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Editorial: A ‘Win’ for Secular India

Narendra Modi’s subdued victory in India’s elections highlights the public’s disenchantment with his divisive politics

by Editorial

File photo. Prakash Singh—AFP

Narendra Modi declared victory in India’s general election earlier this week—though his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failing to secure the landslide he had predicted on the campaign trail marred the celebrations. In his victory speech, Modi maintained Indian voters had “shown immense faith” in his party and the National Democratic Alliance coalition, heralding his return to the Prime Minister’s Office for an unprecedented third time. Yet there is no denying that Modi’s light has dimmed with the NDA coalition as a whole securing roughly 300 of 543 seats in Parliament, 240 of which belong to the BJP. This is insufficient for a simple majority, indicating that Modi’s government might be beholden to its allies, a position that leaves little room for major reforms.

By contrast, the opposition performed far better than expected, with Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi claiming voters had “punished Modi and the BJP at the ballot box. Analysts have attributed the BJP’s setback to inflation, joblessness, a controversial army recruitment reform, and an aggressive and divisive electoral campaign spearheaded by Modi. Do the poll results indicate a disenchantment with the Hindu-majority worldview promoted by the BJP? Is India less “religious” in light of the perceived lassitude with Hindutva?

It is undeniable that religion remains a major factor in every Indian election—but it is apparently no longer a deciding factor. A key example is Modi’s inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on the site of the demolished Babri Mosque as fulfillment of the BJP’s vow in the lead up to the last general election. Despite this, the BJP lost the Ram Mandir seat, suggesting other factors have registered more effectively with voters. The role played by the divisiveness of Modi’s campaign also cannot be ignored; in a bid to unite the Hindu majority on the platform of Hindutva, it appears to have united the country’s minorities against the BJP. With Modi set to become prime minister again this week—though in a significantly weaker position than his last tenure—it will prove beneficial to observe what, if anything, he has learnt from the Indian public’s dissatisfaction with his politics of division.

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