economists criticise the absence of structural reforms. Others, however, are commending the way the manifesto resists the temptation to firehose more cash at voters, which can trigger concerns around India’s budget.

So what’s next? 

Starting on Friday, some 970 million people will be eligible to head to the polls over the coming six weeks to elect new members in the lower house of parliament. That process alone, in the world’s largest democracy, is expected to cost more than $8B.

And despite opposition parties joining forces under a new ‘INDIA’ coalition, every bookie (and diplomat) is predicting a landslide for the BJP, delivering a rare third term for Modi.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

This level of one-party dominance in India’s political system was unthinkable just a few years ago. So then… what changed? It’s Modi. He has a charisma and confidence that resonates with India’s Hindu-majority population.

That’s why this 75-page manifesto is light on detail, but heavy on Modi (his photo is on almost every page).

Of course, by leaning into India’s Hindu nationalism, Modi has also spooked some folks, with the opposition claiming he’ll amend India’s constitution to ditch the country’s secular roots if he secures the required two-thirds parliamentary majority. For his part, Modi says this speculation is “meaningless”.

But either way, it all goes to the question of what this election is really about – not so much who wins, but where Modi plans to take India next.

Also worth noting:

  • The highest polling station in the world is located in India at an altitude of 4,650m (15,256 ft), in the heart of the Himalayas. 
  • As many as 45 million people in India have turned 18 since the last election in 2019, and would now be eligible to vote for the first time.
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