Guest Post: “India Decides”

Valued commentor Schroedinger’s Cat has pointed out that we shouldn’t be ignoring the current elections in India. And she’s quite right, but what I know best about that topic is how much I don’t know, so I asked if she’d like to share her own expertise.

Here’s Part I, also cross-posted on her eponymous blog:

5/23 Update: The Election Commission has started counting the votes and Modi seems to be headed for a second term.


This is a brief primer to help you make sense of the main players on the Indian political scene. The Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) is currently in power, its main opposition, is the Indian National Congress. Then there is a third mostly left of center grouping which calls itself Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) and advocates for the rights of Bahujans (common people, a short hand term for the alliance of Other Backward Castes and Dalits*).

The key to understanding Indian politics is caste, region and ideology, in that order. Most of the analyses I see in the western media and much of the English language media in India misses that point, by focusing solely on ideology and the two main parties. They also ignore India’s linguistic diversity, and regional politics which vary greatly. Most importantly, they ignore caste which plays roughly the same role that race plays in US politics.

In this post I will focus on the BJP and its leader, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Bharatiya Janata Party: Is the party in power at the center (federal level) right now. It won an outright majority during the last Loksabha elections in 2014. It was the first time a party other than the Congress had managed this feat. The previous BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee headed a coalition government.

Before 2014, Mr. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. On the national stage he was credited with the economic growth the state had achieved and the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Ahmedabad, precipitated by the events in Godhra.

Since his election in 2014, Mr. Modi’s government has delivered on the items on hard right agenda. Banning the slaughter of cows had been a long stated goal of the Hindutva hardliners. Twenty states out of twenty nine now have restrictions on the slaughter of cows. It may come as a surprise to many that majority of Hindus are not vegetarian and some even eat beef. These cattle slaughter bans have hit the poor and lower caste Hindus as well as Muslims the hardest. Roving bands of vigilantes who call themselves cow protectors have used these bans to intimidate and sometimes lynch people.

Modi’s record on the economic front has been questionable. The much touted demonetization scheme aimed at removing high denomination currency out of the economy to combat corruption missed all of its stated goals. India’s suffering farmers have seen no respite and the unemployment numbers have been the worst in forty years.

BJP purports to speak on the behalf of all Hindus but their agenda and their saffron roving bands make many Hindus, let alone religious minorities, who don’t share its dogma, nervous. They are not being paranoid because many activists agitating on the behalf of those in tribal areas and lower castes sit in jail under trumped up charges. Journalists have died for speaking out as have academics like M. M Kalburgi.

BJP is the political arm of the all male Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps) modeled after Europe’s Fascist movements of the early twentieth century. RSS seeks to unite Hindus separated by caste, language and region into militant nationalism called Hindutva. RSS was formed in British India in 1925 by K. B. Hedgewar, a Brahmin physician from Maharashtra and has its head quarters in Nagpur, Maharashtra. They were largely absent during India’s freedom struggle against the British, spent most of their time attacking Congress and complaining about their tactics. Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse had RSS links.

BJP and its earlier incarnation, the Jan Sangh never achieved much in the way of electoral success until the late 80s. Their electoral fortunes changed when they adopted building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya in place of Mughal emperor Babur’s mosque as their core issue.

The most important project of RSS and other Hindutva idealogues has been to rewrite history to further their own agenda. The last 5 years has seen the mainstreaming of previously fringe RSS propaganda into the political discourse. We have seen the lionization of Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin, vilification of Jawarhlal Nehru, India’s first Prime minister and to a lesser extent of Mohandas Gandhi. Orwell’s 1984 seems to be their Bible, or should I say Gita?

The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’

Ultimately what is stake in this election is the truth, we will see if India lives up to its motto,

सत्यमेव जयते ( Satyameva Jayate)

And if the truth ultimately triumphs.

In part two of this series I will discuss and analyze the results and the other two other major political groupings contesting the elections.

(*Dalit = downtrodden, these are mostly castes considered to be at the bottom of the caste hierarchy and many are considered ritually impure. Many of these taboos still persist in parts of India. Prejudice against these castes by those in power is commonplace).

71 replies
  1. 1
    Alex Smith says:

    This is great!

  2. 2
    Hope says:


  3. 3

    I’ll be around and check the comments, to answer questions if you have any.

  4. 4
    TenguPhule says:

    In Summary, if you’re Muslim, a woman or like eating beef, India is not the place you want to be.

  5. 5
    Matt says:

    BJP and its earlier incarnation, the Jan Sangh never achieved much in the way of electoral success until the late 80s. Their electoral fortunes changed when they adopted building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya in place of Mughal emperor Babur’s mosque as their core issue.

    Religion is the lever fascists use to get people to obey. We’re either going to have a world without religion in 200 years or a world without human civilization.

  6. 6
    John Cole says:

    I read another article about how re-electing him was a disaster but I can not remember where.

    This was a very useful comment.

  7. 7
    Baud says:

    Thank you for doing this. This is excellent.

    I’d like to know if there is the same urban/rural divide like there is here.

  8. 8
    Eunicecycle says:

    This is really fascinating. Thank you for taking the time to explain what is going on in India to us.

  9. 9
    feebog says:

    This is why I love Baloon Juice. Thanks S.C. for the post.

  10. 10

    @Baud: I am doing a followup analysis post, analyzing the results.
    There seems to be a north-south divide. BJP did pretty well in Delhi and Mumbai. There are two stories here, in some states the votes were split 3 ways, so some people won their seats with 33% of the vote. In Delhi and Gujarat BJP won with 55-60% of the vote.

    ETA: If the opposition were more united, I think the results would have looked different. Votes are still being counted so I am waiting for my final analysis.

  11. 11
    Baud says:

    @schrodingers_cat: Surprised about Mumbai. Looking forward to the next post.

  12. 12
    FelonyGovt says:

    Thank you for this. I am very interested. I’ve read some but nothing substitutes for commentary from someone who really knows about it.

    It scares me that in so many countries, the extreme right xenophobic crazies seem to be winning re-election- Australia last week, India (apparently?) this week. I really hope it does not bode ill for our US elections.

  13. 13
    West of the Rockies says:

    Very edifying. Thank you S Cat.

    This global nationalistic fervor is concerning.

  14. 14
    Dan B says:

    Some if my Indian-American friends say that the Madrassas in India are funded by or started by Saudi money. They feel these “schools” are keeping Muslims ignorant, or at least less ready for the new economy. What do you think?

  15. 15

    @Dan B: Sounds like Sangh propaganda, did they give specific examples of these “schools”. While there are religious schools for Muslims, not all Muslims get their education in madrasas. Muslims in general are pretty well integrated in the social fabric. India has been home to Muslims for over a 1000 years.

    ETA: India is pretty ecletic. The Deobandi school which influenced the Taliban is originally from India.

  16. 16

    @Baud: Mumbai is a bellwether, whichever party/coalition has won here has gone on to form the government at the centre.

    ETA: BJP-ShivSena combine has won all 6 seats according to the latest news.

  17. 17
    Baud says:

    @West of the Rockies:

    This global nationalistic fervor is concerning.

    Agreed, although somewhat comforting that we’re not uniquely affected.

    Nonetheless, Rahul Gandhi should have visited Wisconsin.

  18. 18

    @Baud: Rahul Gandhi seems a nice enough guy but the INC going it alone was a stupid mistake. He made a lot of tactical errors. INC needs new leadership.

  19. 19
    Baud says:


    Is there more to BJP’s coalition than just the usual demonization you see by right-wing parties? Like, here, the Republicans have pretty much given up on any reliance on policy or governance and are predominantly a grievance party. Is it the same with BJP?

  20. 20
    TenguPhule says:


    although somewhat comforting that we’re not uniquely affected.

    Sharing the pain is comforting?

  21. 21

    @Baud: They have continued some good projects started in the previous administrations, started a few more and botched some like the infamous demonetization. They are good at propaganda but they have put forth policies, some good, some bad and half baked.

    ETA: But after receiving a drubbing a few months ago in the assembly elections, it has been all hate all the time.

  22. 22
    Baud says:


    No, I’m not a misery-loves-company person. I’d much rather the rest of the world were doing the right things while we worked ourselves out. But it’s good to have information about the nature of the beast, and knowing that other places are going through it also gives us a better grounding on what’s going on.

  23. 23
    Baud says:

    @schrodingers_cat: That’s what’s surprising to me. Usually local elections are bellwethers.

  24. 24

    @Baud: It surprised me too.

  25. 25
    Baud says:

    @schrodingers_cat: Do you thing the Kashmir skirmish turned things around for them?

  26. 26
    JGabriel says:


    Religion is the lever fascists use to get people to obey.

    I would say it’s a lever that fascists use, not the only lever.

    We’re either going to have a world without religion in 200 years or a world without human civilization.

    I think it’s more complicated than that. Religious belief is, and has been, so historically widespread that I think there’s some instinct for religious belief in our genes. We know that Neanderthals buried their dead with flowers and other – belongings? artefacts? – which suggest they had spiritual beliefs of some kind. And that suggests that some sort of religious instinct pre-dates the Homo Sapiens – Homo Neanderthalensis – Home Erectus splits.

    So, I don’t think we’re going to get rid of, or evolve out of, religious belief in a mere two centuries. (Some of us, maybe. Maybe some of us already have.) But the best we can probably hope for in two centuries, as a species in whole, is increased tolerance for religious differences, and an increase in shared values across religion beliefs that are beneficial for society.

  27. 27

    @Baud: It does look like that, especially in north India.

  28. 28
    West of the Rockies says:

    OT, but I REALLY wish MSNBC would stop showing pics of Assange’s bloated, pasty face. A full Santa beard does not make him more compelling or sympathetic.

  29. 29
    Baud says:

    @schrodingers_cat: I hate the right wingers are seen as better at national security. At least here, where I know they’re not. I don’t know how BJP and INC compare on that. But it seems to be a universal phenomenon.

  30. 30
    TenguPhule says:

    OT but yet another alarm in the dumpster fire we’re stuck in.

    During an impromptu press conference at the White House on Thursday, Trump was asked by a reporter to be a bit more specific with one of the pejorative claims he’s been making in recent weeks.

    “Sir,” NBC’s Peter Alexander said, “the Constitution says treason is punishable by death.”

    Trump gave a slight nod of acknowledgment.

    “You’ve accused your adversaries of treason,” Alexander continued. “Who specifically are you accusing of treason?”

    “Well,” Trump replied, “I think a number of people. And I think what you look is that they have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person.”

    Who specifically?

    “If you look at [former FBI director James] Comey,” Trump said, “if you look at [former FBI deputy director Andrew] McCabe, if you look at people probably higher than that.”

    Am I paranoid that I think he’s targeting President Obama?

  31. 31
    debbie says:

    The last 5 years has seen the mainstreaming of previously fringe RSS propaganda into the political discourse.

    Just like everywhere else, then (pretty much). Is this ascension of fringiness a contagion that has spread around the world or is it something else/more? I remember from my history courses that upheavals more or less fell within 20-year cycles, and Europe in 1848 was pointed to as a prime example. What is it about people?

  32. 32
    Jay says:

    “Facebook’s announcement this week that it has taken down hundreds of pages linked to India’s main opposition Congress party and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party turned the spoltight on the blitz of disinformation being used to influence nearly 900 million voters as social media becomes the primary battleground in the world’s largest general election starting April 11.”

  33. 33

    @Baud: The opposition needed to field one candidate and they didn’t. INC botched it by going it alone and not making pre-poll alliances with other anti-BJP forces, they still have delusions of grandeur but they don’t have the strength they once did.

  34. 34

    @debbie: Social media and smart phones have been the vector.

  35. 35
    Baud says:


    Ah, the Judean’s People’s Front syndrome. An vital part of left wing failure.

  36. 36
    Jay says:


    I suspect it’s economic anxiety. //

    The internet can be a great learning/social tool,

    Or it can be a pathway to radicalization.

    Media and Social Media corporations are not helping.

  37. 37
    JGabriel says:


    Am I paranoid that I think he’s targeting President Obama?

    Of course Trump is targeting Obama. So, no, you’re not paranoid.

    Trump knows he himself is treasonous – so he’s projecting his guilt onto everyone else. Including, and especially, President Obama.

  38. 38
    debbie says:


    Right, but they weren’t in 1848. It’s something in human nature, I think, because this has been occurring over and over for centuries.

  39. 39
    JGabriel says:


    I remember from my history courses that upheavals more or less fell within 20-year cycles, and Europe in 1848 was pointed to as a prime example. What is it about people?

    We suck.

  40. 40
    Jay says:


    More hubris than JPF.

    Justin Trudeau promised us our last First Past The Post election, which would have doomed the Con’s for ever,

    But also would have ensured that the Liberals would have to govern as part of a coelition, roughly half the time.

    So he scrapped electoral reform and along with other broken promises, may have doomed the Liberals to one term.

  41. 41
    Mike in NC says:

    @TenguPhule: Fuck that fat ignorant sack of shit. Nobody is going to be arrested for “treason” against Putin’s puppet.

  42. 42
    Darkrose says:

    @schrodingers_cat: Thanks for posting this; I’ve been trying to make sense of the election coverage, but I was lacking context. Much appreciated.

  43. 43
    pk says:

    Your analysis is very good as it covers the rise of the BJP of which I don’t have much knowledge today as I don’t follow Indian politics too much since coming to this country. But I do remember the 80s and early 90s when the congress party used caste as a wedge issue very effectively. The turning point for me was the ridiculousness of “reservations” for lower castes. While I don’t disagree with affirmative action, I think it’s ridiculous to have up to 80% reservations in jobs and colleges for people based on caste. Medical schools, Engineering colleges and Universities admit people with abysmal grades. When candidates could not even meet the 33% overall criteria for grades it was lowered further to 25%. Hundreds of college students killed themselves by immolation. I think that was the start of the rise of BJP. Prior to that the BJP was always considered a joke. The congress used caste, the BJP used religion. I never voted for the BJP because I could never stand saffron clad morons, but I know people who did/do. Most people seem to despise Rahul Gandhi. Indra Gandhi and Rajiv were both corrupt. Why would anyone want to vote for the worthless grandson?
    Not saying that the fascist BJP is the answer, but congress seems to be pretty worthless.

  44. 44
    Jay says:

    “Scientists say Chile’s Southern Patagonia Ice Field has ‘split in two’

    Social Sharing
    Crack raises concern it’s a sign of things to come”

  45. 45
    Felanius Kootea says:

    @schrodingers_cat: Such a shame.

  46. 46
    Bill Arnold says:

    This, from March 2019, suggests that the voting process would be hard to subvert. What is the general impression about levels of votiing fraud in this election? (I see accusations, but don’t know the Indian press.)
    It only takes India a month to set up a better election than the US (Annalisa Merelli, March 23, 2019)
    (and this: India election 2019: Are fears of a mass hack credible? (Soutik Biswas, 25 January 2019))

    There was lots of social media manipulation, it appears.

  47. 47
    Dan B says:

    @schrodingers_cat: Thanks. I wondered about that. It could take hudreds of billions to influence the madrassas in India. With 150 million Muslims there are a lot of students. I didn’t see much integration but was impressed that one side of the Jama Masjid was Muslim markets and the other side Hindu. I hope that tech culture is more integrated. My visit was in 2001 and I know things have changed. We watched Janna Lumley’s series on India and even in that sometimes goofy show the changes were apparent.

  48. 48
    justawriter says:

    My favorite professor in college (78-82) was from Kerala. He gave the impression that it was the most left wing part of India. In the years since whenever I hear about something good happening on the subcontinent as often as not it is about Kerala.

    OT memory: My tiny alma mater was in danger of shutting down when I was there, so the feckless administration hired an outfit to recruit foreign students. So come a North Dakota January morning, the student body was suddenly about 11 percent Iranian. The administration didn’t even think to have anyone meet the plane, so my professor met them at the airport and made sure they were able to buy winter clothing before they even saw the campus. Oh yeah, this was also January 1979, so their timing really sucked. (the hostage crisis started the following fall)

  49. 49


    Crack raises concern it’s a sign of things to come

    Didn’t you listen to St. Nancy? Just say no.

  50. 50

    @justawriter: Communists lost big in Kerala this election, because an ancient shrine was opened to women of childbearing age.
    Google Sabrimala. It was one of the few states that INC made a good showing.

  51. 51
    Bill Arnold says:


    Trump knows he himself is treasonous – so he’s projecting his guilt onto everyone else. Including, and especially, President Obama.

    Yeah, that was the most interesting thing about D.J. Trump’s recent treason talk – clear-cut Trump projection.

  52. 52
    J R in WV says:


    Am I paranoid that I think he’s targeting President Obama?


    Also targeting Secretary Clinton, and everyone who volunteers to run against him going forward, because that is obviously Treason of the highest degree, opposing Dear Leader is obviously the most terrible crime possible in our free nation, where everyone is free to adore Dear Leader President Trump~!!

    Trump wants these people who are so much more successful that he to be locked up, or shot on the national mall.

  53. 53
    Jay says:


    Any historic ties between the INA and the precursors to the BJP?

  54. 54
    cynthia ackerman says:

    This discussion is great.

    I note also BBC’s analysis, which adds more context.

  55. 55

    @Jay: You mean INC right? The Indian National Congress is one of BJP’s main rivals. Indian politics is complicated. Electoral equations change state by state.

  56. 56

    @Dan B: I meant with regards to cultural influence, Hindus and Muslims have influenced each other culturally for millenia, in language, dress and even religious practices. Islam in the subcontinent is different from the austere Middle Eastern variety.

  57. 57
    NotMax says:

    Um, the commenter’s nym has only one “e” in it.

  58. 58

    @pk: If you don’t mind my asking which state are you from? Reservations or quotas for Dalits are a form of affirmative action. We can discuss about their efficacy at another time. I am going to discuss about Congress in the next post. I agree with you that they made the rise of the BJP possible.

  59. 59
    RedDirtGirl says:

    I’ve just read “above the fold”so far, but thank you S’s C!

  60. 60
    Jay says:


    Nope, Indian National Army, the pro-Japanese WWII group.

  61. 61
    pk says:

    I was born in UP but have never actually lived in the state. I pretty much lived in Delhi in all my time in India. All I know is that we never had any choices in politics except congress. The RSS was a joke (bunch of clowns wearing shorts) as far as I remember. When I visit India (usually after a very long absence) I find so much similarity with the US. The same loud obnoxious shout fests on TV, people sharing nonsense on social media, hateful memes etc. I might as well be in the US listening to right wing nutjobs. It’s the same stuff almost word for word except in a different language. Truly a globalization of hate.

  62. 62
    O. Felix Culpa says:

    Great post and discussion. Thank you.

  63. 63
    sgrAstar says:


    Am I paranoid that I think he’s targeting President Obama?


  64. 64
    O. Felix Culpa says:

    @NotMax: Pedant alert! :)

  65. 65
    NotMax says:

    @O. Felix Culpa

    Not sure it’s pedantry so much as courtesy to point out an error in referencing someone’s name. Although Ann Lori may not concur.


  66. 66
    justawriter says:

    @schrodingers_cat: Wow. Just wow. I don’t see any positives for anyone in that whole situation. Reminds me of all the farmers in my local area voting for Trump who is devastating their markets but they still love him because he is protecting them from brown people who are going to be bused up from the border to assault the wimminfolk here, or something. At least they aren’t going over the edge for Modi.

    I was going to comment further on my impressions of the event but then I realized I would be talking about a culture I have only passing familiarity with, of a situation I only found out about a half hour ago, and judging a culture that was thousands of years old when my ancestors were still farting in caves. All of a sudden that seemed like it would be a real white guy dick move.

  67. 67

    @Jay: None as far as I know. INA or the Indian National Army was formed by Subhash Bose with POWS from the British Indian forces in Japan. His political party the Forward Block was closer to the Communist and socialist parties in ideology. His alliance with Axis powers should be seen through an Indian lens, while hundreds of thousands of Indians were fighting for the Allies in WWII in the British Indian Army and India was providing crucial material support to the allies, Churchill was starving millions of Indians as a matter of principle in Bengal. Subhas Chandra Bose was from Bengal. Before he formed the Forward Block he was an upcoming Congress leader, along with Nehru and the President for 2 years. He left following differences of opinion with M.K.Gandhi.

  68. 68

    @NotMax: She spelled the nym like its on my blog. Over here I spell it the way you have.

  69. 69

    Thanks AL for giving me this opportunity and the commenters for your comments and questions and kind words.

    Election analysis coming up shortly. See you then and in the comments.

  70. 70
    The Moar You Know says:

    Damn, Schroedinger’s Cat. Nice work.

    I’m actually smarter than before I started reading this. I don’t know when the last time was I was able to say that about anything.

  71. 71

    @The Moar You Know: Thanks, for that comment it means a lot coming from you.

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