Tsu-namo 2.0 and Nepal
Prime Minister Modi is returning to power in India with more confidence will mean that his government will be more assertive towards smaller countries like Nepal in the neighborhood.
As a leader who masterminded the five-month economic blockade of Nepal in 2015, Modi’s policy towards its northern neighbour has been hands-off since then.
Read also: India's new social media politics, Shashi Tharoor
The new Modi government can be expected to counter China’s Belt Road Initiative with increasing India’s own investment in highway, railway, energy and telecommunication connectivity to and within Nepal.
Nepal’s leaders may also have to adjust their policy of equidistance between Beijing and New Delhi to take into account a more powerful and confident Modi government to the south.
Read also: At ground zero in India's election heartland, Namrata Sharma
When he won in 2014, Modi had launched a ‘neighbourhood first’ policy with mixed results. This time he may show them red lines while seeking to a much larger say in the region, and offering cooperation in development areas with people-oriented projects as he has done at home.
Modi could redefine his Nepal policy in order to seek acceptability and course correction. There are challenges on foreign policy as the problems in India’s periphery are significant. With occasional diplomatic blunders and lack of ground understanding, there are serious limitations to India’s influence in the region vis-a-vis an assertive China.
A Modi-fied Oli, Om Astha Rai
Campaigning in Nepal, Editorial
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi has swept India’s 2019 parliamentary elections by winning 300 seats on its own out of the 542 in the Lower House. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) led by BJP has mustered 349 seats, which is up from 336 in 2014. The opposition Indian National Congress mustered barely 51 seats, with its United Progressive Alliance obtaining 91.
The saffron wave not only swept through the Hindi heartland and Gujarat, but also rippled through West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra and Karnataka. It has gained nearly 50% vote share in North and West India and broken its own 2014 record.
By pursuing an inward-looking growth, India has also failed to economically integrate the region. But it is more than concerned about the rising footprints of China in Nepal and elsewhere, which were traditionally seen as within its sphere of influence.
The results clearly indicate that Modi is and will remain an uncontested leader in India. Voters seem to like his assertive leadership, and think it will secure national interest, deliver on governance and lift the poor. They have voted for Modi despite massive unemployment, rural distress and the highly divisive nature of BJP campaigns.
India may now be headed towards a presidential-style of government with every constituency having voted for just one person: Modi. This is unprecedented as no single politician has emerged the centre of an entire election exercise since Indira Gandhi in 1971. Critics say this will concentrate power and centralise decision-making, as the election was fought solely on the issue of national leadership.
The results also indicate that ideological battles are different from electoral contests as India has voted as a block despite caste dynamics, regional traditions and social structures embedded in Indian political system.
Consensus coalition politics is now a thing of the past with powerful regional satraps holding sway. Except for Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, the BJP has made huge inroads in states it was weak earlier in like West Bengal and Odisha which were dominated by strong regional leaders. It has managed to even thwart the threats from BSP-SP super-coalition ‘mahagathbandan’ in Uttar Pradesh.
How did the juggernaut of Modi and BJP President Amit Shah manage such a victory? The BJP is a well-organised, cadre-based party with deep penetration right to the electoral booth. Over the past five years Amit Shah built an extraordinary party machinery with millions of new members who reached out to voters.
During the campaign, BJP deployed enormous financial resources, dominated the media, and did not allow dissenting voice in the party to emerge in public. There has been micro-management from the top thereby maintaining the flow of command and discipline among cadres.
The opposition Congress, on the other hand, was disorganised. Although it talked of delivering justice through ‘love and unity’, that did not resonate with the upper class and first-time voters in India. The fact that the President of Congress party Rahul Gandhi lost to BJP’s Smriti Irani in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, which was considered a stronghold of Gandhi family, goes to show that the opposition’s criticism of Modi’s policies on demonetisation and slogans like ‘chowikar chor hai’ did not have support because voters were looking for decisive leadership. The only state that Congress gained in was Punjab under Capt Amarinder Singh.
The Modi government’s welfare schemes like building toilets, cooking gas connections, housing and rural electrification benefitted recipients who have in turn rewarded him abundantly. Some 48 million people received Mudra loans totaling crore in last four years. The underprivileged see in Modi a person who can deliver on his promises.
The 100 million first time voters seem to be Modi-worshippers: rich or poor, these voters they have known only one name in national politics, someone who believes in digitalising India and is often seen hugging foreign dignitaries. They like Modi’s extrovert style, his oratory and they believe in his dream of a modern India. They felt Rahul Gandhi is no alternative.
“India has won, democracy has won, and people have won,” Modi told supporters, calling his victory one of ‘hope and desires for a new India’. Hundreds of millions of Indians now look up to him to resolve national problems and enhance India’s role on the global stage.
The author is Nepali journalist and researcher based in New Delhi.