17 May 2014

Narendra Modi: what does his landslide win mean for India?

The leader of the Bharatiya Janata party looks set to sweep to power replacing India’s Congress party, which has ruled for over a decade. Where will Narendra Modi take India next?

BJP leader Narendra Modi

“India has won. Good times ahead.”

This was Narendra Modi’s buoyant declaration of victory as news filtered in of his party’s unassailable lead in the Indian elections. His army of supporters shared his optimism, with his tweet rapidly becoming the most retweeted post in Indian history.

So can the rest of India expect the good times to roll on? We take a look at what these election results mean for India.

Vote for change

Modi’s election is a clear vote against the status quo in India. Modi hails from a low caste family in Gujarat and grew up helping his father to sell tea before and after school. He projects himself as a man of the people and an outsider, free from the corruption and elitism that have caused Indians to grow increasingly disillusioned with the present administration.

Rahul Gandhi’s crushing defeat in these elections may signal the end of an era for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has dominated Indian politics for almost century.

Congress relied too much on the loyalty of its traditional vote blocks. Dr Simona Vittorini

Dr Simona Vittorini, a senior teaching fellow at the SOAS South Asia Institute, argues that “a vast proportion of India’s population is under 26, so the memory of Nehru-Gandhi may not resonate with this demographic”.

India is changing rapidly, undergoing rapid urbanisation and liberalisation, a fact that the Congress party has failed to reflect. Vittorini explains that “the Congress relied too much on the loyalty of its traditional vote blocks – lower castes and the very poor. Yet, the changes in the demographics of India has brought with it new values, new expectations and beliefs that the Congress wasn’t able to interpret.”

The fact that the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) has succeeded in breaking through the caste divide, gaining both rural and urban approval, may signal a new trend in Indian politics.

Rise of Hindu nationalism?

Modi identifies himself as a Hindu nationalist, which has raised concerns about how well positioned he is to deal with minority groups in India and to manage India’s relationship with neighbouring Pakistan.

For many Indian Muslims, Modi is seen as a leader with blood on his hands. Since 2002, he has faced allegations that he presided over communal clashes in the state of Gujurat which led to the killing of nearly a thousand Muslims.

According to Charu Lata Hogg, associate fellow of Asia Program Chatham House, “justice has so far eluded the victims of these clashes. There are widespread but not entirely unfounded concerns about the future of minorities in India given Modi’s reference to Indians as Hindus.”


This chapter of violence on Modi’s watch has mattered less and less to many Indians, including a burgeoning middle class alarmed by dwindling purchasing power and job opportunities as the economy slumped to sub-5 per cent growth in the last two years.

Dr Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay, an expert in contemporary India at Goldsmiths College, London, explains that “people have reacted against the fact that the price of basic necessities have skyrocketed over the last five years, and they don’t feel that the Congress party have done anything to arrest this. There has been a crisis in top-level decision-making.”

Modi has promised that, if elected, he would take decisive action to unblock stalled investments in power, road and rail projects to revive economic growth.

People have reacted against the fact that the price of basic necessities have skyrocketed over the last five years. Dr Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay

Tax and labour market reforms, backed by a gradual opening up to foreign investment, would seek to create the 10 million jobs that Asia’s third-largest economy must create every year to employ young people entering the workforce.

India’s most ambitious indirect tax reform would replace existing state and federal levies with a uniform tax, boosting revenue collection while cutting business transaction costs.

However, with a population over 1 billion people in the world’s largest democracy, the task he faces will not be an easy one.