Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Modi must build a more inclusive India for all

The prime minister’s election win is a chance to heal societal wounds

BJP leader and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures a victory sign at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, 23 May 2019. EPA
BJP leader and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures a victory sign at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, 23 May 2019. EPA

After a lengthy and divisive campaign, incumbent prime minister Narendra Modi has just won a second term in office in India in a landslide victory. The world’s biggest elections, in which about 600 million people voted, was seen as a fight for the very identity and soul of the country. Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party needed 272 seats in the Lok Sabha for a majority. In the end his party, which campaigned on a ticket of Hindu nationalism and a stronger economy, secured a comfortable majority with an estimated 300 seats in the lower house. Congratulations poured in tonight from world leaders, among them Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, who tweeted: “We look forward to working together to deepen our strong bilateral ties. The UAE wishes India and its friendly people more development & prosperity.” Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan wrote: “Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.”

As the country recovers tomorrow from tonight's celebrations, much work lies ahead. Mr Modi might have had a resounding win but a bitterly fought campaign exposed some of the fracture lines in Indian society, among them caste and class divisions, rising anti-Muslim sentiment and social inequalities which has led to desperate hardships suffered by farmers. In the campaign, insults traded between candidates became commonplace. Minorities have paid the price for Hindu nationalism – primarily, the country’s 200 million Muslims, who have complained of feeling increasingly marginalised since Mr Modi first came to office. Meanwhile cow vigilantism has gone unchallenged, with Muslims and Dalits attacked for allegedly eating beef and slaughtering cows. Mr Modi must embrace these under-represented and disenfranchised groups in his post-election promise to “grow and prosper”.

In the 2014 election, Mr Modi cultivated the image of a "chowkidar" – or gatekeeper – to appeal to the everyman. In recognition of the fact this is the strongest possible vindication of his leadership and he no longer needs to trade on a moniker, he followed his win by dropping the “chowkidar” from his Twitter handle. Nevertheless, there are huge expectations resting on him. He has yet to deliver on his promise that “good days are coming”, first made in 2014. Significant economic reforms are needed to reverse a slowdown. He has already began overhauling urban infrastructure but he will need to tackle unemployment, deliver on his promise of a social welfare programme for farmers and, more significantly, start building “a strong and inclusive India”.

Voters have given him another five years to achieve his goals. He has promised to “continue working for India’s progress”. For the sake of all Indians, now is the time to do just that.

Updated: May 23, 2019 07:36 PM

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