5 Takeaways From Modi’s Win in India’s Gigantic Election

5 Takeaways From Modi’s Win in India’s Gigantic Election


After hundreds of millions of Indians cast ballots across megacities, mountains and islands, Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the biggest re-election India has witnessed in decades.

Mr. Modi, 68, has dominated India since he won a first term in 2014. Many Indians praise his efforts to stamp out corruption and bring development to poor regions, but his commitment to empowering the nation’s Hindu majority has raised fears in its Muslim minority. Mob lynchings have increased, and right-wing Hindus have felt emboldened to push an extreme agenda.

Here are five takeaways from his re-election.

Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies won close to 350 seats in the 545-seat lower house of Parliament, according to nearly complete results. He is the first prime minister in nearly 50 years to win majorities in the Parliament in back-to-back elections, and now commands a sweeping mandate to govern a nation of 1.3 billion people.

To his supporters, Mr. Modi is entering the pantheon of India’s most legendary leaders, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, and Indira Gandhi, Mr. Nehru’s daughter and India’s iron lady of the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s. India has no term limits, and people are already talking of a third Modi term.

Many voters were drawn to Mr. Modi’s intense speaking style, his reputation for getting things done and his carefully crafted image of being a tough defender of India. He called himself the chowkidar — the watchman — and he has pushed a more forceful foreign policy than India has pursued in years, including standing up to China, nearly going to war with Pakistan and drawing closer to the United States.

Part of Mr. Modi’s appeal also lies in his Hindu nationalist beliefs, which emphasize India’s Hindu heritage and seek to further empower the country’s Hindu majority, making up about 80 percent of the population.

Hindu nationalism has been a thread in Indian politics since even before the country won independence from Britain in 1947. With this election, Hindu nationalists have more power than ever before in modern Indian history.

Hindu nationalism is a major plank of the B.J.P., and according to the voting results, the party expanded its reach beyond its base in northern India, considered the conservative Hindu heartland, and won more than a dozen seats in West Bengal, what used to be a leftist stronghold, while picking up others in Odisha and Karnataka.

Many analysts expect Mr. Modi to push a more aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda, including the construction of a Hindu temple at the site of a destroyed mosque in the city of Ayodhya and the expulsion of recent Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, who Mr. Modi’s party claims have illegally taken up residence in India.

All these moves could unsettle many of India’s Muslims, who make up about 15 percent of the population.

Mr. Modi may also seek to change the special laws regarding the disputed territory of Kashmir, which has a large Muslim population and is claimed by both India and Pakistan, to make it easier for Hindus to move there and buy property.

Hindu extremists are likely to feel emboldened by Mr. Modi’s election win. The prime minister came up in politics through a far-right Hindu nationalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which he joined as a boy. A Hindu nationalist who once belonged to that group, Nathuram Godse, assassinated the independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi in 1948.

An admirer of Mr. Godse and a member of Mr. Modi’s B.J.P., Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, ran for a Parliament seat in the election, even as she was awaiting trial, accused of a role in a 2008 terrorist attack.

Ms. Thakur won that seat on Thursday, just days after she praised Gandhi’s assassin as a “patriot.”

Results for the opposition Indian National Congress party, once an unbeatable political force — it led India to independence, counted Gandhi as a member and governed for most of the decades since — were dismal. By Thursday evening, the party had won or was leading in just 51 seats, a small improvement from 2014 but still one of its worst showings ever.

As reality set in on Thursday evening, Congress leaders said they needed to revamp their approach to elections. They admitted that the B.J.P. had raised more money and run a superior campaign. Rahul Gandhi, the head of Congress and the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, conceded defeat in a brief news conference in New Delhi. Looking heartbroken, he told supporters to prepare for a long battle ahead.

“I said during the campaign that the people were the masters, and today they have given their verdict,” he said.

Mr. Gandhi, 48, is seen by many voters as a lightweight compared with Mr. Modi, and has struggled to compete with his much more assertive and intense rival. Of the two Parliament seats Mr. Gandhi contested, he lost one in northern India that the Gandhi family had held for many years.

In just one sign of how dire things have become for the party, Mr. Gandhi offered to resign as party leader, according to India Today, a major news outlet.

Many investors are confident that another Modi government will be good for business, and his victory was seen as a vote for stability. During his first term, Mr. Modi simplified a byzantine tax system, cracked down on corruption and overhauled India’s corporate bankruptcy system.

After it became clear that Mr. Modi’s government was returning to power, India’s stock market shot up 2 percent, to a record high.

Though small- and medium-size industries have not always kept up with the pace of change, the last thing many in the business community wanted was a fractured coalition government, run by small regional parties that struggle to get along.

Voters felt similarly about the economy. Analysts said India’s electorate was clearly not upset enough about the deep-seated challenges facing India, including stagnant job growth, to vote against Mr. Modi. Many wanted to give him a second chance, seeing his first five years as not enough time to make the sweeping changes he has promised.

And many voters said they had already noticed positive changes. In interviews throughout the campaign, they pointed to the B.J.P.’s campaigns to build millions of toilets, clean up smaller cities and ensure that government money reached recipients without being lost to bribes.

There was no election in the world as big as this one. About 600 million people voted, with more than 8,000 candidates contesting seats in the Parliament.

The elections were mostly peaceful, though there were a few sporadic clashes between supporters of rival parties. At least one person was killed.

But this was far less violent than during the 2014 elections, when 16 election officials were killed and more than 2,000 people were injured in poll-related violence, according to an analysis by India Today.

The turnout was a record high, at 67.1 percent.

And despite strong passions, gargantuan numbers and high stakes, the elections have nearly concluded with no major allegations of fraud or rigging. Most of the voting was done on electronic voting machines that seemed to work just fine, according to observers and election officials.



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