The Indian mandate

May 26, 2019


PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s second consecutive victory has sent his opponents scurrying for explanations. What spurred Mr Modi to take the BJP single-handedly past the 300-seat mark? A fractious opposition more than an overplayed militarist hand is the likely truth. For the record, Mr Modi’s best show fell still short of Rajiv Gandhi’s feat of 400-plus following his mother’s assassination. Gandhi’s own tragic death though could not deliver a simple majority to the Congress in 1991, which allegedly stole and bribed MPs to complete an eventful five-year term. Manmohan Singh received two consecutive mandates without Mr Modi’s fuss. Indira Gandhi won as resoundingly as she lost and won again. From his unprecedented majority in the 545-seat Lok Sabha, Rajiv Gandhi lost the next elections.

What is Mr Modi’s mandate and how would he interpret it? There are worries about the election of Sadhvi Pargya, an accused in a terror plot but out on bail. Having lauded Mahatma Gandhi’s killer, it is evident, that she would be Mr Modi’s headache, and not the opposition’s. Will he tinker with the constitution as some fear? It would be difficult since the BJP leans on ideologically varied allies in the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house. The prime minister has spoken of an inclusive government but will Muslims and Christians continue to be targeted in his second innings? It is more likely that his real fight would deepen with the left and progressive corpus of Indian polity. In his own words, one of his objectives in 2014 was to see a Congress-free India. Did he seek a Muslim-free India? But the Congress though considerably mauled is still there after winning a clutch of state assemblies from the BJP recently. It also shores up a crucial but fragile alliance in Karnataka while running stable governments in key Hindi-belt states. On Thursday, the party swept the polls in communist-ruled Kerala. Some would say Mr Modi is primarily the preferred candidate of a powerful business lobby, which would nudge him towards balancing his ideological yearning for a Hindu nation with the more worldly need to create a conducive climate to improve India’s flagging economic profile. Currently, external circumstances, ranging from the US-Iran crisis to the US-China business stand-off and their impact on India will be his primary concern. It is hoped that normalising ties with Pakistan is part of the manoeuvre, transmitting less dire reverberations on both sides of the LoC.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2019