The 2019 Indian general election is over, votes have been counted, and Narendra Modi has won the election—second time in a row—by a landslide, bucking what was perceived to be five years of anti-incumbency.
Throughout the election season, it was believed that this election might not be a cakewalk for Modi, who is arguably one of the most divisive leaders in the country’s recent history. His far-right political outfit, the Bharatiya Janata Party, had swept the electoral polls in 2014, winning a comfortable majority on its own. And many believed, the 2014 numbers were the best Modi and his party could ever achieve. But the 2019 election has brought in a plot twist so big that American showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff could’ve done well to have taken inspiration from it to make the season finale of Game of Thrones less disappointing. Not only has Modi bucked the anti-incumbency, but as the electoral numbers suggest, even bettered his performance in 2019. For those of you who’re still wondering what’s the big deal about this, well, this is the first time in 48 years in India that an incumbent party has returned to power with a thumping majority. The last was in 1971.
But now with him in power, what can the country expect? Here’s the lowdown on the rough and tumble of Indian politics to see what the future might have in store for us:
What does Modi 2.0 mean?
The first five years of the Narendra Modi-government gave us some of the most controversial events. While he ran a campaign explicitly on a development plank, the government saw some of the most disastrous policies pursued once the party came to power. From banning over 80 percent of cash in public circulation, to an expensive and convoluted Goods and Services Tax, these policies were widely reported to have failed to benefit the masses. More than anything else, Modi’s first term has been criticised for alienating the country’s largest minority—the Muslims. Self-styled goons, known as the gaurakshaks, or cow protectors, went on a rampage in North India, killing and beating scores of Muslims on the mere suspicion of transporting and consuming beef.
Now, as he rides into power with a bigger majority, the question that critics are asking is: How different would the new Modi government be from what it was earlier? Just a few hours after the trends became clear, Modi took to Twitter and thanked the voters for handing him a majority and vowed to build an “inclusive” India. He reiterated the same in a follow-up address to his party workers.
To give credit where it is due, Modi has, in fact, changed the way the elections are conducted in India. In this campaign, he made the entire election about him, leaving the voters with the all-important question lingering in their minds: If not Modi, then who? And, the Opposition willy-nilly walked into his trap because they really did not have a goddamn clue.
But he also ran an equally divisive campaign. For example, he gave an electoral ticket to Pragya Thakur, who has terror charges against her, and is out on bail. And guess what? Through the wonder that is Indian democracy, she actually managed to win. So, yes, the Indian parliament will house a terror-accused this term.
Similarly, in a campaign speech, Modi’s trusted lieutenant and confidante, Amit Shah, proclaimed that if the party is voted to power, they would bring in a National Register of Citizens (NRC) bill for the whole nation, where anyone who is not a Hindu or Buddhist or Sikh would have to prove their citizenship credentials, or they might be thrown out of the country. Now with a weak Opposition, and with the likelihood of the BJP winning the upper house of the Parliament by at least 2020, these fears of a brute far-right government brutalising the already fragile threads of Indian democracy are far too real now. Perhaps, what is needed now is for Modi and his government to really walk the talk as far as inclusivity is concerned, and demonstrate, through credible actions, that India as a country belongs to everyone, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion or sexual orientation.
The good, the bad and the ugly of Modi 2.0
The challenges before him are gigantic. Earlier this year, leaked data from the government’s statistical arm had said that joblessness in India is at an unprecedented 45-year high. BJP’s election manifesto recognised this and promised to create new employment opportunities by enhancing some key sectors such as pharmaceuticals and defence manufacturing.
As for the economy, the last five years have seen a slump in manufacturing, with the GDP figures taking a hit. Modi promised, in his party’s manifesto, to increase Indian economy to $5 trillion by 2025, by focusing on the manufacturing sector and by improving India’s ranking in the Ease of Doing Business segment (a World Bank ranking system of global economies based on how strong their business regulation policies are: the higher the rank, the easier it is to conduct business). Unemployment and a slumping economy are likely to dominate Modi’s agenda as soon as he takes oath as India’s prime minister.
Crucially, the party’s manifesto had made no mention of protecting the rights of the LGBT community, now that India has made same-sex relationships legal. Nor does it mention anything specific about the climate change crisis in India that has got the international community worried.
The BJP manifesto, however, did mention India’s acute water shortage problem, and the party has, at least on paper, promised piped water for every household by the year 2024 and the establishment of India’s first Water Ministry.
Under Modi’s last job, India also saw a very muscular foreign policy, especially concerning India’s relationship with her neighbours. Just a few months before the elections, India and its arch rival Pakistan even came on the verge of war. Similarly, India and China saw a brief skirmish way up in the Himalayas, in a small region called Doklam. Given he used this extensively in his election speeches, a similar kind of foreign policy is likely to continue in this term as well.
Modi’s last term also saw some successful social policies, like giving cooking LPG gas cylinders to scores of Indian women who were below the poverty line, and ensuring direct cash transfers to the poor farmers. In line with these policies, the BJP’s 2019 manifesto did promise a reduction of percentage of families who are below the poverty line to single digits in the next five years. The party has also promised it would continue providing basic amenities to the poor, with the focus being on housing. It is expected that such policies would continue under the new government as well.
Lastly, if there is one area that is likely to dominate the news cycle in the coming years, it’s the conflict-ridden region of Kashmir. Modi’s take-no-hostage approach is likely to continue, if the manifesto is to be believed. The party has promised to repeal Article 370, which gives Jammu and Kashmir both autonomy and certain constitutional privileges that are not enjoyed by any other Indian state: the most important privilege being that the Parliament cannot enact a law directly affecting J&K without the state’s concurrence, except in the matters of finance, defence, foreign affairs and communications. This provision had been the butt of all contention between the BJP government and the Kashmir region—with the former arguing that this status is unconstitutional, and the region arguing, in turn, that the provision is important to maintain J&K’s autonomy, and any move to repeal it would severely affect the relationship between the fraught region and mainland India.
Who would the top guns in the Parliament be?
One of the important faces in the party is that of Amit Shah, who has been called the architect of the Saffron party’s electoral landslide. In all likelihood, this guy is expected to get a cabinet berth this time, and, if rumours are to be believed, he might even get the plum Home Ministry portfolio. If he were indeed to become India’s Home Minister, it would give him huge constitutional powers to shape the country’s law and order and maintenance of internal security.
Reports have also suggested the return of other key players like former finance minister Arun Jaitley and former Home Minister, Rajnath Singh. One key leader who would be keenly watched is Smriti Irani, a former television soap actress who has also seen stints earlier as India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister, and was recently handling the country’s Textiles Ministry. Irani’s biggest victory is trouncing the Indian National Congress president himself, Rahul Gandhi, in his own home constituency of Amethi, located in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Riding on the wave of this huge symbolic victory, her position in the party has also been strengthened. It needs to be seen what cabinet berth awaits her as her rightful reward.
In the end, it needs also to be seen whether the Modi of today has learnt to take dissent from those who may not agree with him. In a scenario where the size of the Opposition is thinner than a paper's edge—Congress has won just 52 seats this elections—unfortunately, there isn't much dissent Modi would be exposed to. It's up to him finally to decide how he wants his legacy to be remembered: that of a leader who transformed India, or the one who tore her tolerant fabric asunder.
Follow Arnav Das Sharma on Twitter.