India’s Marathon Election Pits Modi Against Sputtering Opposition Alliance

India’s election commission announced Saturday that India’s next election — the world’s largest, featuring up to 968 million registered voters — will unfold in seven phases from April 19 to June 1.

All 543 seats in India’s Lok Sabha (lower house) are up for grabs, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expected to secure a rare third consecutive victory. The BJP is aiming for a whopping 370 seats, or 67 more than the party won in the 2019 election.

A ‘big-tent' coalition of roughly two dozen parties — known as the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) — is set to oppose the BJP through tactical seat-sharing, although cracks in the alliance, formed last year, have already begun to show.

New Delhi’s growing global clout

India has become a more proactive global player over the past five years, positioning itself as a leader of the ‘Global South’ and strengthening ties with fellow ‘Quad’ members Australia, Japan, and the U.S., partly to offset China’s influence. Modi, for his part, sees India as an ascendant ‘great power.’

India’s rise is tied to its impressive economic record: from 2015 to 2021, the share of Indians living in extreme poverty declined from 18.7 per cent to 12 per cent, and by 2030, the country is poised to become the world’s third-largest economy.

New Delhi reported GDP growth of 8.4 per cent for the most recent fiscal quarter, although youth unemployment remains high and retail inflation sits at 5.09 per cent.

Modi mum on Canada-India relations

Modi has largely left his ministers to comment on Canada-India relations. India’s external affairs minister has said that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations that Indian agents were involved in the 2023 killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, B.C., are “not consistent with our policy,” while India’s external affairs ministry labelled the allegations “absurd.”

Diplomatic channels remain open, however: Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly met with her Indian counterpart last month, and 21 Canadian diplomats — down from 62 — remain in Delhi. What's more, trade is flourishing: bilateral goods trade totalled C$11 billion in the first 10 months of 2023, an 18.8 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2022.