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After six weeks of a lengthy election process, an estimated 960 million Indians are expected to have cast their votes by 1 June. The outcome of India’s 2024 general elections should be known by 4 June thanks to the use of electronic voting machines, highlighting the Indian government’s expertise in digital public infrastructure (DPI), which they are eager to export to the rest of the world. By then we will know whether Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BPJ)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will have secured a third term in office.

There is a general conviction that the NDA will likely win a majority of seats in the Indian Parliament. The real question is whether this majority will reach 400 seats. If this is the case, the BJP will have free rein in revising the Constitution. The promise to create a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), referred to already in the 2019 BJP manifesto, can still be delivered without a two-thirds majority in Parliament. As noted by the opposition coalition of parties – the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) – the risk to India’s secular foundations remains high due to Modi’s successful implementation of the BJP’s Hindutva nationalist agenda. Modi’s crucial role in the BJP’s electoral success is evident from the front page of the BJP Manifesto which is titled ‘Modi’s Guarantees’.

These elections are broadly viewed as a decisive test of public confidence in Modi’s leadership. Election promises include infrastructure development, economic prosperity and anti-corruption measures.  They are not only focused on identity-based issues but also on bread-and-butter issues. In fact, a survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi shows that the top concerns among the Indian electorate are rising unemployment rates and the steep increase in the price of staple food items, such as rice. The extent to which these issues will affect the outcome of the election is uncertain. However, there is a generally positive perception of the BJP’s welfare policies among rural, lower-caste, young and poor voters. More interestingly, unlike other populist leaders who are often disliked by their country’s elites, Modi also enjoys the solid backing of university-educated Indians. Modi’s push for economic self-reliance (Aatmanirbhar Bharat) has also garnered significant support in  India’s industrial sector  and among mid-tier political circles.

Modi’s push for economic self-reliance (Aatmanirbhar Bharat) has also garnered significant support in  India’s industrial sector  and among mid-tier political circles.

Ambitious goals fuel the aspirations of a rising India. The incumbent government’s promise to transform India into a developed economy by 2047, the centenary of its Independence from the British Raj, exemplifies this ambition. It has further pledged to secure India a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). These bold aspirations reflect a conscious effort to shift the global perception of India from a developing country to one leading the way with high-tech infrastructure and expressways.

Modi has not disappointed the Indian establishment in his foreign policy achievements throughout the past ten years, effectively leveraging these successes for domestic gain. This is reflected in the successful culmination of New Delhi’s G-20 Presidency in September 2023 together with India’s inclusion in key minilateral initiatives – such as the International Solar Alliance, the US-led Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) or the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). These accomplishments bolster the incumbent government’s narrative of India’s – or should we say Bharat’s? –  rising global influence in the eyes of the Indian public.

What will the outcome of India’s 2024 general elections mean for the EU and for both partners’ recent attempts to gain strategic traction in their bilateral relations? The EU is also holding its own parliamentary elections, with voters due to go to the polls on 6-9 June. The mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties are expected to lose ground to populist right-wing parties. Nevertheless, the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) is likely to retain the largest number of seats in the European Parliament.  Ursula von der Leyen, still the favourite candidate to head the European Commission, is campaigning on a platform of prosperity and security, emphasising the need to protect Europe’s liberal democracy against domestic and foreign threats. In both partners’ foreign policy agendas, security is paramount, especially given the highly turbulent and conflict-prone environments in their respective neighbourhoods.  The current threat perception of Russia in Brussels is comparable to that of China in New Delhi.

In both partners’ foreign policy agendas, security is paramount.

In seeking to elevate the bilateral relationship to a higher level, it is crucial to focus on strategic areas of shared interest. The election results in both regions will not alter this need. This effort is part of their quest for a ‘middle path’ between the United States and China in a larger context of power diffusion among myriad middle powers in a multipolar world. Currently, their shared strategic interests include critical and emerging technologies, connectivity and securing supply chains, climate change and green technology, as well as security and defence.

Today, the EU and India possess the necessary political will to facilitate the growth of their strategic relationship, albeit gradually. A pragmatic approach will be essential. Both sides must move beyond stalled trade negotiations and remain open to addressing normative differences. Disagreements persist in areas of shared strategic interest, such as sustainability and climate change adaptation. However, a prerequisite for more constructive relations is for the EU and India to better gauge and understand each other’s aspirations and intentions. Both partners are facing an existential moment: India as an aspirational power seeking its own place between the ‘like-minded’ and the ‘non-like-minded’, and the EU as a traditionally normative actor seeking to adapt to an increasingly transactional international order. Time will guide them on how to best to navigate these challenges together. For now, it is crucial to sustain the existing political momentum and maintain open and transparent channels of communication.