Dossier: India’s election year – Moving forward or standing still?

Dossier: India’s election year – Moving forward or standing still?

India, often called the “world’s largest democracy” with 800 million eligible voters, finds itself in a difficult transformation process. On the one hand, as an ambitious newly industrialized country, it stakes a claim to power in the global political field; on the other hand, a large part of the Indian population continues to suffer from exclusion and massive poverty.

But what actually defines Indian society, and which actors determine its policies? What changed after the election of the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and which political developments can be seen under his directive?

This Web dossier and the lecture series “Understanding India” (PDF) that started in April this year, strive to make this country in its diversity more tangible and especially after the parliamentary elections in May 2014 make room for a variety of socio-political and economic policy analyses and debate, and aims to define India’s foreign policy role. This dossier ended in February 2015.


Section 377 is scrapped! Sexual Minorities become full citizens of India

Shubha Chacko is a prominent LGBTQ activist from India. On the occasion of the landmark Supreme Court judgment decriminalizing a portion of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, she writes on the long fight against section 377, the challenges ahead and what it means for the society at large.

By Shubha Chacko

Indian Democracy, Gender & Conflict

India: Freedom of Expression in the Media

Free media are essential for India, the world's largest democracy. But religious intolerance, political influence and corporate control over the media constitute a common set of factors which harm freedom of expression.

By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party: In defiance of a tired democracy

After it was sworn in as the ruling party at Delhi's Legislative Assembly in December, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has had nothing short of a roller coaster ride. This photo essay offers a few glimpses of its rocky ride through their 49 days in office in the first two months of 2014.

By Nikhil Roshan

The battle for a secular India

India will be witnessing a revival of communalism in the 2014 general elections, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, the Hindu nationalists party) making a decided pitch for power with their prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. The so called Hindutva agenda seeking to establish a theocratic state is being given a decisive push with the BJP hoping to divide the electorate along religious lines, and thereby consolidating the majority Hindu vote in its favour.

By Seema Mustafa

Patriarchal Politics: The Struggle for Genuine Democracy in Contemporary India

The 21st century has inherited the unfinished agenda of globalising democracy in a more vibrant form. In many instances there is a feeling of unease about the achievement of representative democracy because of the ongoing tendency of democratic nations to exclude or marginalise large sections of society. After 65 years of freedom and democracy India’s democratic structures continue to be restricted by their patriarchal foundations and women still fail to enjoy full and equal citizenship right across the country.

By Ranjana Kumari

Section 377: Not yet a lost cause

The Supreme Court of India overturned a historic ruling of 2009 by the Delhi High Court, which legalised homosexual intercourse for the first time in India. But there is still a glimpse of hope.

By Gitanjali More , Caroline Bertram

Economic growth, social justice and environment

India: Hydropower in Arunachal Pradesh

In 2003 the Indian government had launched an initiative to built 162 hydropower sites by 2017. The centrepiece of this scheme was to be the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the north east of the country. It seems highly unlikely however that even one of these projects will succeed in producing a single unit of power.

By Mibi Ete

The Kashmir floods

The recent floods in Kashmir have been the biggest and most ferocious in a century leaving hundreds dead and many hundred thousand stranded. The administration was clearly overwhelmed, and many people took things into their own hands. One of them was Kran Kowshik.

By Karn Kowshik

Between Ambition and Reality: India’s Nuclear Power Programme

Undeterred by the Fukushima disaster, and notwithstanding the shoddy performance of its Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), India is forging ahead with ambitious plans to expand its nuclear energy generation capacity manifold from the present 4,780 megawatts.

By Praful Bidwai

The Indian Growth Story – Achievements and Future Challenges

Since India's economic liberalisation in 1991, the country has experienced impressive growth figures. Two decades after the reforms, social and ecologic costs of India's economy are surfacing. In an interview, environmentalist Ashish Kothari draws a picture of the Indian growth story and its deficits.

The Big Indian Development Debate: Growth and / vs. Inclusion

For more than a decade, fast-growing India appeared to be well on the path to become another superpower. However, a considerable part of India’s population has remained poor; India’s growth lacks social inclusion. The debate is not new, but it is gaining increased attention in the current economic downturn, with elections pending for spring 2014.

By Axel Harneit-Sievers

India: Is the giant winning the battle against poverty?

How successful is India in its struggle against poverty? India's national Planning Commission recently claimed that within 7 years, the number of poor in India has declined by 22 per cent. These numbers are being challenged by many experts, according whom India's economic growth has left behind many more people.

By Caroline Bertram

Photo Essay "Common Men"

Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party: In defiance of a tired democracy

After it was sworn in as the ruling party at Delhi's Legislative Assembly in December, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has had nothing short of a roller coaster ride. This photo essay offers a few glimpses of its rocky ride through their 49 days in office in the first two months of 2014.

By Nikhil Roshan

India in the world

Modi visits USA: High Hopes, Modest Expectations

Newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in September to make his first official visit to the United States. On January 26, US President Barack Obama will visit India.

By Aarthi Gunasekaran, Vikram Singh

Modi woos Japan and the US

India's prime minister Modi tries to develop relations with important countries: In Japan, he marketed India as a ‘low cost manufacturing hub’ and tries to inject new life to U.S.-India relations.

By Avani Tewari

Pakistan: Cautiously pessimistic about Modi's expected rise to power

A decade of UPA-Congress rule in India ends with limited progress on the Indo-Pak relations.The fact that outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite his good intentions, could not visit the country of his birth even once sums up the structural constraints of this troubled relationship.

By Raza Rumi

Does foreign policy matter in the elections?

Indias sixteenth general election is underway this April and May. Much of the contestation will be about the state of the country's economy, the quality of governance, the future of secularism and inevitably about the quality of leadership. However, will the voters reflect at all on foreign policy when they go to the ballots?

By Sumit Ganguly

Elections and Foreign Policy in India

Despite economic liberalization since 1991, the promotion of exports and increasing foreign direct investment, India is still not a heavy weight in the global economy. However, foreign policy issues have increasingly triggered domestic controversies and government crises in recent years.

By Christian Wagner

India’s Nuclear Weapons Programme: The Myth of Moderation

India is driving a nuclear and missiles arms race in one of the world’s most volatile and poorest regions, marked by persistent strategic hostility and a hot-cold war between India and Pakistan since 1947. There is very little clarity about India’s nuclear deterrence doctrine. This is likely to add to regional insecurity and instability.

By Praful Bidwai

Indus Waters Treaty 1960: An Indian Perspective

Global climate change and its possible impact on water availability in the Indus river system are matters of vital concern, on which India and Pakistan must work on together. However the ongoing cooperation between them must go beyond the limited issue of emission reductions.

By Ramaswamy R Iyer


The Invisible Hand
What is the impact on the country's economy and society when its women double up as unpaid and underpaid labourers? Are these women subsidising the economy? If yes, how much is it? This short documentary raises such questions and provide apparent answers so that you will raise even more questions. Presenting "The Invisible Hands… that build India"- a curtain raiser on Gender and Macroeconomics.

Jyoti - fair works
The initiative “Jyoti - fair works” – a small sewing- and women empowerment project in Southern India.

Lok Sabha: Election 2014

India: Too early to say

Narendra Modi campaigned on the slogan that “good days will soon happen”. His promised reforms did not happen yet. But it is too early to judge him.

By Mohan Guruswamy

Modi as master orator

In his first Independence Day speech the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed himself as a master orator. And he projectet an unknown inclusive persona. Which isn't Modi's known public image so far.

By Avani Tewari

The BJP has to give up its obsession with Muslims

India's new ruling party has earned itself the reputation of inciting communal tension, and its leader has been accused of turning a blind eye to anti-Muslim violence. Marian Brehmer spoke to India's leading political scientist, Rajeev Bhargava, about Narendra Modi's electoral victory, Hindu–Muslim relations and secularism.

By Marian Brehmer

The riotous colours of heartland politics

It is election season in India, and there are few places like Uttar Pradesh to get a feel which way the wind is blowing. Photo journalist Nikhil Roshan has captured some impressive scenes on his travels.

By Nikhil Roshan

The BJP and Its Prospects – A Turning Point in Indian Politics?

Narendra Modi of the hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the most conspicuous contender for prime minister in the Indian general elections. Sebastian Schwecke analyses his party's chances to win sufficient seats in India's lower house of parliament.

By Sebastian Schwecke

The Limits of the Youth Vote in Indian Elections

Especially the 120 million young first voters could have extraordinary impact on the outcome of the elections. It is no surprise then that some political parties started chalking out strategies to attract the young voters of India, by putting forward young candidates and reaching out to the youth in colleges and universities.

By Sanjay Kumar

The new Aam Aadmi Party: Campaigning on a shoestring

In three short articles, German journalist Rainer Hörig, who has been living in Pune since 1989, reports on the election campaign in India. He visited a village in Maharashtra, accompanied young campaign aids from the Aam Aadmi Party on a canvassing mission in Pune, and interviewed urban slum dwellers on what they expect from the election. These reports provide a vivid impression of how the election campaign is carried out there and what moves the people politically.

By Rainer Hörig

The Congress party: Social democracy or family business?

Since its unexpected victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress party has led two coalition governments. Now, ten years later, the party finds itself in deep crisis. If nothing else, then at least the heavy defeats in the last assembly elections 2013 mean that the Congress enters the Lok Sabha elections with a considerable handicap.

By Klaus Julian Voll

The UPA II: Looking Back, Looking Forward

In the late spring or the early summer of 2014 India will conduct its sixteenth general election. The battle lines between the two principal, national political parties, the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are now being drawn.

By Sumit Ganguly

Publications and Studies

New Citizen’s Activism in India


New forms of protest movements have made their entry into the political arena in recent years in India. This study revisits the recent history of new protest movements in India. It analyses their causes and actors, their dynamics and forms of action, and their supporters and critics.

Perspectives Asia: More or Less?

This second issue of "Perspectives Asia" provides a forum for the voices of authors from various Asian countries to express their thoughts on possible development models for the region. How can we achieve prosperity for all, without doing long-term damage to nature or threatening the subsistence of entire populations?

Perspectives Asia: Copper, Coal and Conflict

In this issue, our authors report on conflicts stemming from coal and copper mining in Afghanistan, India, and Myanmar. The articles on Cambodia and on Inner Mongolia in China illustrate how the traditional economic models and ways of life of indigenous populations suffer from the unrestrained exploitation of raw materials.

More Articles on India


Over the last years, Asia has undergone an impressive digital transformation. Large parts of the continent have turned from the world’s factory into a creative industry. Digitalization has become a driving force of social and economic change. This certainly means more opportunities for innovation and growth for many countries. However, on the flipside, if new technologies are in the wrong hands they can also be used as a mean to abuse power.

By Fabian Heppe

Natural resource struggles: Shrinking spaces for civil society


Governments and corporations are driving the demand for water, land and organic resources of all kinds as never before. Citizens are fighting for their rights and working to preserve their livelihoods. Our study "Tricky Business" shows how the mechanisms of expropriation work.

"It became my mission to locate women's voices"


Urvashi Butalia is one of India’s foremost feminists. On the occasion of her receiving Germany’s Goethe Medal on August 28, 2017 in Weimar, we have talked to her about her work as a publisher, feminism, writing and politics in India.

By Axel Harneit-Sievers

Community Protocol Tool Box and Project Report

The NGO Natural Justice and its regional partners, with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, have jointly assisted a number of communities to develop community protocols in the context of extractive industries. You can download them and the project report here.

"One Cube" Three, yet one!

"One Cube" Three, yet one! - is a documentary film by Pramod Dev. Depicting three women who work in export-oriented sectors of India's economy, the film shows how the demands of trade impact upon the personal, familial, social, economic and cultural aspects of the lives of the protagonists.

The Unthinkable in Climate Change: A View from Asia on Literature and Politics

Amitav Ghosh’s new book “The Great Derangement” examines climate change and climate policy from unusual perspectives. It is bound to get much international attention because it asks some fundamental new questions concerning the handling of climate change in literature and activist politics, and because it represents a well-known voice from Asia.

By Axel Harneit-Sievers

After Brexit: India's solidarity with Britain and Europe

After the UK vote for leaving the European Union, India, with historically close ties to Britain has to reassess its relations with both sides. A weakening of either the EU or the UK is against India's interests, which could lead to a revivification of the Commonwealth and to new multilateral free trade areas.

By C. Raja Mohan

Election in Assam: After the Bubbly, Bites of Reality

The recent and resounding electoral victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam, the largest of India’s North-Eastern States, carries particular importance. The journalist Ash Narain Roy, director of the Institute for Social Sciences gives a comprehensive report on the BJP victory in Assam.

By Ash Narain Roy

India: Women Protect Common Forest Rights in Rajasthan

Nichlagarh, an adivasi village in the forest region of Southern Rajasthan, is caught between the bureaucratic regime of the Forestry Department (FD) of India and progressive legislation that claims to restore the traditional rights of commoners.

By Soma KP, Richa Audichya

India: Rich in coal but poor in energy

Coal is an important part of India’s energy mix. Local production is not enough: strong demand is attracting imports from Australia and elsewhere. However, India has huge potential for renewable energy.

By Axel Harneit-Sievers

Delhi office, India

The Heinrich Böll Foundation’s country office in New Delhi coordinates the work of the foundation in India since 2002. The office supports dialogue with a variety of political actors in the country.

Brides for India’s North

Declining sex ratios due to decades of discrimination against women in certain parts of India have left many men unmarried. An interview about cross-regional marriage migration with Ravinder Kaur.

By Caroline Bertram

India´s Vibrant Democracy

Since May this year, when I started writing this blog, I have started appreciating the strength of Indian democracy. As I followed the unraveling of the national elections, and thereafter the elections in various states of our country, I became acutely aware of the power of Indian voters and their ability to choose their own destiny in a peaceful and democratic manner.

By Avani Tewari

The Modi Juggernaut rolls on

PM Modi faced its first stern test in the elections to the state assemblies of Maharashtra and Haryana. Avani Tewari explains in the India-Blog why the Modi magic works.

By Avani Tewari

A New Chapter in India-Nepal Relations

For the first time in the last 17 years an Indian Prime Minister has visited Nepal. Modi's challenge is to nudge the country on the path of stability and development without sounding ‘big brotherly’, says Avani Tewari in her blog.

By Avani Tewari

BLOG: India's Young Generation

Open Blog

Avani Tewari is a 19 year old law student from New Delhi. In this web dossier she was giving her reflection on the main debates in the media after the elections and her personal impression of the political discussion in 2014.

Video: Urvashi Butalia on Women's Rights in India


Southasian Perspecitves on the West
with Pankaj Mishra (Historian) and Nadeem Aslam (Writer) on September 12th, 2014

Lecture Series: Understanding India

Radical Ecological Democracy: Towards Human Well-being with Sustainability and Equity
with Ashish Kothari (Author, Greenpeace, India) on May 18th 2015.

India as a Global Player: Chances and Constraints
with Sumit Ganguly, (Professor and Author, USA) on February 9th 2015.

Caste: The New and the Old in 21st Century India
with Janaki Abraham, sociologist and Associate Professor at Delhi University on December 1st 2014

Nuclear India: Deeper into the Military and Civilian Abyss?
with Praful Bidwai (social scientist and activist) on November 3rd, 2014

Women in India - The Role and Status of a Marginalized Sex
with Urvashi Butalia (journalist and editor, India) on October 6th, 2014

Consumerism, Censorship and Media Globalization in India
with Nadja-Christina Schneider (Humboldt-University Berlin) recorded on June 3rd, 2014

India and its Democracy
with Rajeev Bhargava (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, India) recorded on May 13th, 2014

Election in India – Dynamics of political change in India
with Vidya Subrahmaniam (The Hindu, India) recorded on April 1st, 2014



Our Work in Asia

The aim of our projects in Asia is to support the democratisation of the region and promote the recognition of human rights. Our work also focuses on promoting environmental sustainability and social justice.