After a five-week marathon election festival in which over 500 million voters thumbed in the ballot from about 840 million registered voters, India yesterday inaugurated a new government formed mainly by the victorious Bharatiya Jannata Party (BJP). The party’s mercurial and charismatic leader, Mr. Narendra Modi, former chief minister of the state of Gujarat, was sworn in as Prime Minister. He replaced the economist and Congress Party former Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh, famous for his Silkh turban and quiet mien.
After 10 years in office, Mr. Singh has managed to put the largest liberal democracy on the world spot and filling in most of the structural dot lines in her economy. For all his explicit work of refocusing the Indian economy, on the core fundamentals of industrialization and manufacturing, his critics say very volubly that he didn’t do enough. And that is where Mr. Modi, even with his extremist Hindu baggage came to the fore. He reputedly built up his state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister for 13 years to a business hub, his supporters, who like to compare him with Mr. Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese charismatic reformer who propelled its modernization and inspired the world’s most celebrated economic success, hope that he can replicate the Gujarat miracle on a national scale. He has very strong mandate, far more than the polls predicted.
The BJP won a record 282 seats in the parliament of the 543 total, that would afford it a comfortable majority to go it alone. But Mr. Modi, said at a victory speech, that he would seek a broad coalition, even though voters have given him mandate to rule alone. We commend his broad view of leadership, but we clearly worry about his background especially with the Hindu nationalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which still wants to build a Hindu temple on top of the demolished Muslim Mosque in Ayodhya in Utta Pradesh, and also wants the Muslim-majority Kashmir to lose its special constitutional status. Though, cleared by a Supreme Court panel of complicity in the extremist Hindu masterminded violence in Gurajat under his watch that killed about 1,000 Muslims, Mr. Modi is viewed with suspicion in non-Hindu communities in India and even abroad.
However, his campaign focus on economic issues and raising the quality of lives for all Indians, seemed to have made an impression with roaring victory, secured only in 1984 by Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi and his Congress, following the assassination of his mother, Indira Ghandi and the outpouring of national emotions and sympathy. We hope that Mr. Modi will use his strong mandate to bring the fruits of economic growth to all Indians. His foreign policy will be closely watched but we hope, he would continue the de-escalation of conflict with Pakistan, a neigbour that India has shared a very uneasy relationship for most times. As for the extremist Hindu rhetoric that occasionally pop up in Mr. Modi’s outings, we hope that the burden of leadership will blight any such prospect of pursuing a sectarian agenda. Overall, India has offered a lasting lesson to all struggling liberal democracies, especially in Africa -that a ruling party with a solid pedigree like the Congress Party of India could bow to the people’s wish without tapping any instrument of state power to manipulate the wishes of the people. The Congress Party scooped an appalling 44 parliamentary seats, the worst ever in its history but its dignity in bowing to the wishes of the people tells more about the strength of India’s democracy than the ephemeral election victory of any party.