For three decades, India's self-branding as the world’s fastest-growing free-market democracy worked, with world leaders queuing up to visit New Delhi and burdening a generation of diplomatic protocol officers. But in a matter of months, it has all begun to fall apart.
NEW DELHI – After India launched far-reaching economic reforms in 1991, its stature in the world rose steadily. The country was already recognized as a thriving democracy and an example to the world of how to manage diversity in a free and open society. Its enhanced economic clout and the size of its increasingly prosperous market added to its appeal. Its self-branding as the world’s fastest-growing free-market democracy worked; world leaders queuing up to visit New Delhi became a burden for a generation of diplomatic protocol officers.
But in recent months, it has all begun to fall apart.
The reason is not hard to find. India’s domestic political environment has turned toxic under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, owing to a train of divisive, socially discriminatory policies, accompanied by incendiary political rhetoric bordering on Islamophobia. Moreover, a series of disastrous economic decisions – notably demonetization and the botched implementation of a nationwide Goods and Services Tax – put many small entrepreneurs out of business and threw millions of people out of work, further convulsing Indian society. And economic failure has only driven Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to double down on its political agenda, animated by the prejudices of its Hindutva ideology.