Will Modi juggernaut prevail for third time?

Wednesday, 29 May 2024 00:11 –      – 18

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The results of the General Election (which was held in seven phases) of the world’s largest democracy – India – will be declared next week. Although opinion polls earlier indicated a comfortable victory for the Indian Premier Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), the latest reports indicate that things are not as straightforward for the incumbent as some would have initially expected. Determining the mood of voters is not an easy task in such a populous and diverse country like India.

Modi enjoys a tremendous cult status within the Indian society and there is no individual to rival his larger-than-life persona from the opposition. The Indian Premier’s PR team has been extremely successful in terms of creating a feel good narrative among the voters. Under Modi’s watch, India’s economic expansion has continued and many are feeling better off than they were before. India has already surpassed the UK to become the world’s fifth largest economy and is expected to overtake Japan and Germany to become the third-largest in five years.

There has been a massive development in infrastructure across India over the last decade. The current BJP government has launched and added 23 high-speed trains to the railway network. Although only 74 airports were built until 2014 since India gained Independence, 75 airports and helipads were added over the last 10 years. The former Gujarat Chief Minister has been on record stating that infrastructure development is the driving force of the economy and it would help India become a developed country by 2047.

Since coming into power, Modi has developed a comprehensive welfare scheme, which has increased his popularity in leaps and bounds. These welfare offerings include providing cooking gas, free grain, houses, toilets, piped water, electricity, as well as a job-guarantee program. Many of these benefits are delivered through cash transfers to bank accounts linked to biometric identity cards – known as Aadhaar – held by billions of Indians. Analysts claim direct cash transfers have cut corruption and slashed costs.

Nevertheless, not everything in India under Modi has been rosy. Critics claim that since the BJP gaining power in 2014, the nation’s Muslim community – which numbers about 200 million – have faced increasing violence, discrimination as well as prejudice. Even before he became the Premier, Modi was considered a Hindu nationalist and the BJP has always been perceived as hostile to Muslims in India. The controversial Citizenship Amendment Act – which was passed in 2019 – provided a fast track to naturalisation for Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who fled to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 31 December 2014, while excluding Muslims who represent the majority in all the three aforementioned countries. The move attracted widespread protests across India, with protestors claiming that the law threatened the secular foundation of the State.

Meanwhile, the opposition to the BJP – a coalition of numerous political parties called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) – which is led by the Indian National Congress – is fractured from infighting, clashes, and competing interests. The mainstream media appears to be highly favourable to the BJP as most of the media moguls are close associates of the ruling party.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is a close personal friend of Modi and he has a close rapport with the top-level leaders of the BJP. The Modi administration provided an aid package to the tune of $ 4 billion at the height of the economic crisis and the relationship between New Delhi and Colombo is robust at the moment. The BJP has a very limited base in India’s southern states like Tamil Nadu – the regional political parties of which have been historically inimical to the interest of the Governments of Sri Lanka. By and large, a victory for the BJP-dominated NDA alliance could be favourable to Colombo.