Listen: How India’s 'Politics of Aspiration' Are Shaping Its National Elections

An elderly Indian voter, seen sitting on her son's bicycle, gestures her inked-marked finger as others wait in line to vote outside a polling station in Koliabor, in Assam state's Nagaon district some 180 kms east of Guwahati, on April 7, 2014. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen to the audio recording of the conversation about India's elections.

NEW YORK, April 10, 2014 – On WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” Marshall Bouton, interim director of the Asia Society Policy Institute, described India’s upcoming election as a “choice between an India whose economy grows, whose people look to better lives through their own education and effort, and an economy of poverty and scarcity.”

Prior to India’s recent period of economic growth, India’s politics had mostly to do with “allocating scarcity in a poor economy” because the country “suffered from what a prominent Indian economist called ‘the Hindu rate of growth,’” of about 3.5 percent per year, Bouton said.

“[India’s] politics have changed to ones of aspiration. The last decade or two, Indians have learned they can have better lives for themselves and their families, thanks to the growth that was generated mostly in the last decade as a result of reforms in the last 20 years,” Bouton said.

In these circumstances, Bouton argued, Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has spoken effectively to Indians' aspirations—notably the aspirations of the 115 million young Indians who are newly eligible to vote.

However, Bouton said, Modi’s path to becoming Prime Minister is far from assured.

“None of us should take for granted, at this point, that Narendra Modi will succeed and become prime minister,” Bouton said. “A lot will depend on just how many votes the BJP and its own allies get. If they get fewer than 210, then it’s a dicier proposition as to whether he succeeds.”

Bouton acknowledged Modi remains controversial because of several issues relating to his personal record and his party’s positions: among them, the riots that exploded in the state of Gujarat in 2002 while he served as its Chief Minister, and the BJP’s association with Hindu nationalism.

“At the end of the day, the test is for Narendra Modi. Will he eschew the more militant, hateful politics of the extreme wing of his party and its predecessor organizations, or will he lead from the center?” Bouton asked.

“The Indian public will reject any politics of communal antagonism over time, just as they rejected the politics of anti-democratic process in 1977,” said Bouton.

Listen to Marshall Bouton's conversation with Brian Lehrer using the audio player below.

About the Author

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Joshua Rosenfield is Director of Content Strategy with the Asia Society Policy Institute. He is based in New York.