Modi set to take PM oath for 3rd time on June 8 as allies pledge support

Published June 5, 2024
Supporters of Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister and leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate vote counting results for India’s general election, in Bengaluru on June 4, 2024. — AFP
Supporters of Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister and leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate vote counting results for India’s general election, in Bengaluru on June 4, 2024. — AFP
Supporters of Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister and leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) carry his cut-outs as they celebrate vote counting results for India’s general election in Varanasi on June 4, 2024. — AFP
Supporters of Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister and leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) carry his cut-outs as they celebrate vote counting results for India’s general election in Varanasi on June 4, 2024. — AFP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to be sworn-in for a record-equalling third term on June 8, after key allies pledged their continued support a day after a humbling election verdict that saw his party lose its majority in parliament.

Modi, a populist who has dominated Indian politics since coming to power in 2014, will for the first time need the support of regional allies whose loyalties have wavered over the years, which could complicate the government’s reform agenda.

On Wednesday, Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) agreed with coalition allies to form a government.

“We all unanimously choose respected National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leader Narendra Modi as our leader,” the BJP-issued alliance statement read.

“The NDA government under the leadership of Modi is committed to serving the poor, women, youth, farmers and exploited, deprived and oppressed citizens of India.”

Earlier in the day, two allies in his NDA coalition, the Telugu Desam Party, a key regional player in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, and the Janata Dal (United) which rules the northern state of Bihar, had pledged their support.

“We are with the NDA, I will be attending the meeting in Delhi today,” Chandrababu Naidu, the leader of the TDP, told reporters, referring to a meeting of the BJP-led alliance scheduled to take place later in the day.

The federal cabinet met on Wednesday morning and recommended the dissolution of parliament, a constitutional formality before Modi can form a new government.

Modi and his new cabinet were scheduled to be sworn-in on Saturday, local media reported.

The NDA won 293 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament, more than the 272 needed to form a government.

Modi’s BJP won 240 seats on its own, a weakened verdict which could slow India’s fiscal tightening, ratings agency Moody’s said. The TDP won 16 seats and other allies won the rest of the NDA total.

The opposition INDIA alliance led by Rahul Gandhi’s centrist Congress party won 230 seats, more than forecast. Congress alone won 99, almost double the 52 it won in 2019 — a surprise jump that is expected to boost Gandhi’s standing.

The weakened majority for Modi’s alliance could pose challenges for the more ambitious elements of the government’s reform agenda, ratings agency Fitch said.

However, it added: “Despite the slimmer majority, we do expect broad policy continuity to persist, with the government retaining its focus on its capex push, ease of doing business measures, and gradual fiscal consolidation.”

The election outcome unnerved investors, with stocks falling steeply on Tuesday, since Modi would have to depend on disparate regional parties whose political loyalties have wavered over the years.

Rural setbacks

With the party losing most ground in rural areas, investors say land and labour reforms, that had been expected to unlock value and growth, will probably fall by the wayside.

 Supporters of Indian National Congress (INC) party celebrate vote counting results for India’s general election, in Chandigarh on June 4, 2024. — AFP
Supporters of Indian National Congress (INC) party celebrate vote counting results for India’s general election, in Chandigarh on June 4, 2024. — AFP

Newspapers said Modi’s halo had dimmed, with the Indian Express’s banner headline reading “India gives NDA a third term, Modi a message”.

Modi’s own victory in his seat of Varanasi, considered one of the holiest cities for Hindus, was subdued, with his margin of victory down from nearly 500,000 votes at the last general election in 2019 to a little over 150,000.

But this reduced victory may not necessarily mean reform paralysis, the chairman of a government finance panel, Arvind Panagariya, said in an editorial in the Economic Times newspaper.

“Despite the reduced majority in parliament, the necessary reforms are entirely feasible. Delivering sustained growth at [an] accelerated pace can only strengthen the government’s hand in the coming years,” he said.

The INDIA alliance was also expected to meet on Wednesday in New Delhi, and discuss a future course of action.

But any efforts at government formation by the opposition were likely stymied by two of the BJP’s key allies endorsing Modi and saying their pre-poll alliance with the party was intact.

Addressing a crowd of cheering party workers at the party headquarters late on Tuesday evening, Modi promised to work harder in his third term. “The blessings of the people for the third time after 10 years boosts our morale, gives new strength,” he said.

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