India’s month-long election ended last week, and the final vote tallies were released on Thursday. The incumbent Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, won another outright majority in the parliamentary elections. With only 272 seats needed to form a majority, the BJP came away with 303 seats, an incredibly strong showing.
The results came as somewhat of an unexpected surprise. The BJP shocked the world when they won the 2014 elections with a slight majority of 282 seats, the first majority government formed without coalitions in decades. Modi won the election in part by making large, ambitious promises, such as developing infrastructure for many of India’s poorer states and addressing the employment issues, including pledging to create ten million jobs a month. Many of these promises were left unfulfilled, prompting large protests against the government, especially by farmers. While India’s economy grew by large amounts during Modi’s administration, many farmers felt that the economic growth was not translating into benefits for them.
There were also significant fears about the rise of Hindu nationalism, which threatens India’s long history as a secular state. With Hindus making up around 80% of the voting electorate, Modi’s appeals to Hindu nationalism struck a strong chord with many. Modi also used the recent heightening of tensions between Indian and Pakistan, including the military action taken by both sides against each other, as a rallying call to his base. In his political campaigning afterwards, Modi began calling himself India’s “watchman”, portraying himself as the sole candidate qualified to protect India against its threats.
However, Modi successfully saw off the significant obstacles to his party, and came away with an even larger majority than his victory in 2014. Many have attributed these victories of the BJP to Modi’s strength as a candidate. India’s elections are meant to be for a parliamentary system, but Modi’s force of personality has transformed the campaigning into a more presidential-style of an election. Many Indians admit to supporting Modi rather than the BJP.
Moving forward, Modi’s government still faces significant problems. Having painted himself as a strongman capable of standing up to Pakistan, Modi faces the challenge of reducing tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers, with the potential flashpoint of Kashmir still simmering with conflict. India’s economy is still growing, however there are several indicators that signal a potential slowdown. As millions of voters supported Modi believing he would be able to bring economic prosperity, if India’s economic begins to suffer, Modi could lose significant amounts of political support. Modi will have to contend with the necessity of significant economic reforms and a sizable unemployment rate, especially among the youth.
Modi will also have to balance India’s international image with the demands of his right-wing Hindu nationalist supporters. India has historically taken great pride in being a functional, secular democracy that protects the ethnic and religious minorities. However, much was made of the rise of religiously-motivated riots or lynchings that occurred during Modi’s first term. Hopefully Modi can resist the calls from his base and keep India’s secular democratic nature alive and well.
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