Last week, India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in the populous North Indian state of Bihar without a single vote cast or campaign rally staged. In a dramatic reversal that Bollywood screenwriters could only dream of, the state’s chief minister Nitish Kumar—an on-again, off-again partner of the BJP—unceremoniously dumped his coalition allies in order to make common cause once more with the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Then, over the weekend, 12 BJP ministers were formally inducted into Kumar’s revamped cabinet.
The upheaval is only the latest signal that the BJP is the new center of political gravity in a country long controlled by the storied Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of the Congress Party. The BJP not only occupies prime position for the country’s next general election—scheduled for 2019—but it is also moving at breakneck speed to cement its hold over powerful state governments. Although the BJP government’s gathering strength signals policy stability and political consolidation, it simultaneously raises concerns about the health of India’s democratic checks and balances.
It is hard to fathom now, but prior to Modi’s rise to power in 2014, many longtime observers of India’s labyrinthine domestic politics felt that the BJP’s best years were behind it. Having completed its first full five-year term in 2004 under then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP was trounced in two successive elections by the Congress Party. But few could envisage the next act in this drama: the emergence on the national stage of Modi, a provincial politician who had been the long-serving chief minister of the state of Gujarat. Touting his business-friendly policies, nationalist rhetoric, and an aspirational appeal that struck a chord with a young and increasingly restless India, Modi led his party to a historic electoral rout. Securing the first single-party parliamentary majority in three decades, Modi has ushered in a golden age for the BJP.
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