Modi faces new reality of coalition government as he starts third term


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets supporters at his swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi on June 9. (Photo by Suzu Takahashi)

NEW DELHI — Narendra Modi has been sworn in as India’s prime minister for a historic third straight term, becoming only the second leader after Jawaharlal Nehru to achieve the feat. Although his Bharatiya Janata Party lost its outright majority in the nation’s recent general election, it is returning to power with the support of allies in the National Democratic Alliance.

“I look forward to serving [1.4 billion] Indians and working with the Council of Ministers to take India to new heights of progress,” Modi posted on X, formerly Twitter, after taking an oath on Sunday evening at the Presidential Palace along with 71 ministers — 11 of them allies. “This team of Ministers is a great blend of youth and experience, and we will leave no stone unturned in improving the lives of people,” he said.

Ministers including Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who were also sworn in, were part of Modi’s last term. The ministers’ portfolios have not been announced yet.

Since Modi’s first term began in May 2014, he has launched a number of nationwide schemes with goals such as empowering women, farmers and the poor.

Despite going all-out to win over voters, Modi’s BJP took only 240 of the 543 seats in the nation’s lower house of parliament, where the majority mark is 272, forcing it to depend on its allies in the NDA to form a government. Critics blasted him for rising joblessness, poverty-stricken farmers distress and soaring food prices, factors which might have cost the BJP its majority.

This is the first time in 23 years that Modi failed to secure a majority for the BJP either in state or national elections, including the era as the chief minister of the western Gujarat state. Although the BJP headed the NDA in the last two terms of Modi too, running a coalition government when his party doesn’t have a solo majority could be challenging. Modi is expected to make political compromises to keep his allies in the NDA happy on side.

In 1998, late BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee brought together allies to establish the NDA and was sworn in as prime minister of the coalition government which lasted only 13 months after one of his key alliance partners withdrew support.

Already, ahead of the oath-taking ceremony, local media quoted unnamed sources as claiming that Modi’s allies were pushing for key positions in the government and also seeking development funds for their regions.

In 2014, his Hindu nationalist party pulled off India’s biggest election landslide in three decades, winning 282 seats. Nothing similar had been seen since 1984 when the Congress party, which ruled the country for most decades after India’s independence from British rule, took more than 400 seats as it rode a wave of sympathy in the wake of the assassination of its leader, then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Modi’s party and alliance won an even bigger mandate five years later, with the BJP alone securing 303 seats. Modi mainly draws his support from the country’s majority Hindus, while minority Muslims often accuse the ruling party of marginalizing them.

Modi, 73, was born in September 1950 in Vadnagar in Gujarat to Damodardas Modi and his wife Hiraben, three years after India achieved freedom from British rule in 1947. He is the country’s first prime minister who was born in independent India.

He rose from humble origins to the most powerful position in the nation of more than 1.4 billion people. His father sold tea at a stall in a local railway station, where Narendra, the third of six children, often helped out.

“I’m aware of the pain of living under a weak roof. I’m aware [of] what a mother goes through when there is no food at home. I’m aware [of] how helpless one feels when there is no money to buy medicine,” Modi said at an election rally in April. “And that’s why I decided that I will not rest until I wipe out every worry of the poor.”

A charismatic leader and speaker, Modi served as Gujarat’s chief minister four times before becoming the country’s prime minister. He was credited for the region’s economic growth.

Modi wears crisp outfits made of handwoven khadi fabric and is often seen wearing a traditional kurta shirt and fitted churidar trousers along with a sleeveless jacket. Also a yoga enthusiast, Modi often reaches out to people through social media — he has a whopping 98.6 million followers on X. However, he shies away from news conferences and hasn’t held any in the last 10 years. He gave interviews to a number of media outlets during the six-week elections.

In 1972, he joined the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Organization, which is the ideological parent of the BJP. He went on to become one of its leading pracharaks, a term used for people who dedicate themselves fulltime to achieving the group’s objectives.

“He had potential and capacity [to rise in politics] because of which he was sent [to the BJP],” an RSS insider told Nikkei Asia of Modi, who joined the BJP in the 1980s.

As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi faced a boycott from the U.S. and the U.K over his alleged failure to control religious riots in the state in 2002. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2012 by an investigation team appointed by the Indian Supreme Court and has enjoyed friendly ties with Washington and London in his decade as prime minister.

In his election rallies, he also touted India’s rising global stature under his leadership, having hosted the Group of 20 summit last year and emerged as the voice of 125 developing countries of the Global South, whose cause he has been taking up at international forums. Modi had “a good report card to show the voters on foreign policy issues,” said Raj Kumar Sharma, a senior research fellow at independent think tank NatStrat.

If India gets permanent U.N. Security Council membership during Modi’s third term, “that will be a big shot in the arm” for his government for years to come, said Pankaj Jha, a professor of international affairs at India’s O.P. Jindal Global University.

source : asia.nikkei