India: The World’s Largest Democracy has a New Prime Minister: So What?

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May 16, 2014

Finally, after waging the world’s largest and most expensive democratic election, India has announced that their new Prime Minister is Narendra Modi. The leader of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (a Hindu nationalist party) won with the largest margin in almost 30 years.

Here are three things you need to know:

The new Prime Minister has a controversial past:

Back in 2002, Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat state and was in charge when riots killed more than 1000 people. Most of those killed were Muslim and some say that he either did nothing to stop the killings or possibly incited them. The Indian Supreme Court has never found him guilty of any wrongdoing, but he was denied a visa to the US in 2005 because of his connection to the incident. There are still questions about his views on religious tolerance and women’s rights.

US and Indian relations have been a bit strained:

The relationship between the US and India has been strained, ever since the US arrested one of India’s ambassadors to the UN over some visa fraud issue and strip-searched her. People don’t seem to like being strip-searched. One day after Ms. Khobragadem was expelled from the US, India expelled an American diplomat from New Delhi. It’s always interesting when nations act like children.

The most troubling part is that no leadership on either side of the US-Indian relationship seems to be overly concerned about working things out. I’m pretty sure that’s going to come back to bite us. However, newly elected Prime Minister Modi says that one of his goals is to strengthen ties with the US and he is putting India’s economy and jobs at the forefront of his agenda. We will see.

India supported Russia in the Crimea/Ukrainian issue:

Of course, it also doesn’t bode well for the US that India sided with Russia over the Crimea and Ukrainian issue. Maybe India didn’t express as much support as say Syria did, but they certainly recognized Russia’s interests in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and have opposed sanctions on Russia. But after all, India does rely on Russia for about 75% of its arms imports. And India’s arms imports are three times that of China and Pakistan. (According to the Times of India)

My advice? When a country has 1.2 billion people and 814 million eligible voters, someone should be paying attention to this relationship. It might be important.

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