This has been a bruising and interminably long general election whose results will be known in a few days time. Whichever party/alli­ance forms the next government shall be confronted with a set of serious challenges, which the election campaign has relegated to the background. For India today is riven with a series of fault lines, which, if not adequately addressed, may undermine our future as a Republic.

The first fault line is the corrup­tion of the party system itself. Politi­cal parties are supposed to have internal democracy, with leaders who are freely chosen and accountable to their party colleagues. Indian politics today radically departs from this model. Here, parties are either captive to a cult of personality or have become family firms.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is the most striking example of the first kind. Over the past decade, the entire party apparatus – and large sections of the government apparatus too – have been devoted to making Narendra Modi into a larger-than-life, superhuman, and even quasi-divine figure, demanding that citizens worship and follow him unquestioningly.

However, within their own, more geographically circumscribed, spheres, Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and Naveen Patnaik in Odisha all operate as if they embody the past, present, and future of their states in their own individual selves.

No less egregious are the family parties posturing as democratic entities. The Congress is of course the prime culprit here, with Priyanka Gandhi made general-secretary overnight, superseding those who had worked for decades to build the party. Not to be outdone by the Gandhis, the Congress president, Mallikarjun Kharge, chose his son-in-law to run for Parliament from his old seat in Gulbarga, while already having a son as a cabinet minister in Karnataka.

Likewise, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, the Samajwadi in Uttar Pradesh, and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu are all devoted to ensuring the control of their party in perpetuity by members of a single family.

Consider how radically different India is in this regard from the country whose political system we have adopted, namely Great Britain. There is no cult of personality around the prime minister, Rishi Sunak. The leader of the main Opposition party, Keir Starmer of Labour, does not come from a political family. Both got to where they are by dint of hard work and persuading party colleagues to support them. Once they lose the trust or respect of their colleagues, they will quietly demit office, to be replaced by individuals who likewise are self-made, not political dynasts, and not vain enough to believe that they speak for the entire nation.

A compromised system

The party system in India is corrupt and corroded. Meanwhile, the Indian state is arbitrary and capricious. The civil services and the police are supposed to function autonomously and independently, owing their allegiance to the Constitution. In fact, they have become highly compromised, answering to the demands of their political bosses. This is true at the Centre as well as in the states where, for the Indian Administrative Service or Indian Police Service officer, promotion and preferment often depend more on proximity to ministers than on professional excellence. Meanwhile, regulatory institutions such as the Election Commission are also widely seen as not independent enough and too prone to succumbing to pressure from the ruling party.

India’s democratic credentials are further vitiated by the existence of laws under which citizens can be jailed without trial and languish in prison for years on end. These laws have been used to intimidate and silence political opponents, indeed, dissenters of any kind. The courts have been complicit in this abuse of the law. Judges have been extremely tardy in granting bail and they have surprisingly allowed laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act), which should have no place in a civilised society, to remain in the statute book.

Such, in brief, are our political deficiencies, hidden behind the bombastic claims of being the world’s largest democracy, indeed of being ‘the mother of democracy’ itself. Another claim, that of being “the world’s fastest growing large economy”, also conceals a multitude of sins. While economic liberalisation has indeed led to a dent in poverty, it has also increased inequality massively. Further, the rise in national income has not seen a commensurate growth in jobs. While India is a world leader in the production of billionaires, there are high rates of unemployment among the educated youth and abysmally low rates of workforce participation among women.

India’s economic record is mixed; and its environmental record is disastrous. The water crisis in Bengaluru, the showpiece city of India’s “economic boom”, and the high rates of air pollution in New Delhi, the showpiece city of India’s “global rise”, are both manifestations of how callously we have disregarded the biophysical realities that govern our lives.

As I have written before in these pages, India is an environmental basket case. Our toxic air, falling water tables, contaminated soils, and disappearing biodiversity all exact steep costs in the present, imperilling the health and livelihood of hundreds of millions of Indians. And they raise disturbing questions about the future, as to whether our resource-intensive, capital-intensive model of industrialisation is at all sustainable. I should add here that India’s environmental crisis is occurring independently of climate change. Climate change intensifies the problem, but even if it did not exist, we would still be confronted with enormous environmental challenges of our own making.

The malfunctioning of our party system, the deeply anti-democratic nature of the Indian state, the deficiencies of our economic model, the destruction of the natural bases of our existence – all these problems have deeper structural origins. The Congress party, which was in power for many decades, bears a great share of the responsibility. That said, many of these problems have worsened since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014.

What we might call the “communal problem” is also not new. Ever since the creation of Pakistan, the position of those Muslims who stayed behind in India has been less than entirely secure. As prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru worked hard to assure Indian Muslims that whatever Pakistan did to its minorities, they would enjoy rights of equal citizenship. Yet Muslims nonetheless had to bear the burden of Partition. They were often treated with suspicion and hostility. Relations between religions further deteriorated during Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministerial tenure as he pandered to both Hindu and Muslim extremists.

Majoritarian ambitions

After 2014, the insecurities of India’s largest minority community have magnified manifold, as, for the first time in our history as an independent nation, the ruling party at the Centre has made explicit its Hindu majoritarian ambitions. Politics and public discourse have assumed an increasingly religious cast, as the prime minister has presented himself as a sort of Hindu emperor, sent by god on earth to redeem and fulfil all the hopes and fantasies held by Hindu supremacists down the ages. As a result, never have Indian Muslims felt as fearful and vulnerable as they do now. What this portends for the future is impossible to tell.

A last problem I’d like to flag is the relation between the Union government and the states. BJP supporters like to speak of Jawaharlal Nehru’s dismissal of the communist-led Kerala government in 1959 and of Indira Gandhi’s even more frequent use of Article 356. Yet their own attitude to state governments led by other parties has been exceedingly hostile. The regime led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has paid scant attention to the legitimate interests of states not ruled by the BJP, mocked lawfully elected chief ministers in indecorous language, appointed governors who have obstructed the functioning of lawfully elected governments at every turn, spitefully removed Opposition-ruled states from representation at important symbolic events such as the Republic Day parade and, in all other ways, made it clear that it would not rest content until every state in India is ruled by the BJP. Its behaviour demonstrates an authoritarianism that is absolutist in its ambitions.

We have just witnessed the quite remarkable feat of hundreds of millions of Indians voting in a general election. However, it bears stating that these votes were cast in the context of unrepresentative parties, compromised public institutions, undemocratic laws, a flailing economy, a ravaged environment, a deep feeling of insecurity among religious minorities, and an increasing strain on the federal structure of the Republic. The first duty of whichever government that comes to power at the Centre would be to address and seek to mitigate these fault lines. Whether it might actually do so is another matter.

This article first appeared on The Telegraph.

Ramachandra Guha’s latest work, The Cooking of Books: A Literary Memoir, has just been released. His email address is