The world’s largest democracy just gave a big win to a larger-than-life leader. Now Narendra Modi, India’s charismatic, controversial prime minister who has led his vast and varied nation since a seminal election victory in 2014, must moderate his Hindu nationalistic tendencies and govern the whole country. That includes a sizable Muslim minority that feels increasingly threatened in a more sectarian, less secular India.
Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is estimated to have won about 350 seats in the 545-seat lower house of Parliament in an election with 67% turnout. He is the only prime minister in nearly 50 years to win back-to-back mandates, and he’s now well-positioned to further his reform agenda, which is crucial for a country soon due to become the world’s most populous.
Many of his first-term reforms were indeed a force for good — not just for economic elites, but for the poorest Indians who will benefit from Modi’s effort to build 100 million toilets in order to improve sanitation — and dignity — for millions.
From a foreign-policy perspective, he was credited with effectively handling disputes with Pakistan, and for bringing India ever closer to the U.S. That’s good news for this country’s vibrant Indian community, including many who have made Minnesota home.
Modi’s main opponent, Rahul Gandhi, looked as listless as his Congress Party, which must consider moving past the Gandhi dynasty for its next generation of leaders if it hopes to regain its prominent place in Indian politics.
Modi fell short on many measures, including job creation. But most profoundly the perception of his Hindu advocacy has deeply divided a country that has a legacy, and recent history, of sectarian violence. Modi, in the mode of nationalist leaders ascendant worldwide, refers to himself as his nation’s “watchman.” Now he must indeed watch over every Indian, regardless of religion or any other division fraying the nation.