A Milder Modi?

What to Expect in a BJP-Led India

A man prepares to sign on a signature board with a picture of Narendra Modi, May 16, 2014.
A man prepares to sign on a signature board with a picture of Narendra Modi, May 16, 2014. (Adnan Abidi / Courtesy Reuters)

India has never had an election like this one -- and its political landscape will likely never be the same again. The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the long-reigning Congress Party was expected, but the magnitude of the blowout took almost everyone by surprise. The final results were stark. As of May 16, the BJP had won an absolute majority of seats in parliament; together with its closest coalition partners, it will hold nearly two-thirds of the seats -- and more parties will undoubtedly jump on the bandwagon. The Congress Party, which has governed India for most of the country’s 67-year history, didn’t even win enough seats to qualify as leader of the opposition.

Now, Narendra Modi, the leader of the BJP and India’s most polarizing political figure in a generation, will become prime minister with a virtually unchecked mandate. What that means for India and the world boils down to five key points.

First, the primary issue in this election was the economy and governance. Voters were tired of a Congress government widely seen as inept, corrupt, and unable to get the nation moving. During the campaign, there was no dispute about India’s problems; even Congress leaders spoke of the pressing need for reform, and a brand new party was born out of the widespread anger at official corruption (the Aam Admi Party, or Common Man’s Party, surprised observers by briefly gaining control of the local government of Delhi last year; its leader lost to Modi in a head-to-head contest for a parliamentary seat in the Hindu pilgrimage city of Varanasi). For his part, Modi galvanized the electorate with a promise to do better. He ran on his economic track record as leader of the state of Gujarat, which has out-performed most other parts of India. 

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