How India’s democracy shapes its global role and relations with the West

Research paper Published 15 April 2024 Updated 9 May 2024 ISBN: 978 1 78413 600 0 DOI: 10.55317/9781784136000
A rear view of US president Joe Biden and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi looking at an image of a temple wheel at the G20 summit in New Delhi

As India goes to the polls in 2024, this paper examines the interplay between two dominant narratives on India today: the country’s rise as an increasingly prominent geopolitical and economic actor; and concerns about democratic backsliding.

It examines what India’s status as the world’s largest democracy means for its international role, for its claim to leadership of the Global South, and for its relations with the West; and discusses how the changing nature of India’s national identity and its long-standing commitment to ‘strategic autonomy’ – along with an emphasis on promoting good governance through digital public infrastructure and the ‘democratization of technology’ – affect the country’s foreign policy.

Framed in the context of long-term strategic rivalry between the US and China, Western governments’ concerns over the direction of India’s democracy have so far been secondary to those about China’s one-party state. But an erosion of India’s democratic credentials would have implications for how the country is perceived globally, and may prompt the West to review the nature and limits of its cooperation with India.