Can Modi keep his promises to India?
The cult of personality politics was evident all the way in more than 140 rallies organized by the BJP to facilitate Prime Minister Modi winning his second term. The stress was on the party’s mandate pertaining to business-friendly policies and a tough stance on national security. Modi also encouraged audience interaction and devoted time to criticize his main opponent, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi.
He did not hold back in his attacks on the opposition, and that included criticism of his opponent’s dead father Rajiv Gandhi, as “corrupt number one.” However, this political incivility was made up by showing respect to Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary.
Narendra Modi’s dramatic election victory has reinforced a global trend of right-wing populists sweeping to victory, from the US to Brazil to Italy, often after adopting harsh positions on protectionism, immigration, and defense.
The BJP has kept its core states -- the Hindi heartland, Gujarat and Maharashtra -- while posting fresh victories in West Bengal, Odisha, and the northeast. It has also scored a huge win in Karnataka -- a state the Congress rules jointly with HD Kumaraswamy.
Most polls had indicated a possible victory for Modi’s alliance, but had expected it to fall short of an overall majority. This was because Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.
The BJP’s main rival Congress led by Rahul Gandhi has conceded defeat and congratulated Modi. He won a seat in the Lok Sabha from Wayanad, Kerala but lost in Amethi -- a seat long held by his family, to a former minister of Modi government.
Rahul later remarked that “people of India have decided that Modi should be the PM, as an Indian person I accept it.” Subsequently, he offered to resign as president of the Congress, but this was not accepted by his party.
Nevertheless, Congress’s continued slide has now raised questions about its future, why its electioneering efforts had little contact with the grassroots, and its inability in the use of social media for gaining the attention of the broad spectrum. One hopes that Congress and its allies take this seriously.
Barring Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Bihar, Congress failed to enter into an alliance with key regional parties in most of the other big states including West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh where it was kept out of the tie-up between Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party.
This did not help Congress and the SP-BSP in UP. As the opposition votes fragmented, BJP walked away with majority of the 80 seats in UP. Along with its allies, BJP also swept Bihar and Maharashtra, the two states with a total of 88 seats.
PM Sheikh Hasina has been one of the first few to congratulate Indian Premier Narendra Modi. She also noted that the verdict was a reflection of the trust reposed on Modi by the people of India, and reiterated that Bangladesh attaches the highest importance to its multi-faceted relations with India.
She also expressed hope that “with the renewed mandate given to both of us by our respective peoples, Bangladesh-India ties will be further consolidated, and our relations will scale newer heights.”
She has also invited Modi to visit Bangladesh at his convenience. President Hamid of Bangladesh also was present during PM Modi and his cabinet’s oath-taking ceremony.
Some analysts, while acknowledging Modi’s achievement, have drawn attention to several factors that will have to be addressed -- rise in unemployment, plummeting in farm incomes, and slump in industrial production.
Many Indians have also been hit hard by demonetization, which was designed to flush out undeclared wealth. There have also been complaints about the complicated uniform sales tax.
During his various rallies, Modi has reiterated to the audience that he needed more than five years to undo more than “60 years of mismanagement.” Voters agreed, and have now given him more time. Let us see what happens now.
The foreign media have acknowledged that a mixture of development and nationalism has worked in Modi’s favour. There has been a subtle juxtaposition of nationalist rhetoric, subtle religious polarization, and a swing of welfare programs, and these have helped the BJP considerably.
Modi and the BJP managed to fuse nationalism and development with technology as the common denominator. He has promised the citizens safety and security through the protection of India’s “land, air, and outer space,” and also targeted welfare schemes for the poor -- homes, toilets, credit, and cooking gas.
However, Modi will now need to do more, in particular by reducing red tape and protectionism. This will reinvigorate the economy, improve ease of doing business, attract foreign investors, and help generate employment.
At this point, one can only hope that the Modi government will restrain itself from advocating communalism, pursue the path of secularism, and uphold human rights irrespective of religious persuasion.
Former BJP President Shah, now home minister, also needs to understand that fuelling nationalist sentiment by accusing others of appeasing Muslims can only create instability. This needs to be avoided.
It would be interesting to refer here to the emergence of Muslim lawmakers after this latest election. The number of such lawmakers in the Lok Sabha has gone up by four compared to the previous House, with 27 candidates from the community emerging victorious. One of them has been appointed as the minister for minority affairs.
We in Bangladesh have followed the electoral process with keen interest. It has been a commendable effort, and needs to be acknowledged as such.
We hope that this continuity factor will assist in resolving some of the existing unsolved issues between India and Bangladesh -- in terms of water management of rivers flowing into Bangladesh from India, killing of Bangladeshis at the India-Bangladesh border (arrest for illegal entry is a better option), and para-tariff and non-tariff barriers in the arena of bilateral trade.
We also look forward to greater connectivity through higher Indian investment in Bangladesh economic zones and bigger availability of energy from India. This will help to reduce the massive balance of trade deficit between the two countries.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]