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How Different Will Modi 3.0 Be From Previous Terms?

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How Different Will Modi 3.0 Be From Previous Terms?

Modi will need to set aside some Hindu nationalist goals to hold on to the support of his secular allies in government.

How Different Will Modi 3.0 Be From Previous Terms?

Home Minister Amit Shah takes his oath of office in Narendra Modi’s government 3.0 at New Delhi, India, June 9, 2024.

Credit: X/Amit Shah

On June 9, Narendra Modi was sworn in as India’s prime minister for the third consecutive term. He is widely perceived to have less authority this time, as his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s tally in Parliament fell 32 seats short of the majority mark.

As a result, Modi now heads a government heavily dependent on alliance partners. The latter do not agree with several items on the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda.

For example, his campaign in the recent general election was dominated by his allegation that the opposition INDIA bloc would rob lower caste and tribal Hindus of their reservation entitlements in education and jobs, and give these to Muslims. His party pledged that it would prevent Muslims from enjoying reservation benefits under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category.

However, Modi’s government now depends on the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which has 16 MPs and has formed the state government in Andhra Pradesh. TDP General Secretary Nara Lokesh, the son of party chief and Andhra Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, has made it clear that his party is committed to continuing the current 4 percent reservation for Muslims under the OBC list. The TDP would ensure that no unilateral decisions will be made on contentious issues like reservation, redrawing of parliamentary constituency boundaries, and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), he said.

Unilateral decisions made on the back of the BJP’s brute majority in Parliament were the hallmark of Modi’s rule of the past decade. From demonetizing 86 percent of the country’s cash overnight in his declared war against black money and criminalizing the Islamic divorce system of triple talaq to stripping India’s Jammu and Kashmir state of special constitutional status and statehood — all these major decisions were made by the Modi administration without consulting NDA partners.

Had the BJP got a strong majority this time around, the party had plans to enforce the UCC to remove the differences in personal laws of different religious communities. Modi will find it difficult to implement this plan unless he gets his partners on board.

Other items on the agenda of the Hindu nationalists are ending the traditional collegium system of appointments in the judiciary, which many fear would reduce the judiciary’s independence, and implementation of the “One Nation, One Election” system whereby parliamentary, state assembly, and local body elections will be held simultaneously.

The Modi government has also been accused of unleashing different federal investigation agencies on the opposition – either putting its leaders behind bars or forcing them to join the BJP.

Political observers point out that India’s first BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, toned down the Hindu nationalist goals to keep the coalition intact.

Hitherto, Modi has not needed to work with or appease allies. Whether as the Gujarat chief minister or at the helm of the Indian government, he has always enjoyed the backing of a strong BJP majority in the House, which allowed him to exercise his authoritarian style of governance.

That has now changed.

“Modi will have to carry his allies along. Allies would want the government and the coalition to follow policies that do not hurt their constituencies,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of “Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times,” told The Diplomat.

According to Mukhopadhyay, Modi has never displayed the skills needed to work as part of a collective leadership. “He is used to dictating. He likes to have the spotlight only on him. He now has to be humble, which he has never been.”

Emerging Equations

With the BJP’s vote share in the southern states increasing, it may need to put on the backburner its plans for a contentious delimitation of parliamentary constituencies based on the current population.

The current parliamentary seat boundaries are based on the constituency’s 1971 population. At present, there is a ban in force on redrawing parliamentary boundaries, which ends in 2026, when the government may either lift the ban or keep it in place.

The southern states are strongly opposed to lifting the ban, as they have controlled their population numbers better than the northern states, and will suffer should electoral boundaries be redrawn. Since the northern states are more heavily populated, they will have more seats in Parliament should electoral boundaries be redrawn.

In the recent general election, the BJP’s popularity in the north reduced and the south has given it hope for expansion. BJP veterans who spoke to The Diplomat said they expect the party to go for the status quo. Besides, the TDP is from the south and is opposed to a fresh delimitation of electoral boundaries.

According to Biswanath Chakraborty, a political scientist at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, the third Modi government will be different from the past two avatars structurally and functionally. Structurally, the government, which has been “a Modi government so far will transform into an NDA government,” he told The Diplomat. “Instead of I, Modi will have to highlight the collective leadership.”

“From a functional perspective, Modi would not be able to run the kind of centralized administration he is used to,” Chakraborty said.

Chakraborty expects center-state relations to change. The Modi government would not be able to make unilateral decisions or use central investigating agencies the way it did in the past two terms. He also anticipates a rise in militancy and terrorist activities in Kashmir and Manipur. “A weak federal government has always encouraged forces outside the democratic system,” he said.

Trust Deficit?

Over the past 10 years, the BJP and the Modi government have acted systematically to weaken the opposition parties by engineering defections.

However, their perceived role in engineering the division of two regional parties, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena, dealt a major blow to the NDA’s electoral performance in Maharashtra. This may prompt the BJP to move more cautiously in the future while engineering such defections.

The opposition, however, suspects that the BJP would wait for the right time and opportunity to resume its poaching of opposition parties to increase its parliamentary strength and reduce ally-dependency.

In response, opposition parties have decided to keep Modi under pressure by saying that they will be waiting for the right time and opportunity to fulfill “people’s desire of not to be ruled by the BJP.”

Modi has started his third innings cautiously, maintaining the status quo in the distribution of ministerial portfolios. There is no change in ministers heading key ministries like home, defense, external affairs, finance, education, road transport, and railways. They will remain with the BJP and headed by the same ministers as in Modi 2.0.

However, trouble looms. Two BJP allies in Maharashtra have publicly expressed their displeasure at ministerial portfolio distribution. Besides, its most important allies — the TDP and the Bihar-based Janata Dal (United) or the JD(U) – are bargaining hard for the speaker’s post.

The speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, has the power to decide on the disqualification of a member, including for defection. Opposition parties have advised the TDP and JD(U) leadership to secure the speaker’s post in their own interest.

Opposition parties argue that should these allies ever think of withdrawing support, the BJP would try to engineer defections in these parties. Holding the speaker post will protect the party from the BJP’s aggression.

The TDP and the JD(U) have frequently switched sides. This will keep the BJP on its toes. How Modi deals with his insecurity and his allies’ lack of trust in him will define Modi 3.0 to a great extent.