Can India’s Prime Minister Secure His Mandate in 2016?

Ruling BJP’s performance in local elections will be key to confidence in Narendra Modi, says the Atlantic Council’s Bharath Gopalaswamy

As 2015 draws to a close, our experts take a look back at the year that was and look ahead to 2016.

This interview is part of a series.

Bharath Gopalaswamy is the Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Q: What was the biggest story in South Asia in 2015?

Gopalaswamy: The biggest story, and one that will have profound implications on South Asia, especially India, is the fall in global oil prices.

India is an energy-hungry country and the fall in oil prices has helped the country and especially its government make up for the slow pace of reforms. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was elected on its promise of reforms. It has been found faltering both in terms of carrying out those reforms as well as in getting its political calculations right and securing a majority in the Upper House. The drop in oil prices has provided some relief to the government. Its implications are also being felt in other energy-hungry countries in the region such as Pakistan.

There is, however, a flip side to the drop in oil prices. A large amount of Indian expats work in some of the major oil-dependent economies and should the trend in low oil prices continue this would be a source of instability for some of India’s largest population of expats. These non-resident Indians (NRIs) account for one of India’s largest sources of foreign exchange. While the impact on these NRIs has not been felt sharply yet, it is something that needs to be watched next year.

Q: What story should we keep an eye on in South Asia in 2016?

Gopalaswamy: I would keep the focus on India in 2016. An election will be held in India’s northeastern state of Assam at a point when Prime Minister Modi will be at the midpoint of his term in office.

How Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fares in the elections in Assam will send a signal to the regional as well as global audience the strength of his mandate. If the BJP fares poorly, it may affect confidence in the Prime Minister.

South Asia’s destiny resides within its neighbors and for that to succeed it is very important for India to succeed as a regional giant.

Follow the South Asia Center on Twitter @ACSouthAsia.

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Image: US President Barack Obama (right) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend the climate change summit in Paris on November 30. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)