Modi’s 3rd Inning And Implications

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Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister for the third consecutive term making this feat in India only after Jawaharlal Lal Nehru. Modi has been back to power but with a fractured mandate. The parliamentary elections held in seven phases between April 19 and June 1 once again confirmed Modi’s uninterrupted upward political trajectory. Since 2001, Modi is continuously at the helm of India’s political power — first as chief minister of Gujrat state and second as India’s Prime Minister. 

“This is the victory of the world’s largest democracy,” Modi said to party workers after the election results. Modi currently remains to be the most popular politician in India but popularity of his party -- the Bharatiya Janata Party -- has dwindled that did not win even a simple majority. The BJP won 282 parliamentary seats in 2014 election, which was conformable majority in 542-seat Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament. In 2019, Modi’s party was re-elected with even bigger majority of 303 seats. This time, BJP emerged as the largest party but fell short of majority thus depending upon regional and fringe parties to form the government. 

Aberrations

Despite being the largest party, BJP with 240 seats is interpreted as a loser while the Indian National Congress with only 99 seats is seen as winner. Indian election is the world’s giant democratic exercise in which over 642 million cast their ballots in the election. This is perhaps the reason why India is often cited as world’s largest democracy.  However, the quality of democracy is not determined by the number of voters but by its delivery and quality of people’s life. In India’s case, the democratic exercise has been uninterrupted albeit some aberrations in different intervals. Some western scholars label Indian democracy as chaotic one. Political scientist Ashutosh Varshney calls India as “improbable democracy” while the Freedom House in 2021 downgraded India from ‘Free to Partly Free’ country. 

Despite sporadic anomalies and interregnums, India has a long and continued democratic history and heritage since its independence from British rule in 1947. While democracies in other South Asian countries repeatedly came under assault, India’s democratic exercise has been resilient. In the last two general elections, Indian voters rejected the Indian Congress and elected Modi’s BJP to power. It was because BJP could instil hopes and optimism in young Indian voters, while Congress agendas and slogans turned out to be obsolete. 

Modi’s charismatic leadership, his untarnished image, attractive slogans and Hindutva agenda linking with Indian nationalism attracted Indian voters in the last two elections. But it did not work in 2024 election as BJP government failed to raise the quality of people’s life and meet general expectations. BJP took the voters just for granted. India still hosts the largest number of poor people. According to Global Hunger Index 2023, India ranks 111th out of 125 countries. In terms of gender gap, India falls behind even its South Asian neighbours Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. 

The opposition parties including the Indian National Congress seem to be jubilant. The Indian National Congress, which almost always remained in power until 2014, has fared much better in 2024 election. The opposition parties have accused Modi and the ruling party manipulation in the polling process, which is a general phenomenon in all countries in South Asia as losing parties always blame vote rigging for their defeat. Congress Chief Mallikarjun Kharge even likened Modi’s return to power as a threat to Indian democracy. In fact, Indian democracy often came under assault not from BJP but from the Congress. The massive power abuse and manipulation of political process during the 1975-77 emergency period was greater threat to democracy. 

Conservative populism and right-wing resurgence have been a global phenomenon. BJP is right wing party and its rise is a part of the global phenomenon. The centrist Congress poorly fared in the elections while communist left parties were virtually routed. The 2024 parliamentary election, therefore, marks a defining moment in India’s election and democratic history. It will have far-reaching impact in the Indian politics and may change the political course, to some extent.  Indian election was being watched closely both at home and abroad as developments in India will also have impact in the region and the world. 

What, then, will Modi’s return to power for the third straight time mean in India, in the region and in the international arena?  At home Modi has boosted greater national confidence, while he has raised the level of India’s clout in the international level. Now India’s clout, prestige and position in the world stage has been far better than what it used to be ten years ago. This is partly owing to the changed geopolitical landscape and partly Modi’s assertive leadership accompanied by India’s elevated economic strength.

Hawkish attitude 

On the downside, with Modi’s assertive and hard-line policies, India is also being viewed with scepticism and susceptibility in the neighbourhood. BJP’s Akhanda Bharat (greater India) slogan has unnerved its neighbours. The Akhganda Bharat never existed in history. The connotation of Bharat meant a larger landmass of South Asia but not the name of a country. In Ramayana period, different kingdoms used to exist in South Asia and Sri Ram’s Ayodhya was one of several kingdoms. In Mahabharat period too, there were several kingdoms like Hastinapur, Magadh, Kashi, Gandhar, Dwarka and Mathura, etc. Mughals fought with several kingdoms to establish their rule and similar case was with the British. Many states existed prior to British arrival in South Asian sub-continent and British took one state after another through war and other tricks. Modi’s Akahanda Bharat is, thus, a mere political sloganeering. 

While India’s hawkish attitude has made India’s neighbours in South Asia susceptible, New Delhi’s duality especially in relations with the principal powers of the present geopolitical rivalry has raised concern of many countries in the world. India has not totally come out of the old bonhomie with Russia on the one hand, while at the same time India’s strategic romance with the West under different covers is also at work. This is yet to be seen what course India would take In Modi’s third term as prime minister especially in relation to strategic duality and ambiguity. 

(The author is former chairperson of Gorkhapatra Corporation and former ambassador of Nepal to Qatar.)

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