Modi’s India has become less liberal but better governed

March 2024

Political freedoms have eroded under the BJP’s Hindu nationalism. But as the election looms in April, Indian democracy is in better shape than widely assumed, argues Chietigj Bajpaee from our partner Chatham House.

By Chietigj Bajpaee

Modi India Gastbeitrag PP Chatham House

India goes to the polls this spring in what will be the world’s largest electoral exercise – with more than 900 million registered voters in the world’s most populous country of 1.4 billion people.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has defied the norms of Indian politics by staying in power for almost a decade. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP has won two consecutive elections under four key pillars: the BJP’s Hindu nationalist ideology known as Hindutva; a welfare and development-driven agenda; hyper-nationalism; and the Modi brand. The party’s rule has coincided, however, with the country acquiring the label of an illiberal democracy.

An illiberal democracy

Sweden’s V-Dem Institute referred to India as an electoral autocracy as democratic principles, including the freedom of expression, have come under strain. The country’s secular credentials have also been called into question as minority rights have been squeezed.

India has fallen eleven places on the World Press Freedom Index to 161 out of 180 countries amid claims of growing “violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership.” Freedom House has also dropped its ranking from “free” to “partly free” amid a deterioration in Internet freedom.

Narendra Modi’s government has been accused of pursuing authoritarianism by stealth

While India has become less liberal, governance has arguably improved. The best example of this is the domain of digital public infrastructure, which has helped to streamline welfare payments while reducing space for corruption. India’s status as the largest democracy also shapes its role as an increasingly important geopolitical actor on the world stage. This comes as the West holds up India’s democratic credentials as one of the pillars of engagement with the country alongside its role as a bulwark against the rise of China. India offers a different model of democracy from what is seen in the West. A Westminster-style parliamentary democracy co-exists side by side with more indigenous systems of governance.

Please continue to read this article on the website of our partners Chatham House.

Chatham House Chietigj Bajpaee

Dr Chietigj Bajpaee is senior research fellow for South Asia in the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House. Prior to joining Chatham House, he was the political risk adviser for Asia at the Norwegian energy company Equinor (formerly Statoil). Chatham House is a partner of the Robert Bosch Stiftung.


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