Narendra Modi: Historic return, but with a spoiler effect | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Narendra Modi: Historic return, but with a spoiler effect

Jun 04, 2024 11:02 PM IST

This mandate is a call to PM Modi, one of India’s most pragmatic and successful politician, to shift gears

Narendra Modi remains India’s most popular leader. It is only because he has redefined the idea of political and electoral success that what would have been considered a huge accomplishment a decade ago is today seen as a setback. Modi, 73, is on the verge of returning to power for a third time, a record that only Jawaharlal Nehru has had in Independent India’s history. Modi may also become the only leader to complete three consecutive elected terms in office if he stays on till 2029; remember Nehru died two years into his third elected term.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi on June 4. (REUTERS)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi on June 4. (REUTERS)

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But notwithstanding the achievement, this time around, Modi will at best be the head of a coalition government without an absolute majority for his party, a constraint that he hasn’t had to work with for the 22 years that he has helmed a government either in Gujarat or in Delhi. This isn’t to suggest that he can’t adapt, just that he will have to. And therefore the first implication of this verdict for Modi is forming a government that will involve a much higher degree of accommodation. Dealing with allies, in terms of ministerial appointments or policy announcements, legislations or credit-sharing, requires give-and-take. It is an art that the current BJP leadership will have to pick up from the era when Atal Bihari Vajpayee headed the first avatar of the National Democratic Alliance.

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But while how he runs the next government is the first big challenge for Modi, learning the lessons from this verdict will have to be the next priority for the PM in terms of the governance and political agenda. The 2024 mandate cannot be read and dismissed as a result of popular disillusionment with local BJP leaders or the inability of the party to keep up with the PM’s popularity. Modi had shown an ability to lift a weak local organisation and weak local candidates in the past two elections, and if it didn’t happen this time, it is also a reflection of the perceptions that voters have of Modi’s own record and promise. And here the signal of discontent is coming bottom-up, especially from areas where BJP was strongest in the past.

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Whether this discontent is a result of Modi’s governance style or his government’s mixed economic record or the party’s inability to manage social contradictions or a mix of all these factors will need careful examination. Either way, though, it will be for Modi 3.0 to address the root causes of the BJP’s relative decline and take corrective steps. And this will require greater humility and engagement with the wider public sphere than the BJP leadership has shown in recent years.

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Over two years ago, Modi, in an internal meeting of his party, told leaders that he was concerned with the increasing drift of the younger voters, particularly those in the 18-25 bracket, away from the party. This is a segment that has grown up only with the reality of Modi’s government; it consumes information from multiple sources including dissenters on social media and is instinctively anti-establishment; it is a segment that is increasingly impatient especially with the lack of opportunities to earn higher incomes and obtain stable jobs even as they have studied more than anyone else in their family has. There is no easy answer for the jobs or incomes puzzle, a puzzle that has haunted every Indian government. But unless Modi is able to bring the single-minded focus he brought to improving India’s welfare delivery architecture to creation of jobs, the political challenge may only grow. Dealing with the aspirations is his third big challenge.

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Modi will also need to institute correctives in the functioning of the BJP itself. There is no doubt that despite the setback, the party remains extraordinarily well-organised and disciplined. Its ability to penetrate and grow in newer geographies has been on display in these elections; look at Odisha and Telangana. Its ability to co-opt new social groups while maintaining its existing base is also still impressive. But the overwhelming dependence of the party on a single leader has clearly led to a hollowing out of the party structure in key respects. It has resulted in a neglect of local factors and led to a sense of smugness that the PM’s image can address all issues — it can’t. Results from states such as Uttar Pradesh have shown that Modi will have to critically examine the role of even prominent CMs such as Yogi Adityanath. And results from states such as Rajasthan indicate that centrally imposed local leaders at the cost of ignoring local satraps may not be able to sustain the party’s winning coalitions.

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And finally, Modi will have to adapt. From being a Hindutva mascot to a development-oriented leader to the messiah of the poor to the man who has enhanced India’s global prestige, he has crafted different images at different times in his career. But the perception of his regime enjoying and exercising untrammelled power, and his own recent rhetoric that explicitly targeted Muslims, hasn’t helped in winning voters. Modi may continue to govern India, but he will need to go back and carefully examine what the voters are telling him about how they want him to govern this time around. This mandate is a call to one of India’s most pragmatic and successful politician to shift gears.

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