Modi the phenomenon – Challenges Ahead

The republic of India has shown extraordinary faith in Modi by electing him to office for another term. Will he deliver in the face of humongous economic & diplomatic challenges that lay ahead?

By Anil Anand & Danfes


In what shall be scripted in history books as the most remarkable electoral victories for BJP & its indefatigable mascot Modi, 2019 Lok Sabha elections proved beyond a point that Indian electorate cares more for visible & quantifiable chatter than for invisible intellectualism. Clearly the Shah-Modi duo choreographed an epic result that must have surprised most of their party colleagues even apart from a slew of pollsters & pundits. The men with Golden arms & a swashbuckling voice tore into the opposition citadels not sparing even the regional satraps, conquering few of their lands in an onslaught that was unanticipated, unseen in recent history. Narendra Modi’s second consecutive victory, that too with a thumping majority, has once again reaffirmed BJP’ pole position in Indian politics and posed a serious threat to many of its opponents who would have a tough ask, saving their flock from turning in a new leaf.


Nehruvian Legacy Revisited

Circa -2019; crossover from Nehruvian to Modi era, keep aside the long interregnum for the time being. Although decades apart, two conflicting personalities and thought processes; one attached to foundation laying of Independent India and the other, still in process, diametrically opposite but promising to make Bharat the ‘vishwaguru’ that once upon a time it was.


It is rather intriguing that both these styles of leadership are under close scrutiny- one even 55 years after his death and the other despite emerging as a formidable electoral victor and creating history for BJP in terms of poll success. It is more intriguing or interesting that the latter has become cause of former’s scrutiny and even his ( Jawaharlal Nehru) revival though an inverse one.


Well so far so good for the Nehru versus Modi rivalry though they never happened to see leave alone meet each other- Modi even during his childhood or teens. Notwithstanding the fact Nehru’s place in history and his stature, the current focus on him because of one person Narendra BhaiDamodarDass Modi. And naturally too after that stupendous electoral victory singled handed triggered and engineered by him.


What Won for Modi

He took upon himself the herculean task of taking the BJP where it had never reached earlier- crossing the 300 elected MPs mark. He backed by his master strategist and party president Amit Shah achieve it with aplomb with controversies on the back of head.


How did he achieve it despite controversial decisions such as demonetization, complex GST (described as Gabbar Singh Test by his arch rival and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi), series of Pak-backed terror attacks such as in Pathankot, where the ISI team was for the first time permitted to cross over and enter the Indian Air Force (IAF) establishment rocked by terror attack, to examine it, Uri- that later led to surgical strike across the PoK and lately the Pulwama fidayeen attack that resulted in IAF striking at a terror base in Balakote deep in Pakistan territory. And lastly the Rafale fighter jet deal controversy raked up by Gandhi that led to coining of slogan ‘Chowkidar chorhai’ though it miserably failed to click.


Some may say Modi created these issues and rightly too as he was the Prime Minister all through but more aptly he rose like a phoenix not only to deflect these issues but stood his ground and turned the situation around for his immense political benefit. The testimony to this effect is the outcome of 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP securing more than 300 seats on its own and its led NDA alliance touching 350 mark and decimated and badly bruised opposition with all alliances and tie ups falling flat completes the election story.


The flavor of the day is Modi which has been proved by the popular mandate he got. The ‘bhagats’ as his followers are sarcastically described by the rivals would be elated the critics must be going sore. In the broader context of prevailing scenario one may love or hate but cannot ignore phenomena called Modi which has come on to stay.


Touching a Chord with the Masses

From ‘chaiwala’ to ‘ fakir’ via ‘chowkidar’ and ‘pichdavarg’, whatever way he described himself was lapped up his supporters with political rivals and critics sarcastically viewing these self-bestowed sobriquets upon himself by Modi. And finally, he succeeded in portraying himself as the saviour of Indian nationalism and culture and that he stood for everything that defined ‘Bharatiya parampara’. Despite the critics performing their duty of raising an alarm at every step, the large mass looked the other way. Whether Modi government in its first tenure delivered on its hundreds of promises or not became irrelevant, though it is dangerous from the national perspective, people believed everything that he said did or not did.


From 2014 Lok Sabha election aptly described as one of hope that brought Modi to power with a minority 31 per cent votes, he entered the 2019 poll arena fully well knowing that questions would be raised on the performance of his government, some of its controversial decisions and many unfulfilled promises. But he masterminded counter strategies well in advance to ward off any chance of criticism. The result was that the issues did not even figure in the elections.


It might have dangerous portents for the country but it is a great success of the Modi phenomena. The larger than life, at times looked more filmy, image created by him of himself of a demigod- reflected in his well planned visit to Kedarnathdham with that visual of a saffron shawl wrapped monk praying in a spruced up cave, who had cure for every malady, clicked with the people. Again the election verdict bears testimony to it.


Opposition Misfortune

Nothing worked or clicked for the opposition, whether united, semi united or sequestered, but everything went on the right course for Modi. None believed even the genuine concerns expressed by his critics or the opposition parties but everything that he did or said was lapped by the masses.  Rightly or wrongly every single move initiated by any wing of the government including the armed forces was seen as his idea and his success. And people not only believed but ratified it. Although it is seriously objectionable but there was no public outcry when UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath described the Indian army as “Modi kisena” in the aftermath of Balakote air strike across the border.


Apart from this jarring note, his projection as the only leader who could revive the great Indian civilization and save the country from powerful elite and corrupt politicians whom he described as “anti-national” opposition was accepted across the board with no questions raised. At every point the opposition parties particularly the main rival Congress were found fumbling and no counter worth the name worked with people.


It might not be a healthy augury particularly labeling opposition as “anti-national” but coming from him during nearly 150 election rallies Modi addressed, people believed each and every word. Testimony again is borne by the high percentage of votes BJP secured in most parts of the country and record number of seats won under the banner of Modi.


Lopsided Media

In the midst of heat and dust of elections came the internationally reputed US-based Time magazine issue with its covering carrying Modi’s caricature, depicting a bad mood, titled “Divider of India” with an ostensible connect to attempts at communal polarization and Hindutva agenda unleashed by the BJP and its supporting outfits with PM Modi almost maintaining a studied silence. This did please the opposition parties and critics alike and something they thought would create rage across the country and cause damage electorally. This joy was short-lived as Modi continued with his own mode of campaign as the issue remained confined to TV debates for few days and evaporating even without much mention in the public domain.


So was is the mesmerizing Modi-effect or phenomena or deft strategies of Shah and his team of experts that succeeded in ensuring that nothing, howsoever grave, instigated by the opposition parties stuck to Modi’s sleeves and that he remained unscathed from criticism. It were the both factors but Modi took the cake here also as the product in this case proved to be more strong than the marketing strategies.


Keeping the impressive electoral victory for a while, there are serious challenges awaiting Modi as he took oath for a second successive term. Confident and assured of a brut majority, still six months away from getting majority in Rajya Sabha, he will run a serious risk if decides to sit on the electoral laurels and pursue selective agenda.


There are many serious challenges and issues that will need not only his attention but a fine-tuning and balancing act. The foremost would be on the economic front and this includes a further liberalizing of the economy that requires structural changes needed to further ensure ease of doing business which was more on paper during the last five years and attract more foreign investment. The gravity involved in this issue is also the ‘Swadeshi’ passion of the Sangh Parivar lobby which is opposed to these ideas in many ways.


Will he be able to work out some coordination or altogether ignore the ‘Swadeshi” lobby on the basis of majority BJP secured and the further raise in stature which it has given to Modi? It will be interesting to watch this end.Even a bigger challenge would be waiting Modi to meet the aspirations of younger generation particularly the first-time voters on whom he laid great focus during his election campaign. Job creation would be a big challenge and all eyes particularly of the youth and their parents would be riveted on him as he sought and got vote in his personal name. It has its own pitfalls.


Even Controversies didn’t Matter

With likes of terror accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur finding place in Lok Sabha after her huge victory in Bhopal, of course secured in Modi’s name, it will be interesting as to how Modi’s new dispensation deals with the fringe element connected to BJP and other off-shoots of the RSS. They have been doing this in the name of Hindu nationalist movement and Hindutava or Hindu sentiment played a key role in BJP’s success. So, it becomes a key area of focus in the days to come as on it would also hinge how Modi reassures ethnic and religious minorities which have been the target of these forces and became targets of cow vigilantes and mob attack in the name of Hindutva.


If Times magazine described him ‘Divider in Chief” there were others on the international firmament who saw Modi different. British MP Boris Johnson described him as a “firecracker” and a “political phenomena”. Modi proved both these sobriquets correct during this poll campaign and the results once again bear ample testimony.

Leaving aside the poll time euphoria, the clock has started ticking real-time now for Modi as he prepared to take oath of secrecy to be the Prime Minister for the second time. The tall and some unfulfilled promises would be waiting to be addressed and results delivered.


From elections of hope- what many describe 2014 elections as- to vote of trust in 2019, Modi has been able to cross the Rubicon. The excuses of nothing much was possible in five years would not work after the vote of trust this time. More time has been granted by the people.There is no doubt that phenomenon Modi is here to stay. The real test would be if he is able to talk less on Nehru’s legacy and failures and Gandhi family and deliver to ultimately stitch his own legacy. The space for singing raga Congress and using it as a shield to hide shortcomings and failures is shrinking. Surely Modi must be mindful of this aspect as nothing seems to be escaping his mindscape.


However with bigger power, comes bigger responsibility & greater challenges? The challenges encompass those of poverty alleviation, job creation, bridging the gap between villages & cities, maintaining a healthy economy, boosting healthcare & a robust foreign policy that goes beyond keeping the immediate neighbors under a tight leash. The new government will be confronted by significant tests suggesting that the PM will have his work cut out for him, locally & internationally.


Financial Markets & economy

There is bound to be economic optimism in the country with the government getting a second term & hence a license to bring in more reforms & usher in a market compatible economy that blends efficiently with the global market economy & which factors in the glorious uncertainties of the emerging dynamic in Oil, currency, trade imbalances & the tariff regimes across countries & continents. The Sensex index of the Bombay Stock Exchange reached 40,000, prompting analysts to predict good times for India’s economy. It is hoped that the markets will be more buoyant in the coming months and a stable, devoid of any pulls & pressures by its allies is good news overall.


Yet with such optimism & while GDP may increase, but there may not be a concurrent rise in employment opportunities. While big businesses will have more and more advantages, the gap between the rich and poor may also widen & the same goes against PM Modi’s vision for the poor.


Employment & Agrarian Distress

With over 65% of our population below the age of 35, any government would have a huge responsibility to fulfill in terms of adequate job creation. Even when contradictions on job creation and unemployment in India have dominated political discourse in the recent past, the fact remains that the young would get more restless in time to come. Considering that providing a job is not only a vital economic need, but it has a definite political and social side, too. Regardless of whether creating adequate number of jobs makes it to the election discourse or not, the government is duty bound towards its youth for their livelihood & forward movement. Mr. Modi has particularly been targeting the first time & young voter to show his/her faith in his leadership & his promise to give jobs to the emerging young India. Debates or no debates, this subject has grown into being a pure value-perspective.


Kashmir/Article 370/35A

Abrogation of article 370 & 35 A feature in the BJP manifesto of 2019. They have 5 full years to fulfill such a tenuous & politically volatile promise. Despite the  fact that SC has already warned about any tinkering with the provision that grants Kashmir the special status, BJP & Modi shall find it extremely difficult keeping this issue on the back burner for too long.


The Three most Important Foreign Policy Challenges


India, US Strategic Tie-up

It is no secret that US has cozied up to India of late in its pursuit of forging strategic tie ups in South Asia. While the US-India relationship has made solid strides across governments in defence and security, there has been increased tension on the trade and economic front of late. Imposing of sanctions on Iran & purging our right to buy oil form an old ally shall have its consequences sooner or later. Not so much in terms of our supplies which we have anyways lined from alternative sources including Russia & the UAE, the continuing engagement with Iran & US administration’s tough on trade & tariffs policy may test India for its deft maneuvering diplomatically & politically.


With US President Donald Trump’s relentless focus on trade issues, the new government will need to figure out how to put the trade relationship on a positive footing amidst all the disagreements & potential points of friction. This is complicated by the fact that the relationship will need to be balanced against India’s ongoing interactions with Russia and Iran. Both countries represent strategic threats to the United States, yet remain vital trading partners for India. Personally Modi’s much vaunted chemistry with global leaders including Trump shall come into sharp focus on such delicate matters.  


India with China and Pakistan

These are the two main challenges within our neighborhood that need a pragmatic & assertive policy mechanism. Pakistan has consistently been the one to needle India on Kashmir & has long been engaged in a proxy war in an attempt to destabilize India & put obstacles in its march to becoming a reigning global economy. Even when Modi government won’t want to be seen as being too eager to patch things up with Islamabad, we shouldn’t be surprised by some conciliatory gestures coming both ways in months to come. Pakistan can ill afford to play smart in the emerging world scenario where every major responsible nation is showing zero tolerance towards terrorism & terror sponsoring by vested interest or rogue countries.


The same strategy may not work with China that is an emerging great power. The challenges embodied by China are more enduring because its rise, despite likely slowing, is likely to make Beijing a formidable problem for New Delhi indefinitely. The world’s attention may be focused on US-China relations at the moment, but this doesn’t mean that India-China issues are not serious and prevalent. India will have to do a balancing act, which involves deepening ties with Washington while simultaneously minimizing the offence to Beijing.


India’s relationship with China can strengthen in the light of the Sino-US trade war. The ongoing trade war between the US and China will help India tap export opportunities in both the countries in areas such as garments, agriculture, automobile and machinery, according to trade experts. One obvious thing that the government of India will look at is whether there’s any possibility of relocating manufacturing from China into India. Quite a lot of that has gone to countries like Vietnam, Philippines and Bangladesh but not so much have come to India. But no one can be sure, either of Modi, or of his environment. In an unstable region, and in a vast country that is undergoing rapid social, political and cultural change, there are too many possibilities for anyone to be overly optimistic.