Will Modi's second term see a new governance paradigm?

Published on Jun 25 2019


The 2019 Indian election has resulted in an unprecedented victory for the BJP. The scale of the Modi wave, though anticipated by a few pollsters, has been an extraordinary political development. The vote was for Modi and Modi alone. The identity of the local candidate did not matter and, in 2019, the Indian parliamentary form of elections became presidential in a manner reminiscent of Indira Gandhi in the 1971 election.
 
A triumphant Narendra Modi will assume office as prime minister for a successive second term on May 30, a few days after the 55th death anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru (May 27), India's first prime minister. This juxtaposition is laden with deep import by way of the contrast in values and principles that are associated with the two leaders. Nehru and the Congress party he led are synonymous with a secular-liberal vision of India, where diversity was  accepted as the USP of free India that had shed the colonial yoke. The state did not identify with or prioritize a religion which was the path Pakistan opted for.
 
Post Nehru, the Indian political constituency thought it expedient to flirt with religion. Both Nehru’s daughter (Indira Gandhi) and grandson (Rajiv Gandhi) took some imprudent policy decisions and paid a heavy price in different ways. The aversion of the Modi camp and the more strident Hindutva brigade to the Nehru legacy is a major part of the current Indian political dynamic. 
 
At different points on the campaign trail over the last five years, Modi has declared that his objective is to make India "free of the Congress" and, by extension, the Nehruvian legacy. Thus it was predictable that in his victory speech on May 23 Modi disparagingly asserted that “Those who wore the mask of secularism are today exposed, as people have voted us back to power for the work we did.”  Whether India will remain wedded to its Constitution wherein all citizens are equal in word and spirit, irrespective of religion, caste, ethnicity and language lies at the core of  the anxiety about the values and principles that will define Modi 2.0.
 
To assuage this unease, Modi, in his address to the 353 elected representatives of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) outlined an expansive and inclusive vision of governance over the next five years. Extending a hand to all communities, Modi dwelt on the need to carry the minorities along and even those citizens who did not vote for the winning  coalition. “Minorities have been kept in fear, used in elections. We have to end this cycle. We have worked for Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, (with all, development for all)  now we have to strive for Sabka Vishwas (instil confidence in all),” he said.
 
Reiterating his belief in Mahatma Gandhi, a subtle but firm message was conveyed by Modi to those in his flock who had spoken ill of the 'Father of the nation'. The litmus test apropos values and where Modi  stands in relation to Mahatma Gandhi and terrorism will be evident in the manner he deals with the election of Pragya Thakur, an extremist who was imprisoned on terror charges, to the Lok Sabha. 
 
Censuring Thakur for her remarks about Godse, the assassin who killed Gandhi, could alienate the extreme Hindutva constituency that is deemed to be fringe but politically salient. This issue could become more complex and volatile for Modi in the run up to Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary on October 2,  2019, which Modi plans to celebrate in a big way.
 
Governance in Modi 2.0 will have to learn from the errors and policy inadequacies of the first term. While Modi visibly dominated the 2019 election, the same cannot be said about governance, though the Prime Minister's Office in his first term became more powerful than ever before. Bench strength in the NDA cabinet has been modest and Modi was unable to even appoint a dedicated  defence minister with a full five-year term. Senior ministers have had health constraints, further weakening the overall texture and direction of governance. 
 
Delegating meaningful power and accountability to his cabinet and restoring institutional credibility – be it the judiciary, the Election Commission or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – will make Modi 2.0 more effective. But whether Modi the individual is willing to accept and learn from the past remains moot. This, in effect, will determine the Modi legacy.

Source: South Asia Monitor, 29 May 2019, https://southasiamonitor.org/news/will-modi-s-second-term-see-a-new-governance-paradigm-/sl/29647?title=will-modi-s-second-term-see-a-new-governance-paradigm-&type=sl&nid=29647

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