The Bharatiya Janata Party has won a spectacular victory in the parliamentary elections with Prime Minister Narendra Modi sweeping the polls. The huge tally notched up by the BJP, well above its 2014 score, and the surge in the party’s national vote-share gives it a comfortable majority. Which means the BJP will not have to depend on its allies in the National Democratic Alliance which it leads. This is the second successive election that has resulted in a decisive mandate since 1984. With its main challenger, the Congress, barely holding on to its 2014 tally and seemingly implacable foes (like the TDP, led by Chandrababu Naidu) wiped out or severely hobbled (like Mamata Banerjee and her TMC), the BJP will dominate the new Lok Sabha.
But that’s a mere technical detail. The real winner in this election is Modi – as in 2014, this year too the BJP has been carried to the victory stand by a tidal wave of support for an individual whose popularity matches that of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi in their heyday. Modi, the strongman who presided over the previous NDA2 government, has emerged stronger than before. He will be straddling the NDA3 government like an undisputed leader with unquestioned authority and unparalleled power. He will be in control of not only the government but also the party; the RSS, ideological fountainhead of the BJP, knows that it has a race-winner and will do nothing to tame him for dressage shows.
Everybody who has voted for the BJP in this election would unhesitatingly say that s/he voted for Modi. The BJP’s vast army of cadre and volunteers would similarly tell you that they worked hard to ensure a second term for Modi – the 2014 slogan, ‘Ab Ki Baar Modi Sarkar’, was tweaked to ‘Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar’ to echo this verity. When a new government is formed in the coming days, it will largely be an extension of the previous regime with one difference: Modi will be far more powerful than he was even a year or a month ago in a manner Vladimir Putin is powerful in Russia and Xi Jinping is powerful in China.
Cliched as it may sound, along with this power will come tremendous responsibility. If expectations were high in 2014, they are overwhelmingly so in 2019. People expect Modi Sarkar 2.0 to deliver – rapidly, visibly and transparently. All that could have been held against Modi for not living up to the hopes generated in 2014 was smothered by nationalist fervour following the terrorist attack in Pulwama and the subsequent action to bring terror-sponsoring Pakistan to heel. That fervour is bound to dissipate over time. Modi’s challenge lies in not letting his popularity deflate.
For that he has to get back to work and restart the engine of governance which has been virtually shut down for the last three months or more. He has to put together a new team without disturbing the equilibrium of the past five years. He has to post an agenda and get cracking on it immediately. In the short term, that agenda would have four items – how to get the economy going full steam; how to make the transition from jobs as we understand them to employment opportunities of the future; how to deal with discontent in the farm sector; and, how to ensure India’s security in a hostile western neighbourhood where uncertainties loom large like ominous dark clouds. A dramatic reach-out to Pakistan, as we saw in the opening months of his previous tenure, is not an option. Freezing out India’s enemy number one is not an option either.
In the medium term he has to look at fulfilling the promises made on abolishing Article 35 A, updating the National Register of Citizens for the entire country, beginning with West Bengal, and passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill, apart from addressing problems in the banking sector, securing investments, speeding up infrastructure building and evolving a better mechanism to tend to Centre-State relations that have suffered in the absence of cooperative federalism. The list is long; he has to pick and choose instead of piling too much on his plate as he did in the last five years.
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It should be remembered that the end of the parliamentary election marks the beginning of the run-up to crucial Assembly elections in politically important states ranging from Haryana to Maharashtra to Jammu & Kashmir to Delhi. Whatever Modi does in the next three to four months would have an impact on the electoral outcome in these states where anti-incumbency sentiments have stacked up in varying degrees and for a variety of reasons. The Modi Factor may not be enough to overcome those sentiments.
Even before the results of the parliamentary election were formally declared, world leaders have rushed to congratulate Modi. Benjamin Netanyahu has stood out for his effusive message in Hindi. Xi Jinping’s elaborate message, restrained but warm, stands out for the speed with which it was issued. It comes at a moment when he has called for a new ‘Long March’ to overcome the challenges posed by US trade restrictions and a slowing economy.
Xi, the unquestioned strongman of China who is there to stay for the foreseeable future, has his own set of problems to address. Modi, the newly crowned unquestioned strongman of India who is here to stay for the foreseeable future (his critics and opponents should not pin their hopes to winning the 2024 election), has his own set of problems to address. With Amit Shah most likely in the Cabinet as his deputy, he would have more time to devote to finding solutions to them and craft his own ‘Long March’ to delivery which has to be, in the bare minimum, as spectacular as the May 23 verdict.
The author is a Distinguished Fellow at ORF.
This article was first published on ORF. Views are personal.
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