Bury The Liberal Talk, Modi 3.0 Ain’t Going Anywhere – OpEd


On June 18, Nirjala Ekadashi, a day that holds great religious and spiritual significance in Hindu religion, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in his parliamentary constituency of Kashi Vishwanath (Varanasi), for the first time since he clocked a historic hattrick and became PM for the third consecutive term.

Amidst chants of Har Har Mahadev at the holy precincts of Lord Shiva’s ancient temple, Modi made a fierce political statement with just his actions. He performed the Ganga Aarti at the majestic Dashashwamedh Ghat of the holy Ganga river, performed the Jalabhishek ceremony at the Jyotirlinga and announced that he had returned to “his people” to “thank them for reposing their faith in his leadership”. All throughout, Modi maintained his usual unapologetic “staunch Hindu nationalist image”, calling himself the “adopted son of Ma Ganga”. 

The imagery of the videos that the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party flooded on social media dashed the hopes of the so-called Liberals, who have been expecting Modi to mellow down and also play down the Hindutva image. Those who have been speaking out vociferously against Modi after the recent reduction in popular mandate that BJP has seen, were surprised to see Modi in his “grand old avatar”. 

In the last ten days since he took oath as PM, the buzz in the capital city has been that Modi 3.0 is a coalition government in a precarious position and may collapse anytime. There are top analysts and political soothsayers ready to bet that Modi’s two partners – Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Janata Dal United (JD-U) – can ditch him anytime. Some have said that they will stage a walkover to the INDIA Bloc even before Parliament session begins. Everytime a leaf moves in the lush green New Delhi area, and two top political leaders meet or talk over phone, there are murmurs of a “ NDA government breakdown”.

While Modi completed his religious ceremonies in Kashi today and went on to announce a substantial largesse to farmers as well as women social workers and their self-help groups, the anti-Modi brigade bragged about an interview that appeared in the foreign press with Congress MP Rahul Gandhi where he has raised a question mark over the stability of the NDA government claiming that there is “a  tectonic shift in Indian politics” and the Modi-led government will “struggle to survive”. Gandhi has claimed that there is “great dissent” brewing in the Modi camp and “people were getting in touch with the Congress” for exploring various political possibilities and opportunities, thereby signaling in no uncertain terms that he has ways and means to destabilize Modi 3.0.

So, let us examine the “great dissent” claim being made by the Gandhi scion. For one, there is nothing in the air about dissent from the two major coalition partners, TDP and JD-U. There is also nothing to suggest that there is a change in who is calling the shots in the new government. I remember the conversation on the eve of the swearing-in day when speculations overtook commonsense and media began to expect a ridiculously high number of ministers to be absorbed from both the coalition partners, apart from several other demands doing the rounds. However, contrary to expectations, many stalwarts who were ministers in Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0 took oath for the third time and there was a healthy addition from all other NDA partners. 

The distribution of portfolios was the same story. Detractors had changed the portfolios of the entire cabinet in their social media discussions the previous evening, starting with Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, S. Jaishankar, Nirmala Subramanian, Piyush Goel, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Manuskh Mandaviya, Jyotiraditya Scindia and J.P. Nadda, to name a few. However, Modi signaled continuity in portfolios and this continuity also re-energised the market, which saw a big jump that erased the losses recorded on June 4th. The top ministers and ministries remained intact, which was Modi’s way to demonstrate that he is in full command. The Liberal Gang still did not give up. Stories floated in the Press and in the What’s App University that TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu as well as JD-U Chief Nitish Kumar were not letting Modi breathe and were ready to part ways anytime. 

It is not my case that bickering between the coalition partners will not continue, because consensus despite the differences is the healthy coalition government that people have been waiting for. It is also not my case that Modi will not need to soften his approach towards his own senior leaders as well as the opposition leaders. Yet, I firmly believe that Modi 3.0 is here to stay for a good five years, all the talk by the Liberals notwithstanding. 

The first signal came three days ago in Italy at the G7 Summit, where Modi made his first overseas appearance since he took over as PM for the third term. From the bilateral meetings that he held and the indications that he gave in each one of them, it is apparent that Modi will not change a leaf in his foreign policy book. In any case, there is little dispute that Modi has managed to drive India towards becoming a global force as well as the world’s third-largest economy by 2027. Despite a reduced mandate, people vouch that the Modi government’s pursuit of consensus and multilateralism will continue to boost the country’s image as well as the economy. At the G7 Summit, foreign press wrote emphatically about India’s bid to move its status from the middle power rung to the super power rung. 

Collective wisdom suggests that there is no reason for instability. First, any cobbling together of numbers that the INDI alliance attempts now, is a post-poll alliance which is always unstable. Look at Modi 3.0 – While 60 ministers are from the BJP, 11 are from alliance partners. Almost all allies – ranging from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Janata Dal (United) (JD-U), the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the Apna Dal, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD-S), the  Republican Party of India (Athawale) (RPI-A), the Shiv Sena – have found representation. Second, Modi 3.0 is now smugly in the saddle and there is no political party which will not want to share power with them. BJP accounts for eighty percent of the seats of the NDA. Third, INC forgets that BJP is almost two and a half times its numbers and more than the combined INDI alliance tally.

Please recall the PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress government in the early nineties (1991-96) which had barely 244 MPs, but cobbled together the numbers and completed a full term. Rao will always be remembered as the Father of Economic Liberalization as he managed to usher in massive economic reforms, paving the way for what we call a modern and new India. How can the Congress party forget their own ‘Chanakya’  who managed to steer economic and political legislation through the Parliament at a time when he headed a minority government?

There is another fact that we should not overlook. The voters have voted for continuity of the BJP-led NDA government, albeit with a reduced majority. The mandate in one way rewards the BJP and Modi for the development carried out during the last 10 years, but at the same time also places checks and balances. 

Modi who is a seasoned politician signals continuity of his party’s policies and programmes, in continuous consultation with allies. The BJP’s economic policy of focusing on growth with welfare receives an impetus with its two key allies, Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar, also championing these aspects. 

The Liberals are talking about an unstable alliance, hoping in their dreams that Naidu and Nitish, either or both, shall stage a walkout. Assuming for once that they do so and cross over to the INDI alliance, the group will still lack a majority. Even if they run around trying to add to numbers, they have competition from the Machiavellian mastermind Amit Shah who could beat them at the game any day. In today’s date, BJP is far more politically swift and capable of putting the numbers together than INC. Do not be surprised if they add to their numbers, even if they don’t require them right now.

Look at how Modi conducted himself on the very first day of his office. The first document he signed was an order authorizing the release of the 17th installment of PM Kisan Samman Nidhi to distribute Rs 2,000 each to the 93 million farmers in the country, an expense of Rs 20,000 crore for the exchequer. Look at his long innings as Gujarat chief minister(2001-14) or as Prime Minister (2014-24) and now his third innings. Many who have known Modi since the mid-seventies will tell you that he handled ideologically diverse parties during the Emergency when, as a young RSS pracharak, he coordinated with major Opposition leaders, RSS ideologues and even Jamaat-e-Islami leaders who were a part of the underground movement to protest its imposition.

Everyone will tell you that Modi is an ace negotiator. He reportedly played a key role in coordinating with allies, including Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee when Atal Behari Vajpayee became Prime Minister for the second time. What stops Modi from using this experience to handle the nitty-gritty of running a coalition government?

The message has been unambiguous ! Modi and the BJP may not have a majority on their own, but there shall be no bending over to appease anyone. Many have pointed out that there is not a single Muslim in the Modi 3.0 cabinet. This itself should serve as a signal to all that Modi will run the government pretty much how he wants to. 

Last of all, the “New BJP” led by Modi is also not rigid on issues of religion and Hindutva. Modi has put the Nation First, while at the same time stirring the emotions of the majority community by displaying heroic and staunch nationalism. Both, BJP and its ideological mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), have asserted that there is a need to integrate, the need to co-exist, and that the very phrase “minority” is avoidable in an inclusive society.

Although BJP and RSS have asserted through abrogation of Article 370, the grand opening of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and the proposed bringing of a uniform civil code (UCC), they have time and again clarified that they did not espouse persecution. Vigilantism has also been punished. In the context of the stability of Modi 3.0, Naidu and Nitish are no novices, and they know what to expect. They have their regional issues which are of higher concern and Modi will be seen going out of his way to help them tide over. Having said this, expect a five year innings for the Coalition with political tussles that shall continue.

Manoranjana Gupta

Manoranjana Gupta is a Journalist, TV opinion leader, and a Special Advisor for GDKP in India, at the Center for Digital Future, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism under the University of Southern California.

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