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India's Two Futures

The Upcoming Election Is More Than an Ideological Showdown

A supporter holds up a mask of the BJP's Narendra Modi. Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

Late this spring, India will hold its 16th general election. The vote will pit the forces of progressivism, which celebrate cultural and social pluralism and promote equity and good governance but appears singularly incapable of policy implementation, against the forces of cultural and religious nationalism, which promote rapid economic growth and political order but show little regard for social justice, religious and ethnic minorities, or the rule of law. The outcome of the battle could very well reshape the world’s largest democracy.

It is tempting to assume that the two competing visions are neatly encapsulated by the race’s main contenders, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But that would be facile. Congress’ election platform certainly suggests that it remains committed to progressivism. But even a cursory examination of its record in office over the past term suggests that it is not. Further, the BJP,

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