Why India's election matters to Americans

Opinion,World,Op-Eds,National Security,India,Asia,Foreign Policy

Americans get their news primarily from television. Given the lack of coverage, it may come as a big surprise to most of them that India just had the biggest election on the planet, and the biggest in human history.

The outcome was a historic sweep by the right-of-center BJP, which won 282 seats out of the 543 seats in India’s Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. The National Democratic Alliance, of which the BJP is the dominant partner, racked up a total of 336 seats. The BJP’s leader, Narendra Modi, will be India's next prime minister.

But with the exception of a few national newspapers, the American news media, especially television news, blithely ignored it. The sole exception appears to have been the acerbic eight-minute rant by the political satirist John Oliver on his new HBO show.

As the two largest democracies in the world, India and the U.S. would naturally share interest in the tools of democracy, especially how each country conducts its elections. India's recent election was fascinating in its gargantuan size and complexity. The country had 814.5 million eligible voters. The number dwarfs the 215 million eligible voters in the United States in the 2012 presidential election. Because of its organizational, logistical and security challenges, the Indian election was held in nine phases, spread over a period of a month, from April 7 through May 12, to ensure free and fair polling. The turnout rate was an impressive 67 percent, versus U.S. turnouts of 62.2 percent in 2008, 41.7 percent in 2010 and 58.7 percent in 2012.

India's next prime minister and Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi receives a garland during a rally in Ahmadabad, India, on Tuesday. India's president on Tuesday invited Modi to form a new government and set next Monday as his swearing-in date. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
The outcome of India's election should matter to Americans. Besides accounting for one-sixth of humanity, India is an important natural ally of the United States, with shared roots in democracy and an ongoing turn toward a free-market economy. It will also be increasingly powerful -- India is projected by HSBC Bank to have the world's third-largest economy in 2050.

India also has the potential to become one of America's top trading partners. Sandwiched between the very turbulent and roiling Middle East on one side and the aggressively growing China on the other, India is a beacon of stability and will increasingly have the capacity to work with America to promote security across Asia.

And conditions are ripe for the U.S.-India relationship to deepen.

China has effectively declared its own version of the Monroe Doctrine. It is asserting sovereignty in the South and East China Seas, while its maritime disputes with its neighbors, including Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, are escalating. The area has great strategic value; it is rich in hydrocarbons, and a very significant part of world trade flows through it. China's forceful moves on the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands can dangerously blow up into open hostilities. On May 7 the Vietnamese confronted Chinese ships that were attempting to place an oil rig off Vietnamese coast; the latter fired water cannons at the Vietnamese flotilla.

Such skirmishing highlights the hair-trigger tensions in the region as Asian nations try to contain China’s truculent behavior. These smaller countries are drawing closer to the United States to seek protection against their giant neighbor. They are also seeking closer ties with India, which has its own tensions with China, including a simmering border dispute.

The U.S.-India defense relationship has grown hugely over the last decade. India holds more annual military exercises with the United States than any other country, cumulative defense sales have grown from virtually zero to more than $8 billion and high-level exchanges on defense issues have increased substantially. There have also been new opportunities for cooperation in homeland security including the establishment of the U.S.-India Homeland Security Dialogue.

A resident of Southern California, Sardul Singh Minhas is a business consultant and a writer. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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