Narendra Damodar Modi - the man who made nearly many Indians, hit by corruption and trying to cope up with spiralling inflation, believe in the jargon that good days are ahead – will in all probability be the next prime minister of India, at least the exit polls say so.
Just ahead of the counting of votes for the nine-phased General Election, which saw a record 66.38% overall voter turnout in the history of India’s parliamentary democracy, almost all leading exit polls have predicted that Modi-led BJP will win the popular mandate and the required numbers to form a government at the Centre.
The BJP central leadership, its parent body ‘the RSS’, its strategists, its workers and supporters may be elated that their months-long hard work is now bearing rich dividends. Narendra Modi, who criss-crossed the country to ensure his party’s victory, has little time to rejoice as he is clearly aware of voters’ high expectations from him and the challenges he faces in reviving the fortunes of the country. Here are some of the major challenges, which Modi faces as Prime Minister and key issues, which he needs to address.
Economy: Throughout his election campaign, Modi had attacked the Congress-led UPA government of failing to curb inflation, preventing corruption and retarding the economic growth rate of the country. In this context, bringing economy back on track, accelerating growth rate, increasing foreign exchange reserves, attracting more and more Foreign Institutional Investors, containing the burgeoning fiscal deficit and, above all, infusing a sense of optimism in the market will be the first and foremost challenge before the NDA government.
This is important, especially in light of a recent report from Moody’s that India will not be able to return to high growth path of 7-8 percent any time soon even if it pursues a strong reforms agenda. The Modi government will face its first credibility test with markets when he delivers a budget by June or July that will need to show the country can realistically contain its fiscal deficit.
Though the BJP leadership has hinted that it has no plans to change the RBI Governor and meddle in the body’s day-to-day affairs, its relationship with the central bank and the measures which it takes to contain the current account deficit will further decide the direction in which the national economy will proceed. The BJP promised fiscal discipline and banking reforms among other policy plans in its 2014 election manifesto, hence it would be interesting to see how it implements them after coming to power. Job creation and stemming inflation will be other big challenges for `PM` Modi.
Foreign policy: The main opposition party has always attacked the Congress-led UPA government for its weak and direction-less foreign policy, and its soft approach towards terrorism. Though the BJP’s election manifesto speaks very little in this regard, it is quite certain that India’s foreign policy will undergo a “sea change” under the Modi government. Modi’s regular criticism of the UPA government for its soft response to terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan and to Chinese incursions into the Indian territory has created a perception that the new regime will be tough in its dealing with Pakistan and would not succumb to China’s bullying tactics. Modi himself gave an indication in this regard in a recent interview when he said that talks with Pakistan can’t continue amid bomb blasts and gunshots. It will not be wrong to presume that the Modi government envisages a bigger role for military in shaping India’s national security and formulating doctrines, and a greater say for states in the government’s formulation and execution of foreign policy.
With the big economies, especially the United States led by Barack Obama, certainly realising the need to bridge the gap with the Gujarat CM, it would be interesting to see how the NDA regime reciprocates to the hand of friendship extended by the West.
Minorities: Despite concerted efforts by the BJP central leadership to woo the minorities, the Muslims in India still see the party dominated by Modi - an aggressive, authoritarian and polarising leader - with scepticism. A vigorous campaign by rival parties raking up the issue of 2002 communal riots in Gujarat during their poll campaign has further instilled anxiety in the minority community about the new Modi government. Modi urgently needs to change this perception. He needs to make minorities feel safe and realise that they are equal partners in India’s growth story and they enjoy equal rights as all Indians. Though Modi has fallen short of saying `sorry` for the Gujarat carnage, he and the apex BJP leadership have taken significant steps towards repairing the bridge with the minorities while sticking to the party’s Hindutva agenda.
The balancing act: Even before Modi was declared the BJP’s PM nominee, it was said that he needs to fear his own party colleagues more than his rivals in other parties. This holds true with the emergence of several power centres in the party. A section of leaders in VHP and RSS have opposed Modi, who is seen as a ruthless, authoritarian and an uncompromising leader who demands 100 percent loyalty. Modi has faced criticism for wiping out his opponents, silencing his critics and even sidelining party veterans, including Sushma Swaraj and LK Advani (who was forced to bless him under intense RSS pressure) in order to fulfil his political ambitions. Though the party has put up a united front, the reports of Advani sulking over Modi’s nomination as PM candidate, the controversy over his choice of seat to contest Lok Sabha elections, the debate over ``Modi bigger than party” indicate that keeping the party intact will be a big challenge before Modi. Modi needs to learn how to cohabit with adversaries.
As a four-time elected Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi has made development and clean governance as the hallmark of his leadership, so he is often seen with scepticism whether he will execute the RSS’s Hindutva agenda after becoming the Prime Minister. Hence, maintaining a fine balance between his constitutional obligations as the Prime Minister and the expectations of the RSS will be yet another test of the man, who has often said that development is his only agenda.
Coalition arithmetic: Modi’s detractors always say that he lacks the charisma of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, widely regarded as the embodiment of consensus among BJP top leaders. Though Vajpayee too had RSS ideologue Govindacharya as his bitter critic, he was a master craftsman when it came to building working relationships with his foes. The poet-politician, who was an excellent orator too, not only tolerated Advani - a leader of his stature - but also managed to cobble up a good equation with NDA allies to run a smooth coalition government. Can Modi do what AB Vajpayee did? In case, the BJP falls short of numbers, its Prime Ministerial nominee will have to reach out to both existing and new allies for support. At the moment, among the old NDA allies, the BJP has the support of only two - the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena. The party will have to take TDP led by Chandrababu Naidu, Ramvilas Paswan-led LJP and Tamil Nadu’s ruling party AIADMK onboard to be able to form government but the “support” will come at a huge cost. The “coalition compulsion” - a problem faced by Congress led UPA government – cannot remain unnoticed here. Not to forget that TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati of BSP have ruled out any support to Modi. All this will surely test whether Modi is a good agent of coalition politics.
An inspiring Cabinet: Whatever critics say about Modi, this is also true that he is a workaholic leader, who has no single case of corruption against him. Gujarat`s progress and prosperity have made his “Gujarat Model of Development” a talking point. He needs to maintain the same tempo while in the Centre too and for this he would need a loyal and committed team, which will discharge duties with honesty and maintain the sanctity of posts. Hence, a strong and inspiring Cabinet is a must for `Prime Minister` Modi. However, in doing so, he will have to “accommodate” everyone, while also maintaining cordial ties.