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Modi moderates, to be sworn in for third term


As a humbled Narendra Modi prepared to be sworn in as India’s prime minister for a third term on Sunday, the political mood in New Delhi seemed to have changed.

Elections that ended last week cost Modi his parliamentary majority, forcing him to turn to a diverse coalition of partners to stay in power. Now, other parties are enjoying what has been exclusive to Modi for years: relevance and attention.

Their leaders were surrounded by television crews as they made their way to Mr. Modi to present their demands and policy ideas. His opponents also received more airtime, with TV stations cutting off their news conferences, something almost unheard of in recent years.

Most importantly, Modi himself has changed. At least for now, his messianic aura has faded. He presents himself as the humble manager that voters want.

For many, Modi’s change of tack can only be good for Indian democracy — a move toward moderation that has whipped a deeply diverse country into a Hindu-first behemoth in the image of one man.

The question is whether Modi can actually become what he has never been in more than two decades of elected office: a consensus builder.

“He is a pragmatic politician who will moderate a little for his own survival and that of his party,” said Ashutosh, a New Delhi-based analyst who uses only one name and is the author of The New Delhi Times. a book On how India’s political situation will change during Modi’s administration, he said, “But it would be too much to expect that there will be a qualitative change in his way of governing.”

A hallmark of Modi’s rule in recent years has been using the levers of power at his disposal — from pressure from police cases to the lure of power and benefits — to whack opponents and bring them to his side. Analysts say a battered ruling party is likely to try this tactic to pull some lawmakers to its side to consolidate his position of power.

But in the days leading up to his swearing-in, there was a marked change in Modi’s approach. As members of the new alliance packed into the lobby of India’s old parliament building on Friday to discuss forming a government, Modi stood up every time a senior ally sitting next to him stood up to begin his speech. As Modi was presented with a garland as the alliance’s prime ministerial candidate, he waited The leaders of the two main coalition partners Come to him and put a congratulatory wreath made of purple orchids around his neck.

He did not refer to himself in the third person as he usually does in his hour-long speech. His tone was measured. He focused on the Union government’s commitment to “good governance” and the “dream of a developed India” and acknowledged that things would be different from the past 10 years.

The last time Modi visited Parliament House for a high-profile event was in May last year. Employment He made his entrance into a new, more modern parliament building in a manner some observers likened to that of a king: he had a pious mark on his forehead, held a scepter in his hand, and was flanked by shirtless Hindu monks chanting scriptures.

This time, he walked straight to a copy of the Constitution, which declares India a secular and socialist democracy, bowed and raised it to his forehead.

For the first time in more than two decades since he was elected president, Modi finds himself in uncharted territory. So far, whenever he has been in power — either at the state level as chief minister of Gujarat or at the national level — his Bharatiya Janata Party has never lost a majority. Analysts say that history of never joining the opposition has shaped his iron-fisted political strategy.

When he left Gujarat after 13 years in power, he had a firm grip on power and had crushed the opposition, making the state effectively a one-party state. In 2014, his BJP won a national victory, ending decades of coalition rule in India when no single party could muster the 272 parliamentary seats needed for a majority. He was re-elected in 2019 by an even larger margin.

Modi’s enormous power has helped his right-wing party quickly implement a decades-old agenda, including Build a lavish Hindu temple over the site of a long-disputed mosque and the revocation of the special status long enjoyed by the Muslim-majority Kashmir region.

One of the hallmarks of his rule has been his disregard for parliamentary procedure and legislative debate. In 2016, his unexpected overnight move to abolish India’s currency in an effort to combat corruption threw India into chaos and dealt a heavy blow to an economy that still relies on cash. Similarly, the hasty passage of laws aimed at reforming agricultural markets led to a year-long collapse of the economy. protest This has suffocated Delhi and forced Modi to retreat.

Before the election results were announced, Modi’s party had predicted that his alliance would win 400 seats in India’s 543-seat parliament. Modi said the opposition would be left sitting “in the audience.” His administration officials made clear that in his new term he would seek to implement the only major item left on the party’s agenda: legislation to enact “a new law that would allow the government to have a voice in the political arena.”Uniform Civil Codeto replace the different laws for different religions that currently govern issues such as marriage and inheritance. His party leaders say Modi is a leader not only for this term but also for the next election in 2029, when he will be 78.

“He has been trying to change the country,” Sudesh Verma, a BJP official who has written a book about Modi’s rise, said in an interview before the election results were announced. I expect him to continue working into his 90s like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew did.”

But under the coalition government, Modi’s traditional approach will be difficult.

Two of them Main coalition party The political forces that helped him secure the minimum number of parliamentary seats needed to form a government are secular, in stark contrast to Modi’s Hindu nationalist ideology.

N. Chandrababu Naidu, whose party holds 16 seats, has in the past harshly criticized Modi for his treatment of the Muslim minority. He has also openly criticized Modi for using central investigative agencies to target opponents and taking “steps that subvert all democratic institutions.”

“A contentious ideological issue like enacting a uniform civil code could be shelved if allies are uncomfortable with it,” said Neerja Chowdhury, a Delhi-based political analyst and author of the 2023 book “How the Prime Minister Decides.”

Modi’s popular image rests on two pillars. He is a champion of economic development with an inspiring story of rising from a lowly caste and relative poverty. He is also a lifelong Hindu nationalist who has spent decades transforming India, a secular and pluralistic country, into an openly Hindu-first one.

At the height of Modi’s power, Hindu nationalism became increasingly dominant. Analysts say the recent voter rebuke may be a lucky break for India: It has prompted Modi to tap into his side as a development advocate and focus on a legacy of economic transformation that can improve the lives of all Indians.

“To run a government, you need majority votes. But to run a country, you need consensus,” Modi said in his speech. “The people expect us to do better than before.”

Suhasini Raj Contribute to the report

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