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An election in two Indias

An election in two Indias

Which India fits your reality as you go to vote?

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Last Updated : 27 April 2024, 20:28 IST
Last Updated : 27 April 2024, 20:28 IST
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As I watch India’s momentous elections get underway, I’m increasingly confused by what I’m seeing and hearing.

For months now, one has become accustomed to hearing that India is the world’s next big thing. China’s economy is passé. Its real estate sector has crumbled. Its neighbours are angry. Investors are fleeing. And they’re all going onward to India. Yet, when one looks at the data, the money seems to have been lost in transit: Foreign Direct Investment inflows into India has been at a record low this year. So, which is true?

One also hears that India’s economy is growing faster than that of other major economies. A growth rate of over 7% sounds rollicking. There are celebrations over India becoming the fifth, or fourth, or third largest economy. The world has been promised that India will become a developed country by 2047. Yet, more than 40% of college graduates under the age of 25 are unable to find a job, and tens of thousands have been queueing up, in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, to find work in Israel in the middle of a war there. So, which is true?

India’s infrastructure system proved to be agile enough to turn a small military airfield in a tiny town in Gujarat into a bustling international airport overnight. The public sector Airports Authority of India erected a world-class passenger terminal building capable of handling over 400 chartered flights a day for a 10-day pre-wedding bash.

Yet, everywhere one goes in India, one hears complaints about the infrastructure. Stalled metro projects have been running for longer than the life of multiple governments. Airports are run so shoddily that they have to be sold off to private developers and operators. Roads have potholes so large that entire motor vehicles have fallen into them. So, which is true?

The External Affairs Minister claims that India is today “trusted and well-regarded,” that a lot of countries want to see India in the UN Security Council. He says that ties with the United States are at an “all-time high” — that the two countries will go “to the moon, maybe even beyond.” Yet, the External Affairs Minister also says that there is a global conspiracy to discredit, malign and bring India down -- that the West is playing “politics by other means.” So, which is true?

One also hears that India is now strong enough to take out enemies “on their [own] turf” and that the government is very strong and strident on national security. Yet, none of it appears to deter incursions by the Chinese all along the border or be enough to push them back from areas that Indian soldiers were able to patrol and control until April-May 2020 in the Ladakh sector. So, which is true?

The Prime Minister says that religious minorities are “living happily and thriving in India.” Yet, he also says that Muslims are “infiltrators” who give birth to too many children, that there is a conspiracy on the part of the opposition to hand over to them all the wealth of Hindus. So, which is true?

One often hears that India is the “mother of democracy,” that democracy is in India’s “genes,” that India is a “vishwaguru” from whom any may come to learn. Yet, one also sees Opposition leaders harassed and jailed to prevent them campaigning in elections, and foreign journalists being deported overnight after they have reported from India for a whole generation. So, which is true?

I can’t really settle these debates, but I do often tell folks overseas that one can make two entirely contradictory statements about India and find that both are true. India is often one and many, united and divided, rich and poor, all at the same time. Perhaps it only matters where you look.

So, which India fits your reality as you go to vote?

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