Narendra Modi: Will coalition turn him into a humbler leader?

Narendra Modi: Will coalition turn him into a humbler leader?

By Soutik Biswas@soutikBBCIndia correspondent
Getty Images Narendra ModiGetty Images

India is no man to coalition governments.

Some of the nation’s largest partnerships, comprising between six and a few parties, have been formed in the world’s most populous democracy.

From 1989 to 2004, six common votes produced no individual- group lot. Some of these partnerships have been specially chaotic: between 1989 and 1999, eight were formed and some fast collapsed.

However, some of India’s most significant economic reforms and highest growth rates have resulted from coalition governments led by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP).

Then, for the first time since 2014, India may possess a coalition government, with no individual- party majority.

Narendra Modi of the BJP, set for a third term as prime minister, has seen his majority reduced by a resurgent opposition, and now primarily relies on two allies in his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for a parliamentary majority.

But did Mr Modi, who usually ruled with a lot as chief minister of Gujarat position and as India’s prime minister, and dominated elections for a century, be able to manage a partnership?

Does he abandon his overbearing style and lead a number of local allies? Did he halt a growing personality cult that his party and the media are encouraging to choose a more modest, accepting image?

N Chandrababu Naidu/Twitter Nitish Kumar (right) and N Chandrababu Naidu (second from right) have served in BJP-led governments in the pastN Chandrababu Naidu/Twitter

Some people think Mr. Modi’s transition to a partnership is unlikely to be easy sailing.

Two regional parties, the Janata Dal ( United ) and the Telugu Desam Party ( TDP ), are the two allies that Mr. Modi is most reliant on. They have 28 votes between them. Both are led by experienced, astute leaders, N Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar, both of whom have recently led BJP-led national coalition governments before quitting over disagreements with the ruling party, particularly over Mr. Modi.

In 2019, while serving as Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Mr Naidu labeled Mr Modi, then his political rival, a “terrorist”.

Politicians are odd bedfellows, and India is no man to that point.

If even one of its allies withdraws support, coalition governments that depend on only two or three friends are particularly susceptible to collapse.

Some think a Modi-led coalition government could improve politics. They say it may reduce the prime minister’s supremacy, decentralise management, increase checks and balances, embolden the criticism, and make organisations like the bureaucracy, judiciary and media more independent.

Atal Behari Vajpayee, one of the BJP’s stalwarts, ran a successful multi- party coalition government from 1998 to 2004. The avuncular leader privatised state- owned firms, facilitated foreign investment, built expressways, relaxed trade barriers, and even ignited an IT revolution.

He eased tensions with Pakistan, a decades-old moratorium on nuclear weapons, and forged closer ties with the US.

Much of this had to do with Mr Vajpayee’s consensual style.

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However, Mr. Modi’s coalition is radically different from the one in the past.

Despite securing only 240 seats, well below the 272 needed for a majority government, the BJP remains one of India’s most influential and dominant coalition leaders.

Congress also ran a successful minority government with 232 seats in 1991- and even with just 145 and 206 seats in 2004 and 2009.

Furthermore, Mr Modi leads an aggressive and revamped BJP. Amit Shah, his closest confidant, embodies a redefined top leadership that Congress leader Shashi Tharoor characterises as a “my way or the highway” approach to governance.

In order to accommodate the needs of their allies, BJP-led coalitions have historically put the party’s most important ideological and polarizing issues on hold.

Much of the party’s agenda – revoking the autonomy of Kashmir, building the Ram temple – has already been achieved under Mr Modi’s leadership. Will his allies now urge him to tone down his divisive rhetoric, particularly against Muslims, which he used freely during the election campaign?

N Chandrababu Naidu/Twitter Modi and NaiduN Chandrababu Naidu/Twitter

Effective coalition politics requires coercive action to operate as a bloc and provide checks and balances. What are the key issues that the coalition partners and the BJP can agree on right now?

Mr Modi’s party has been pushing for a controversial plan to hold simultaneous federal and state elections, something India gave up in 1967.

His party has also promised an Uniform Civil Code or UCC, a single personal law for all citizens, irrespective of religion, sex, gender and sexual orientation. This has been resisted in the past by both the country’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims.

Then there’s the delicate issue of redrawing of parliamentary boundaries, due after 2026. The wealthier, less populated southern states fear that Mr Modi will expand parliament, with the seat count favouring the poorer, more populous Hindi heartland states- a traditional BJP stronghold.

Mr. Modi will also have to take into account the allies ‘ regional and state-specific demands and accommodate their leaders ‘ aspirations. Both the TDP and JD ( U) have demanded more federal funding because their states have special status. The allies, according to media reports, are also eyeing influential ministries.

Getty Images Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and KC Venugopal during a press conference at AICC Headquater on June 6, 2024 in New Delhi, India.Getty Images

Mr. Modi needs to create more jobs and raise incomes for the poor and middle class despite the government’s support for a recovering economy. India’s economy requires many structural reforms in agriculture, land and labour. To accomplish any of this, Mr. Modi may require a consultative approach with allies.

For a man used to basking in the spotlight, consensual politics may not come easily to Mr Modi, many believe.

” He has suddenly been asked to enact a role that he has never done before in his life”, says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a biographer of the prime minister.

But successful politicians master the art of reinvention. Will India now have a more benevolent, tolerant, and understanding Mr. Modi?

” We will have to wait and see”, says Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst. ” We have to view this through the lens of current circumstances, not past alliances”. Watch this space.

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