Narendra Modi prepares for third term

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he arrives at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, India. Picture: Reuters

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he arrives at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, India. Picture: Reuters

Published Jun 7, 2024


India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was deep in negotiations with alliance partners to form his cabinet on Thursday, after an unexpectedly close election that forced his party into a coalition government.

Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which ruled for the past decade with an outright majority, had been expecting another landslide win.

But results of the six-week election released on Tuesday ran counter to exit polls, seeing the BJP lose its majority and sending it into quick-fire talks to lock in a 15-member coalition that would allow it to govern.

That grouping, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), announced late on Wednesday that they had agreed to form a government, “unanimously” choosing Modi as their leader.

The alliance holds 293 seats in parliament, giving it control of the 543-seat body.

The motley assortment of minor parties on Thursday were seeking to leverage their new influence to extract minister positions.

India’s NDTV reported “hectic negotiations” on top jobs, suggesting that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh – the largest BJP ally with 16 seats – wanted five posts, including parliamentary speaker.

The Indian Express said the support of smaller parties would “come at a price”, suggesting that the BJP’s second-biggest ally, the Janata Dal (United) party of Bihar state was seeking the railways and rural development portfolios.

Modi’s new reliance on “the minefield of coalition politics” meant he faced the prospect of a far tougher-than-expected third term, the Hindustan Times warned on Thursday.

“Consensus building will have to be the bedrock of governance,” it added, noting the right-wing BJP will have to “recalibrate its expansion plans”.

Indian media reports said Modi could be sworn in as prime minister as early as Friday, with regional leaders including Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe expected.

While Modi faces a complicated task ahead at home, he won the plaudits of leaders around the world.

US President Joe Biden congratulated Modi, saying the “friendship between our nations is only growing”, while French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated his “dear friend”. China said it was “ready to work” with its neighbour, while the coalition’s win was also applauded by Australia, Britain, the EU, Japan and Russia.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government has invited public submissions as it prepares a new roadmap for the country’s closer economic engagement with India.

Modi, 73, has insisted that the election results were a victory that ensured he would continue his agenda.

“Our third term will be one of big decisions and the country will write a new chapter of development,” Modi told a crowd of cheering supporters in the capital New Delhi. “This is Modi’s guarantee.”

Commentators and exit polls had projected an overwhelming victory for Modi, who critics have accused of leading the jailing of opposition figures and trampling on the rights of India’s 200-million-plus Muslim community.

But the BJP secured 240 seats in parliament, well down from the 303 it won five years ago and 32 short of a majority on its own. The main opposition Congress party won 99 seats in a remarkable turnaround, almost doubling its 2019 tally of 52.

“Today’s masters are not as strong as they were,” Christophe Jaffrelot, a professor at King’s College London, wrote in The Hindu daily on Thursday.

“For the first time in his political career, Narendra Modi will have to play the coalition game.”

Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge said the result was a vote against Modi “and the substance and style of his politics”.

“It is a huge political loss for him personally, apart from being a clear moral defeat as well,” he told party leaders at an opposition alliance meeting.

In a personal sting, Modi was re-elected to his constituency representing the Hindu holy city of Varanasi with a far lower margin of 152 300 votes. That compared with nearly half a million votes five years ago.

Ashutosh Varshney, a political scientist at Brown University, wrote in the Indian Express on Thursday that Modi’s setback reflected concerns about what the “idea of India” meant to voters – against a backdrop of a “rise of animosities and polarisation in society, people’s concern about rights and the steeply rising inequalities”.

Cape Times