The BJP-led coalition, as expected, got a landslide victory mainly because of the anti-incumbency vote but the size of the victory that Narendra Modi has scored is startling, 282 seats for the BJP and 336 for the NDA ‘ the BJP-led coalition. For the first time since 1984, a single political party has secured a majority enabling it to govern without needing coalition partners. There is no doubt that this time, too, the vote has been for an individual and not for the party or even for the parent organisation, the RSS.
The Hindu hardliner Narendra Modi has taken over the leadership of world’s largest democracy, India, after the main rival Congress conceded defeat even before the formal announcement of electoral results. The Indian capital market reacted favourably as did his hundreds and thousands of supporters but the Indian neighbours like Pakistan were feeling uneasy due to fear of more tensions under the right-wing leader.
There is no doubt that Modi, who joined Bhartia Janta Party (BJP) in 1985, emerged to the international scene in 2002 due to all wrong reasons. He was chief minister of Gujarat state when communal violence broke out, resulting in the alleged killing of over 2,000 Muslims. Modi was accused of complicity as he looked the other way when armed militants ‘majority of them Hindus’ were rioting in the state. Later, he was absolved by the Indian courts but the world refused to acknowledge his innocence and the Western countries imposed unannounced travel restriction on him.
The negative profiling did not stop Modi to perform on the political and economic front. He slowly transformed the state economy by facilitating investments and patronizing big money holders. Politically, he slowly went up to ladder, becoming the lead candidate before the elections 2014. He was endorsed by the party as prime minister, launching him for virulent electoral campaign, which brought down 10-year rule of Congress. The voters liked Modi’s development model, ignoring negative propaganda.
Modi faces an uphill task to deliver at the national level with hangover of Gujarat riots. The real test may not be economy but political and international issues, including management of relations with its many neighbours.
Most of Pakistanis have negative stereotype of Modi. They believe that he will indulge in communal politics like building a temple at the site of a historic mosque which was demolished by rightwing Hindu activists in 1991, and deploy more aggressive policies towards Kashmir, the Himalayan region in the north, divided between Pakistan and India. Both countries lay claim over the entire region and have fought two major wars and several border clashes since their independence from British colonial masters in 1947. Pakistan’s major rivers flow from Kashmir and it is feared that Modi may increase building of water structures over these rivers to obstruct water flow and effect agrarian base of the country. Modi and his BJP also have issues with Pakistan and allege that several Muslim militants groups are involved in terrorist activities in India. More than 166 people were killed when about 10 militants attacked Mumbai city in 2008. India alleged that Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba group was responsible and demanded action. It is feared that any terrorist attack in future may plunge the region into a major conflict.
It will be interesting to watch Sino-Indian ties under Modi. In the past when BJP was in power in 1998, it launched anti-China campaign to create atmosphere for nuclear tests. The party considers China as a rival and threat and will try to assert its military might in case of any untoward situation at the border with China. But the economic linkages with China are very strong and can help improve ties despite border disputes and India hosting Dalai Lama. India gets upset due to increasing strategic ties between Pakistan and China but it can hardly leverage the equation. Its only option is to increase ties with the United States which shares its interest to checkmate the Chinese.
India’s relations with Sri Lanka are also not smooth. The issue of Indian past support for Tamil militants hangs large over the ties and rise of Modi may not help. The immediate response from the people of Tamil Nadu state of India, with ethnic Tamil population, was negative as most of them in their tweets had negative opinions about the victory of Modi. Sri Lanka has cultivated close ties with Pakistan and China over the past, upsetting the Indian policymakers. The ties with Sri Lanka will be further impaired if Modi tried to assert its influence on Colombo. Nepal is another key neighbour of India also sharing its border with China. Pakistan also enjoys good ties with this country, making it hotbed of regional rivalries. India would like to exert influence on Nepal like it does on Bhutan but Nepalese are weary of it and assert their independence, which often sours the ties. It will be interesting to watch how Modi’s India treats this nation of over 26 million people.