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video Global election season | How will results in UK, others impact India?

Elections herald change in UK with a Labour landslide, but also France and Iran, while the campaign trail hits a shocking turn in the US- Should New Delhi worry about losing friends in high places and how will results change the geopolitical landscape for India?

Hello and Welcome to WorldView at The Hindu with me Suhasini Haidar

If 2024 is the year of elections, with 64 countries going to vote, then the past week is particularly interesting- with 4 of the world’s most prominent leaders watching results of their campaigns closely- US President Biden, Iranian Supreme Leader Khameini, French President Macron….and the biggest loser this week -UK PM Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party.

They were crushed in a landslide by the Labour Party led by Keir Starmer- that won the biggest mandate since Tony Blair and ended a 14 year-4 term run in office that saw 5 Conservative Prime Ministers from David Cameron to Rishi Sunak

The Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, a former Human Rights lawyer and prosecutor will now lead one of the strongest majorities in the UK Parliament. Another strong showing has come from the ultra-right Reform Party led by Nigel Farage- accused of outright bigotry and a very tough anti-immigration line- which will no doubt drive the new labour government.

What does the UK loss mean for India:

1. Loss of Sunak, Britain’s first Indian-Origin PM

2. The new government will take a different line on immigration – has promised to appoint special prosecutors to crack down illegal immigrants, and sign Returns agreements with countries to send back

3. Labour past policies troubling- and though Starmer has disavowed its past positions on Kashmir and Khalistan, the worries of many Labour MPs advocating anti-India stands remains

4. The India-UK FTA has been in the works for years has not been completed. While the Labour Party is committed to the FTA, the question is, will it reopen the chapters already negotiated. At an India Global Conference, Shadow Minister David Lammy was very optimistic of completing it soon.

Across the channel, France is also seeing a second round of parliamentary elections that may severely dent President Macron’s grip on governance. The elections, which have been called 3 years early were announced after Macron’s Centrist coalition was defeated badly in June’s European Parliament elections by the Right wing National Rally -Rassemblement National. In the first round, Macron’s party came 3rd to both the ultra right RN and the Leftist bloc that combines Socialists, Communists and the Green party. If the RN were to win it would be the first time a right wing party, once accused of being anti semitic and fascist would control the French parliament since world war 2.

What does the right surge mean for India

1. If Macron is weakened by the results, that may impact France India ties too- certainly Macron has been a major friend, stepped in to be Republic Day chief guest this year after US President declined, has signed a number of major agreements with India in past 5 yrs

2. Immigration- France had begun to take a more progressive look at immigration, bring in new policies for students, and make speaking French a more stringent clause

3. RN’s leader Marine Le Pen has advocated a France First economic policy, and while she has softened her anti-EU position, might make the trade negotiations with India that much more difficult

4. Legislative gridlock that could follow from a hung parliament will make every negotiation difficult at a time France and India has growing strategic ties, also on trade, nuclear and renewable energy and defence.

Next, an election we haven’t followed as closely perhaps- in Iran, which is going to polls after a shocking helicopter crash killed its President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister, also after conflict with Israel, and after the major anti-Hijab demonstrations. The first round of these elections had two startling outcomes- a very low turnout of 40%, which is being read as a boycott of polls by an overwhelming number of voters unhappy with the regime. And in the results of the first round, Masoud Pezeshkian, a surgeon who was the Minister of Health and seen as a reformist, one who has advocated more reconciliation with the west won more votes than Khamenei protégé Saeed Jalili, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator. 

Here’s what to watch out for in India:

1. A win for Khamenei’s choice Jalili would no doubt signal continuity, and the same policies that India forged with his predecessor- in terms of Chabahar

2. However, Jalili’s win would also mean a continuation of US sanctions on Iran, that are already a cause for worry for India

3. A reformist win could bring in some relief internally in terms of women’s rights -Pezeshkian had publicly criticised the regime for the death of women’s activist Mahsa Amini over not wearing the hijab

4. However, real power remains with the Supreme leader and clergy, so no major policy changes can be expected

Finally, while this election is still months away, the US campaign hit a dramatic note this week in the aftermath of a disastrous drubbing to US President Joseph Biden by former President Donald Trump- with many calling for 82-year-old Biden, who appeared infirm and incoherent, to step aside in favour of another candidate as polls show Trump far ahead. Biden is said to be considering his options, but is expected to make another show of strength, in interviews and hosting a mega NATO Summit with Indo-Pacific leaders as well as Ukraine President Zelenskyy next week.

 What does it mean for India?

1. India has dealt with both Biden and Trump, and strategic and defence ties have improved with both

2. However, the Biden administration is getting tougher on India’s Russia ties, and PM Modi’s visit to Moscow next week will be seen dimly

3. While Trump has been seen as softer on Russia in the past, he also brings unpredictability and open threats, of the kind seen with Iran sanctions, and India may have to make tough choices there

4. On the economy too, Trump will drive a harder deal

35. While Biden is seen as more problematic on the issue of human rights, and the ongoing Pannun case on alleged transnational repression by India

 WV Take: The larger theme from elections in UK, France, Iran, US is that economic distress, inflation are underlying issues for people everywhere, spurring democratic change. A resultant strengthening of conservative right wing values- including anti-immigration, xenophobia and racism is a larger worry, even as Indians continue to be amongst the largest groups of illegal immigrants to Europe and US. These will have a bearing on both bilateral ties and foreign policy in the future.

 WV Book recommendations:

1. Biographies of new UK PM- Keir Starmer: by Tom Baldwin and Red Knight: The Unauthorised Biography of Sir Keir Starmer by Michael A. Ashcroft

2. The Conservative Party After Brexit: Turmoil and Transformation Kindle Edition by Tim Bale

3. Great Britain?: The instant Sunday Times bestseller and must-read for the 2024 General Election Kindle Edition by Torsten Bell

4. Politics On the Edge: by Rory Stewart also co host of podcast The Rest is Politics

5. The Macron Régime: The Ideology of the New Right in France by Charles Devellennes

6. Revolutionary Iran : A History of the Islamic Republic by Michael Axworthy

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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