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Will Modi Unshackle India

Modi comprehends well that the mandate he received is for his promise of result-oriented economic development, which will be undermined if he became bogged down in divisive social issues and political conflict.

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While the outcome of India’s election had been a forgone conclusion for months now, the scale of the BJP victory caught even political pundits flat-footed. The BJP-led NDA coalition was expected to either eke out a narrow victory, or score handsomely enough to be able to cobble together a governing coalition. Instead, the party won an outright majority on its own, which signals a tectonic shift in the Indian political landscape.

The ruling Congress Party was reduced to just 44 seats, below even the threshold to qualify as the official opposition in the 545-member Lok Sabha. One hopes that the drubbing the Congress received in this election will dislodge from the saddle for good the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has ruled India for more than 40 years since Independence.

Already there is mutiny in the ranks. Rajasthan Congress legislator Bhanwar Lal Sharma complained: “Rahul (Gandhi) is directionless and has no policy. He and his advisers are responsible for the party’s embarrassment and defeat in the elections as there is no mass support for him. The people who are around him are jokers. He (Rahul) is the MD of a team of jokers.”

There remains a good chance that the cabal of sycophants and leeches, who have been feeding off the public trough for decades, will turn to Priyanka Gandhi for succour. That would be tragic; a pathetic denouement of a proud party that led the country’s independence struggle against one Raj only to yoke itself to another.

The election results also scrambled the political deck, which in recent years, benefited bit regional players, who exercised oversized influence upon the central government, contributing to the economic and legislative paralysis that has gridlocked the country. Freed from the shackles of intransigent coalition partners, Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds an enviable hand to reshape the economic and political landscape of the country.

By all accounts, he is making all the right moves. He has emphasized good and efficient governance. He has abolished 30 inter-ministerial groups created by the Congress government, which should help speed up decisions and promote accountability. There is discussion about implementing a performance-based incentive system for central employees. He has advocated for transparency in decision-making and, as someone personally unburdened with familial ties, has admonished ministers and party officials against nepotism.

Modi has even discouraged a personality cult, batting down proposals from BJP state governments in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to include content about his life in schoolbooks, tweeting: “I firmly believe the life story of living individuals should not be included as a part of the school curriculum. India has a rich history of several stalwarts who made India what it is today. Young minds should read about these greats and emulate them.”

Modi comprehends well that the mandate he received is for his promise of result-oriented economic development, which will be undermined if he became bogged down in divisive social issues and political conflict.

It is instructive that although BJP won a decisive victory, that is only a function of India’s winner-take-all system, which enabled the party to bag 52 percent of the parliamentary seats with just 31 percent of the votes. By contrast, the Congress won 8 percent of the seats with almost 20 percent of the vote. Fully 50 percent of the country’s vote was split among dozens of regional parties, none of which topped 4 percent.

For all the talk of a Modi-wave, the BJP attracted under one-third of all votes cast. A shift of just two percentage points in the next elections could well overturn the BJP applecart.

No doubt, with his smart political instincts, Modi knows this only too well. Social peace and strong economic performance in this term will almost surely silence any remaining nagging doubts voters might have had about Modi and the BJP and return them with an even greater majority in 2019.

On the other hand, should the Hindutva crowd distract the Modi government into opening up old sores and contentious political issues (as some have with reckless talk of abrogating Article 370 granting autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir), both the BJP and India will be losers.

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Politics | Commentary | June 2014

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