As the world fires hashtags at Boko Haram (we should deploy drones) and Europe yields to Putin, America should look toward India with new hope. In this nation of over 1.2 billion people, new circumstances herald great opportunities for the United States. Last Friday, the conservative-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a majority government.
As the next prime minister, BJP leader Narendra Modi — a populist who a decade ago was known for agitating against Muslims — certainly faces a massive task. He must revitalize India’s stagnating economy and attack a bloated, corrupt bureaucracy. But there’s hope. For a start, Modi’s record as chief minister of India’s westernmost state, Gujarat, is impressive. During his tenure, Gujarat’s economy grew significantly, as did international investment. If, and admittedly this is a big if, Modi is able to destroy the bureaucratic minefield and apply his Gujarat strategy across India, the country’s middle class will grow and millions will eventually rise out of poverty.
And Modi doesn’t simply offer new economic prospects. As America scales down its commitment to Afghanistan, we’ll need other ways to maintain our influence in south Asia. Modi presents new possibilities: He supports a break from India’s previously timid foreign policy, which could include a closer partnership between India and the U.S. For America, this evolution would carry two key benefits.
First, it would strengthen the U.S.’s role as an intermediary between Pakistan and India. One consequence of Modi’s victory is that the Pakistani government now needs American influence more. After all, on issues ranging from Kashmir to counterterrorism to nuclear proliferation, Modi is likely to pursue a tougher relationship with his western neighbor. Of course, there are risks. Pakistani cooperation with Islamic terrorist groups will continue. With India under Modi, escalation will be more likely in the event of another atrocity in the style of Bombay-2008. That being said, even Pakistani intelligence operatives are aware that a war with India would be their apocalypse. Just as Nixon’s anti-Communist credentials enabled his rapprochement with China, Modi’s arrival, with U.S. guidance, might foster a new relationship with Pakistan.
None of the above is guaranteed. If Modi decides to play to the hardline element of his base and Obama refuses to be bold, this election may portend nothing more than an unmitigated disaster. However, if the new prime minister focuses on unleashing the talents of his democratic nation, the opportunities for India, the United States, and the world will be limitless.