A Setback For Modi

A Setback For Modi

Over the past four years, and despite a famously long list of chronic problems, India has emerged as a standout among emerging-market powers. As China's growth slows, Russia wrestles with sanctions and lower oil prices, and Brazil struggles to overcome recession and scandal, India has powered forward.


Since he became prime minister in 2014, Narendra Modi has cut through a famously immovable bureaucracy to help hundreds of millions of the world's poorest, most isolated people gain access to essential services, invested large sums in much-needed upgrades to India's notoriously rickety infrastructure, drawn foreign investment into once-gated sectors of the economy, and made it easier for Indians and foreigners to do business.

But Modi's hold on Indian politics, which has enabled him to implement many of these positive changes, may be starting to slip. In a series of recent state-level elections, his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered big losses in the "Hindu-heartland" regions thought to be key centers of its electoral support. The verdict comes as a big hit for Modi and his party as he seeks to win re-election next year, and it raises the further question of whether India can continue to upstage its peers.

Two stories from this week reflect the tough challenges ahead:

  • Independent institutions: On Monday, the leader of India's central bank (RBI) abruptly resigned following a fight with the government over its independence from political influence. The government then quickly named a career bureaucrat as his replacement. Ahead of national elections next April or May, the government wants the RBI to pump more money into the economy—by making it easier for banks to offer bigger loans, for example. While growth may go up, investor confidence in responsible management of India's economy will now go down.

  • Mounting environmental problems: A report from The Financial Times reveals that India has become "the most polluted country on Earth." According to the FT, India's air quality is "far worse than China's ever was" as "more than 40 percent of Indians are exposed to five times the safe limit of particulate matter in the air they breathe." This is exactly the sort of problem that requires strong central leadership to force local authorities to abide by stricter rules for the good of all.

Modi is still very popular, but there's a risk that a disappointing election performance next year will leave him in charge of a BJP-led government that depends on an unwieldy coalition of small regional parties. If so, it'll become much harder for him to take actions that impose politically risky costs. In the meantime, Modi may find himself more reliant on support from Hindu extremists.

Given India's growing importance, for Asia and the global economy, these are stories worth watching.

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They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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