Riding on the back of Bharatiya Janata Party’s sweeping victory in the 17th Lok Sabha polls and proving exit polls right, Narendra Modi assumes office as India’s Prime Minister for the second consecutive term.
After leading a relentless campaign aimed to consolidate the Hindu vote, Modi is set to shape the world’s largest democracy for the next five years. Commentators have observed that BJP’s clean sweep across constituencies underscores the glaring lack of an alternative Opposition candidate in Indian politics.
In a tweet on Thursday, May 23, evening, at a time when BJP was leading in 282 seats, Modi declared, “India wins yet again.” By the time counting finished, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had won 342 seats—way past the 272-majority mark, breaking several of its own past records.
Here’s a quick rundown on a political career spanning decades, of a man who has been front and centre of the right’s spectacular rise in India.
Modi positioned himself as economic reformer
All criticisms aside, Narendra Modi-led NDA’s tenure in the last five years has revolved around populist policies focused on anti-immigration, rapid digitisation, world standard infrastructure, subsidised healthcare in rural India, crop insurance for farmers, ease of doing business, self-employment, and strengthening national security.
But above all, like most populists, he branded himself internationally as an economic reformer.
In spite of the questions raised over his government’s economic performance since 2014, Modi’s pet policies—even the much-maligned move to demonetise high-value currency notes—have managed to create the right buzz, overshadowing Congress’s progressive promise of NYAY.
The Indian voter who has cribbed about skyrocketing unemployment, fluctuating fuel prices, and a shaky rupee, has also rejoiced as India became the sixth wealthiest nation and the fastest-growing economy in the world, besides being billed as one of the best places to start your business—all this while Modi was PM.
Journey from CM to PM
His economic promises were built on a three-pronged vision of industrial development, a digital revolution, and anti-corruption, that pushed many to dismiss the illiberalism he had displayed early in his political career.
Beginning his journey in the BJP as an RSS member who once expressed his desire to be monk, Modi courted charges (that were controversially dropped later) for his tacit support of Hindu extremism in 2002, when communal riots in Gujarat left thousands dead, most of whom were Muslims.
After a decade of Congress’s rule fraught with allegations of decadence and corruption, Modi played his humble background and hard working ethos to the hilt, garnering support from many liberal intellectuals for whom, Modi seemed to represent something different.
By 2012, as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi was already building NDA 2.0 ground-up. He pledged to minimise red tape-ism and encourage business whilst campaigning for prime minister in 2014, repeatedly emphasising the need for “modernisation, not Westernisation,” pointing to South Korea’s economic boom.
How has he refashioned India’s needs?
With Modi’s magnetic presence, coupled with his party’s strong messaging and a robust dynamic with BJP chief Amit Shah, the Prime Minister has not only bridged the urban-rural divide in India, but going by yesterday’s results, has drawn extraordinary support from men, women, youth, and senior voters alike, and perhaps even sections of the LGBT, Dalit, and Muslim population who have been increasingly treated as second-class citizens in Modi’s India.
But yesterday’s mandate has shown what really matters to the average Indian voter is optics, and that the Congress completely missed its mark with its “jawan, nawjawan, kisaan” targeting.
Modi, the globetrotter and visionary
The endgame for Modi has revolved mostly around peddling fierce nationalism that he termed Hindutva, but it also eminently involved promoting an enviable image of India to the world. Over the last five years, he has elevated the country’s position in terms of international diplomacy, more visibly that many of his predecessors.
Modi became the fifth Indian PM to address a joint session of the US Congress during the Obama administration, championed the rights of NRI Indians who constitute a massive workforce in the West. His foreign ministry successfully promoted the bid to blacklist JeM chief in the international diplomatic community this year, while he has personally brokered key trade, strategic, and geopolitical alliances.
As a global leader, he has presented several novel recommendations at summits like the G20, where he proposed the restructuring of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to curb financing of terror and catch absconding economic fugitives.
PM Modi also deserves immense credit for mobilising his supporters over new media, especially taking the political battle online for the first time in India’s political history.
He is also perhaps the only Indian PM to have graced the cover of TIME magazine thrice (once in 2012) and to be portrayed in starkly contrasting shades. The one from 2015 accompanying his interview carried the tagline “The world needs India to step up as a global power.” Which he delivered.
The latest editorial designated him India’s “Divider in Chief”
While lawmakers insist that none of his policies are divisive, discriminatory or sectarian, the absent condemnation for hate speech or open calls for lynching (coming at times from his own party men) speaks a different truth.
Even though Modi has denounced violence against marginalised communities, critics note it took him two years to do so.
Then there are attempts to subsume India’s diversity and syncretic culture, and replace it with a homogenous Hindu identity, led by eviction and disenfranchisement drives like the NRC and the Citizenship Bill.
More notably, and poll observers agree, it is Modi’s aggressive response against Muslims, liberals and Pakistan, following the terror attack in Pulwama, Kashmir, that reinstated public confidence in the BJP strongman.
The nation has delivered. Will Modi?
“To survive in this world, you need a powerful leader. See, nobody messes with the United States or Russia,” Chandra Bhal Singh, a retired army officer, had told The Washington Post ahead of the election.
After five years of tense and volatile exchange, Modi returns stronger and in a better position to negotiate with Pakistan. Experts hope he will revive peace talks with Pakistan now that he has garnered both strength, relevance and geopolitical currency in South Asia, and with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj meeting her Pakistani counterpart at the SCO meet earlier this week.
Modi has also declared he wants to lead a more inclusive India, which paints a free and fair future for our secular democracy. But there are more tangible issues he has to tackle by 2024, beyond the scope of his party’s manifesto and as the man who has turned the saffron wave into a tsunami – climate, jobs, and farmers’ crises to name a few.
As the BJP heads to the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday to form the next government, the nation demands only one answer: Will the newly re-elected Prime Minister continue leading India down a more regressive wasteland, or will he arrive at a common ground for tempered governance where civility still counts?
The first hundred days should give us a clue.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.