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‘Ab ki baar Modi Sarkaar’ – this is not just the punchline of many internet memes lampooning the massive promotional campaign of the BJP in its bid to be elected as the party that would form the next Central Government. It represents the sentiments of many across the country, including some of his detractors, who are tired of the corruption, scams, inflation, unemployment, and other ills plaguing the Indian economy and people. Narendra Modi, the man of humble origins, who famously used his tea seller background as a concept to meet and talk to commoners about their day-to-day problems, hopes, and desires, seems to already be heralded as the next PM by a huge mass of supporters, many of them youths who hitherto had not had a strong opinion on India’s political scene. In the one-upmanship game of politics, where perception is often accepted as reality even before it happens, Modi seems well on his way to become the most important figure in the country, holding the country’s future in his hands.
So what do his supporters expect from Narendra Modi? How will he change the perception of India, both in the minds of Indians, as well as the international arena? Here are some expectations about the way the Modi government will handle the vast and complex Indian economic, political and cultural landscape.
In a situation where inflation is double the growth rate, the rupee is struggling to revive its former levels against the dollar, and foreign investments have reduced, Modi has promised to make economic resurgence his top priority. However, he would need the support of his coalition partners to push forward his progressive foreign investment-friendly policies that would also encourage State autonomy in investments. The political clout of the BJP will come at a cost: it cannot afford to pull the plug on populist programs established by the Congress, such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the National Food Security Bill, which offers food subsidies to the great majority of the country’s population. As a result, economic revival might be slower than expected.
India has been crying out for better infrastructure to accommodate its burgeoning population as well as its growing commercial initiatives for a long time. Under the Congress government, though measures were taken to create adequate budgets for infrastructural projects as well as several key projects were greenlighted, actual progress was little due to massive scams and rampant corruption. Infrastructure in the form of roads, bridges, highways, seaports, airports and more, are sorely needed to improve connectivity and quality of living, and the cost for this would come to billions of dollars. For the Modi government to follow through on his desire to significantly improve the country’s infrastructure, controlling corruption would be a major challenge.
Modi has a ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’ attitude towards security threats, both within the country as well as those stemming from outside. His policy is expected to be to work towards the economic development of impoverished regions where Naxalites and other insurgents hold sway, as well as take a hard line against militant groups that threaten peace and order in the country with terror attacks.
The BJP is known to be a conservative party that espouses old-fashioned patriarchal values that have defined Indian society for ages. Narendra Modi seems unlikely to deviate from the unchanging stance of the RSS when it comes to promoting women’s welfare. Additionally, many BJP members have raised the hackles of feminists and women across the country by asserting that rapes are the inevitable result of an urban, westernized lifestyle that promotes liberal values and loose morality. Modi is expected to have to field comments like these from several of his own party members going forward. However, it is also expected that he would give suitable lip service to the issue of women’s welfare.
Welfare of Muslims
There is a perceived thorn of contention between Modi and Muslims across the country, post his handling of the 2002 Godhra riots, that left more than 1200 people dead, most of them Muslims, besides displacing around 180,000 Muslims. Even though the BJP can win despite a lack of support from the Muslim community, which makes up about 13% of the country’s population, Modi would not be able to maintain his credibility if he alienates this voter base. At the very minimum, the Muslim community expects a sincere effort from him to atone for his silence and apparent lack of regret for the Godhra tragedy.
Modi will have a challenging time balancing the priorities of India’s allies in the West, the Middle East and Asia. Modi has already shown his understanding of the necessity to counter China’s might by having high-level talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A delicate balance also needs to be maintained between sustaining cordial relations with Saudi Arabia, while also preserving India’s long-standing friendship with Saudi Arabia’s enemy, Iran. The focus, however, would be on increasing the pace of trade and economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Finally, the seesawing relations with the US would need to be smoothened, by ensuring that recent frictions caused by issues like the Devyani Khobragade issue do not reflect on trade or economic investment. However, it is expected that Modi would turn to other possible trade partners like Japan while maintaining good relations with the US.
To sum up, Modi is hard-selling the ‘Gujarat model’ of development and promises to grow the entire country along similar lines if elected. Considering the enthusiasm of big businesses, foreign investors, as well as the masses to his vision, it remains to be seen whether Modi would create a sustainably growing economy, promote relations with all strategic partners, ensure security and raise the image of India as a growing superpower, if his party comes to power and forms the next government.