Challenges facing India's democracy and economy

13-05-2020

India has a 70-year history of democracy, tolerance and rule of law, and a successful record of managing its patchwork of cultures and religions. In recent months, however, following the second consecutive victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party in the May 2019 general elections, this situation has been changing under the impact of an ever-increasing Hindu nationalist grip on society and politics. After Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, lost its autonomy, the government adopted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), allowing foreigners from six religious communities living in three neighbouring countries to apply for Indian citizenship at a faster pace. This new legislation has prompted protests and divisions across India, as, according to both internal and external observers, citizenship would be determined along religious criteria, which risks undermining the country's traditional secularism. The government's plan to launch a national register of citizens has further increased the Muslim community's fear of discrimination. Communal tensions flared into violence in late February 2020 in Delhi, claiming 53 lives. At the same time, India's economy is experiencing a severe downturn: even before the coronavirus outbreak started to have an effect, its growth was slackening and so was job creation, while at the same time unemployment is high, consumer confidence and spending are low, and trust in the banking sector is eroding as credit weakness and non-performing loans hinder its performance. Contrary to expectations, the Union budget for financial year 2021 has not tackled existing structural weaknesses or generated a large fiscal stimulus as an answer to the slowdown.

India has a 70-year history of democracy, tolerance and rule of law, and a successful record of managing its patchwork of cultures and religions. In recent months, however, following the second consecutive victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party in the May 2019 general elections, this situation has been changing under the impact of an ever-increasing Hindu nationalist grip on society and politics. After Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, lost its autonomy, the government adopted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), allowing foreigners from six religious communities living in three neighbouring countries to apply for Indian citizenship at a faster pace. This new legislation has prompted protests and divisions across India, as, according to both internal and external observers, citizenship would be determined along religious criteria, which risks undermining the country's traditional secularism. The government's plan to launch a national register of citizens has further increased the Muslim community's fear of discrimination. Communal tensions flared into violence in late February 2020 in Delhi, claiming 53 lives. At the same time, India's economy is experiencing a severe downturn: even before the coronavirus outbreak started to have an effect, its growth was slackening and so was job creation, while at the same time unemployment is high, consumer confidence and spending are low, and trust in the banking sector is eroding as credit weakness and non-performing loans hinder its performance. Contrary to expectations, the Union budget for financial year 2021 has not tackled existing structural weaknesses or generated a large fiscal stimulus as an answer to the slowdown.