A Gain with an Opposition Margin: How Did Modi Win a Third Term?

Nuha Yousef | a month ago

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In the wake of Narendra Modi’s inauguration for a third term as India’s Prime Minister, a notable shift in his rhetoric has emerged.

Once the unchallenged leader with a parliamentary majority, Modi now adopts a more modest approach, having been compelled to form a coalition government.

In a recent address, Modi expressed a need for unity beyond political lines: “To govern, majority is the requirement. To lead a nation, consensus is the essence.”

His newfound emphasis on coalition partners marks a stark contrast from his previous tenure. Yet, it raises a pivotal question: Can Modi, after over two decades in power, pivot to become a unifier?

Slight Victory

The recent electoral outcome in India has been a revelation, defying the anticipated landslide victory for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Pre-election forecasts and the party’s own projections of securing 400 seats in the 543-member House of Representatives fell short.

The BJP emerged victorious but with a reduced count of 240 seats, a significant drop from their previous tally, relinquishing their decade-long majority.

This result, however, is not merely a numerical setback but a democratic statement by the Indian electorate.

It signifies a rejection of one-party dominance and an affirmation of India’s diverse, multi-religious, and multi-cultural fabric.

The voters have voiced their desire for a secular governance model, open to political shifts even under the BJP’s reign.

The campaign trail leading to this juncture was nothing short of extraordinary, with Modi positioning himself as the central figure, seeking absolute authority.

He campaigned as the sole representative of the electorate, with all other candidates merely serving as his proxies.

Modi’s narrative also took on an imperial hue, casting himself as a Hindu monarch rectifying historical wrongs inflicted by the Mughal Empire.

His vision of a Hindu nation was presented as imminent, achievable only through continued BJP governance.

Islamophobia Backfiring

However, Modi’s campaign, heavily laden with anti-Muslim sentiment, did not resonate as intended.

His inflammatory speeches and attempts to vilify the Muslim community, framing the opposition as a threat to Hindu interests, ultimately did not secure the mandate he sought.

This outcome suggests a limit to the appeal of divisive politics in India and underscores the perils of neglecting the populace’s everyday concerns.

Conversations with young Hindu voters revealed a disillusionment with the government’s focus on religious nationalism, which they felt overshadowed pressing economic issues.

The lack of employment and bleak economic prospects, particularly in rural areas, prompted many to question Modi’s leadership.

Symbolically, the BJP’s defeat in the Ayodhya constituency, a site of significant religious and political symbolism, and Modi’s narrow victory in Varanasi, another city of great religious importance, underscored the shifting sentiments.

Concerns over the BJP’s potential use of a strong majority to amend the constitution galvanized opposition among marginalized communities.

The All India Alliance, a coalition of opposition parties, despite losing the election, made notable gains in the Lok Sabha, overcoming numerous obstacles including financial constraints, targeted harassment by authorities, and a media landscape biased in favor of the BJP.

The Election Commission’s perceived partiality towards the BJP, ignoring electoral misconduct, added to the challenges faced by the opposition.

The electorate’s message is unequivocal: they demand a restoration of dignity, civility, and mutual respect in politics. They have rejected the BJP’s derogatory rhetoric and the existential threat it poses to India’s constitutional principles.

The voters have mandated the safeguarding of secularism, minority rights, and the nation’s pluralistic ethos, championing values of equality, freedom, justice, and fraternity. This mandate also presents the BJP with an opportunity to recalibrate and operate as a conventional political entity, moving away from Modi’s domineering influence.

The election results have offered India a chance to redefine itself, providing a path to recover from the wounds inflicted by a decade of Hindu nationalist policies.

Nationalist State

Since assuming power in 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under Narendra Modi's leadership, has frequently leveraged the persecution of Muslims to bolster its vision of a Hindu nationalist state, or "Hindutva."

This approach was evident once again during the recent election campaign, with Modi’s speeches often steeped in anti-Muslim rhetoric.

At a rally in Rajasthan in April, Modi referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” and “intruders,” continuing a pattern of inflammatory language.

He accused the opposition party of planning to distribute the nation's wealth to Muslims if they won, saying, "Do you think that your hard-earned money should be given to them? For infiltrators? Do you accept that?"

This statement echoed his ongoing campaign theme of painting Muslims as outsiders and threats to the nation’s prosperity.

Earlier, in January, Modi initiated his election campaign by inaugurating the Rama Temple on the site of the demolished Babri Mosque, a deeply provocative act towards the Muslim minority.

In media statements, journalist and political analyst Huzaifa Farid suggested that the inauguration was a calculated move to energize Hindu voters by exploiting religious tensions.

These tactics seemed initially successful, with early April opinion polls indicating that the BJP and its allies held a significant lead with 46% of voting intentions, compared to 34% for opposition parties.

However, the strategy ultimately faltered. According to Bloomberg, the BJP's focus on Hindu nationalist promises did not resonate sufficiently with voters who were more concerned about economic issues and equitable distribution of resources.

The electoral results in the Faizabad district, where Modi had inaugurated the Rama Temple, were particularly telling.

The BJP lost the seat to Awadesh Prasad of the opposition Samajwadi Party, a significant blow to Modi and his party.

This outcome suggests a rejection of the BJP's sectarian approach, indicating that voters prioritized economic issues over divisive religious rhetoric.