The BJP has won a landslide victory in India’s general election:
Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won an outright victory, the first single party to do so for 30 years, with at least 279 of the 543 parliament seats up for grabs. The ruling Congress party, which has dominated Indian politics for the last 65 years under the Gandhi family, was humiliated, reduced to its worst showing ever.
Almost everyone was expecting the result of a BJP-led government, but I don’t think many people believed that such a lopsided result was possible. The incoming coalition will have an estimated 335 seats. Since the BJP and its allies will have a commanding majority, they will probably be tempted to push their agenda as aggressively as they can. The scale of their win will encourage them to think that they have a mandate, but such things are always illusory. This result was more of a repudiation of the outgoing government and a venting of years of frustration with its failures than it was an endorsement of Modi or his party. On the other hand, because the BJP and its allies have received such strong support their effectiveness and competence will be judged more harshly, and there will be that much less patience with them if they are not seen to be addressing voters’ problems. The perils for the new government are that it will be expected to be the reforming government that it advertised itself to be and that the size of its victory will create unrealistic expectations of how quickly popular grievances will be redressed.
There is another danger for India in that the result means an extraordinary concentration of power in Modi’s hands:
The scale of the BJP victory, and Modi’s key role in it, means that “power will be more concentrated in the hands of one person than it has been since Indira Gandhi” ruled the country in the 1970s, says Gilles Verniers, an analyst of Indian politics.
That would be a concern regardless of Modi’s background, but because he is a committed Hindu nationalist it will be more alarming for religious minorities. Even if Modi doesn’t govern as a Hindu nationalist ideologue, the fear that he might persists. Now that his party controls a majority by itself, the temptation to indulge his core supporters will be hard to resist, and that could complicate already strained relations with the U.S.
Brahma Chellaney notes that improving ties with the U.S. may not be a high priority for Modi:
Modi is the sort of leader who can help put U.S.-India ties back on track and boost cooperation. Yet there is a risk that his relations with the U.S., at least initially, could be more businesslike than warm, owing to an American slight that is hard for him to forget. In 2005, the US government revoked his visa over unproven allegations that he connived in Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. Even after India’s Supreme Court found no evidence to link Modi to the violence, the US continued to ostracize him, reaching out to him only on the eve of the recent election.
With the US having expressed no regret for its revocation of his visa, Modi is unlikely to go out of his way to befriend the U.S. by seeking a White House visit. Instead, he is expected to wait for US officials to come calling.
It would be smart for the Obama administration to make the first move in repairing relations with India and specifically with Modi himself. The U.S. will likely be dealing with a BJP government under Modi’s leadership for quite a while, and it is in the interests of both countries to cultivate a closer and more stable relationship than we have had recently.