India’s opposition party made history after sweeping national elections earlier this month, and South Florida’s Indian community is paying close attention to the potential ramifications.
Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, a member of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, was sworn in Monday as prime minister. The election was significant because Modi‘s party defeated the Congress party, which had dominated Indian politics for decades.
June Teufel Dreyer, a professor specializing in East Asian studies at the University of Miami, has followed the election closely. She calls Modi “pro-business,” saying he seems open to foreign investment, which could have an impact on economies worldwide.
“Typically, the Hindu nationalist party has been very wary of allowing the Indian economy to be dominated by foreign interest,” she said. “Modi will be eager to get Indian economic growth back on track.”
Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) are often grouped together in regards to economic growth. Dreyer said India often sees itself as a rival to China, but China’s faltering economy might provide an opportunity for India to show its strength under new leadership.
Local Indians and those interested in doing business in the country will hold a seminar on Friday in downtown Miami to discuss the business climate after the election. Ajit Kumar, Consul General of India in Atlanta, will be the keynote speaker.
Shabbir Motorwala, who was was born in India and currently serves on the Miami-Dade County Asian American Advisory Board, said he’s cautiously hopeful that Modi’s victory will bring change to India.
Motorwala has seen the gap between the country’s wealthy and poor widen in the last few years.
“The middle class is getting crushed,” he said.
In 2002, Modi was chief minister of India’s Gujarat state when religious riots broke out. More than 1,000 people died, many of them Muslim. Motorwala said Modi could have taken more action to stop right-wing extremists, and many Christians and Muslims have been wary of the government official since.
“They have not shared in the economic growth of India, and that is a fact,” he said.
But Motorwala said he thinks Modi might stay open-minded and take strides to help religious minorities, and he’s optimistic about Modi’s efforts to mend strained relations with neighboring Pakistan.
Madhu Mehta is the director of South Florida’s Indian-U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Mehta, who said she isn’t speaking on behalf of the chamber, is thrilled at Modi’s win.
“It’s going to be a new India,” she said. “The Congress party had to go. There was just too much corruption, and we needed change badly.”
When Mehta lived in India, she remembers seeing churches, synagogues, mosques and temples existing in harmony. Mehta thinks that have politicians caused the divide between different religions, but she’s optimistic about the future. India is the world’s largest democracy and sees itself as a secular country where all religions are accepted and practiced, she said.
She has high hopes for improvement with infrastructure, unemployment, clean water and more.
“I’m convinced that Modi will do a great job,” she said. “The whole of India has put all their faith and trust into him.”