The Irish Times view on the Indian election: Modi tightens his grip

An intolerant Hindu-first majoritarianism is the order of the day

When India’s 490 million voters go to the polls next week for an election due to last 41 days, there will be little doubt about the result: Narendra Modi will sweep easily to a comfortable third term as prime minister and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems set for an even greater parliamentary majority than in 2019.

Modi’s undoubted personal popularity and economic success – the value of India’s stock market has grown threefold since he first took office, its economy is almost twice as big – will play the major part in his victory in what he has repeatedly called “the mother of democracy”. But he has also leant heavily on a widespread crackdown on free speech and opposition parties, with hundreds of politically targeted corruption and tax cases filed against opposition MPs and leaders. India’s democratic credentials have been severely tarnished.

Most recent was the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi party and chief minister of Delhi since 2015, over an alleged “scam” involving alcohol sales. He is now languishing in jail. And Congress, India’s largest opposition party, has seen the tax authority freeze millions in its bank accounts, crippling its ability to campaign.

The BJP denies any role, with Modi insisting the federal agency conducting most of the investigations, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), is independent. Yet 95 per cent of its political cases have been filed against the opposition.


Modi’s embrace of Hindu nationalism in this 80 per cent Hindu nation has stoked anti-Muslim tensions and violence and seriously eroded the traditional Nehru-inspired secularism of its politics. An intolerant Hindu-first majoritarianism is the order of the day, sustained by a BJP populist welfarism that has a strong appeal among the country’s poor. A recent Pew poll reported 67 per cent of respondents expressing support for a “strong leader” who “can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts”.

The age of strongman leaders like Viktor Orbán and Recep Erdogan, and their “illiberal democracies”, marches on.