The Indian Prime Minister's election victory threatens the country's secular identityby Ramachandra Guha / June 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
Narendra Modi’s victory parade in New Delhi in May. © Reuters/Adnan Abidi
At 6pm on 26th May, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister of India. Within an hour, the official website of the Prime Minister had been updated. After announcing that a new man had taken charge, the first paragraph of the amended site continued:
“In Narendra Modi, the people of India see a dynamic, decisive and development-oriented leader who has emerged as a ray of hope for the dreams and aspirations of a billion Indians. His focus on development, eye for detail and efforts to bring a qualitative difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor have made Narendra Modi a popular and respected leader across the length and breadth of India. Narendra Modi’s life has been a journey of courage, compassion and constant hard work.”
The language was characteristic. Narendra Modi is not a modest man. All through the election campaign, he focused on what he claimed to have done in Gujarat, the western Indian state where he had been Chief Minister since 2001. His speeches continually drew attention to himself, with liberal—not to say excessive—use of Hindi or Gujarati equivalents of “I,” “Me,” “Mine,” “Myself.” He would speak in one place of how he had brought uninterrupted electricity to his farmers; in another of how he had ended bureaucratic corruption; in a third of how he had overseen a revolution in the production and distribution of milk.
Each general election in India is unique. This time, it was evident well before the actual polling that the ruling Congress Party would lose. Voters were disenchanted by rising prices and large-scale corruption in government. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was increasingly seen as indecisive, unable to assert his authority over his own Cabinet colleagues.
The Congress Party had 206 seats in the last parliament. Although their tally was expected to fall, no one expected such a rout. While exit polls had given the BJP a tally of between 200 and 240 seats (out of 543), it achieved a total of 282, thus commanding a majority on…