The cult of personality politics was evident all the way this part Indian election, in more than 140 rallies organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party to facilitate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The emphasis was on the party’s mandate of business-friendly policies and its tough position on national security. Modi encouraged audience interaction and devoted time to criticise his main opponent, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi. All of these won the Indian prime minister his second term.
Narendra Modi did not hold back in his attacks on the Opposition. These included criticism of his opponent’s dead father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as “corrupt number one”. However, political incivility was made up for 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 defence.
The BJP has kept its core states – the Hindi heartland, Gujarat and Maharashtra – while posting fresh victories in West Bengal, Odisha and the North East. It also scored a huge win in Karnataka, a state the Congress rules jointly with Janata Dal (Secular) leader, HD Kumaraswamy.
Most pre-election surveys 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, having lost three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.
After elections, the BJP’s main rival Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, conceded defeat and congratulated Modi. Gandhi won a seat in the Lok Sabha from Wayanad, Kerala, but lost in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh – a seat long held by his family, to a former minister of the Modi government.
Gandhi later remarked that the “people of India have decided that Modi should be the prime minister. As an Indian person, I accept it.” Subsequently, Gandhi offered to resign as president of the Congress, but this was not accepted by his party.
Nevertheless, Congress’s continued slide has raised questions on why its electioneering efforts had little contact with the grassroots, its inability to use social media to gain attention and whether it has a future in the country. 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 other big states including West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh where it was kept out of the tie-up between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party.
This ultimately did not help Congress or the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party tie-up in Uttar Pradesh. With the Opposition votes fragmented, the BJP walked away with a majority of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Along with its allies, BJP also swept Bihar and Maharashtra – two states with a total of 88 seats.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was one of the first few to congratulate Narendra Modi. Hasina noted that the verdict was a reflection of the trust reposed on Modi by the people, and reiterated that Bangladesh attaches the highest importance to its multi-faceted relations with India.
She 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”.
Hasina invited Modi to visit Bangladesh at his convenience, and Bangladesh President Hamid was invited to the Indian prime minister 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 in the next five years – a rise in unemployment, plummeting farm incomes and a slump in industrial production.
Many Indians were also been hit hard by the Modi government’s demonetisation policy, which was designed to flush out undeclared wealth. There have also been complaints about the regime’s complicated Goods and 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 given him more time. It remains to be seen what happens next.
Development plus nationalism
The foreign media acknowledged that a mixture of development and nationalism worked in Modi’s favour. The subtle juxtaposition of nationalist rhetoric and religious polarisation with a swing of welfare programmes helped the BJP considerably.
Modi and the BJP managed to fuse nationalism and development with technology as the common denominator. The prime minister promised 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 Amit 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 election. The number of such lawmakers in the Lok Sabha has gone up by four members, 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.
Hopes from the other side
We in Bangladesh, have followed the electoral process with keen interest. It has been a commendable effort and needs to be acknowledged as such.
Bangladesh hopes that this continuity factor will assist in resolving some of the existing issues between India and Bangladesh – in terms of the 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 increased 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 specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.
This article first appeared on The Dhaka Tribune.