No more coalition strains
Twenty years back President, R Venkataraman, had observed that era of a single-party rule was over and coming two decades would be time for coalitions to rule India. And, coalitions did govern but could not give as effective rule as by a single-party government.
Venkataraman wrote in his book – My Presidential Years – ‘In a multi-party political system, we may not be able to avoid coalition governments in the interest of the nation. I wanted to give the message to the nation that it should reconcile itself to coalition governments in future and that single party majorities were things of the past in a multi-party system’. Times changed in 2014 and single-party rule returned and came with a bang. And, with that a charismatic leader is born and that is Narendra Modi. An important aspect of Modi’s spectacular victory was that the BJP, which was hitherto known to be only a north-India party, became truly a national party, having shown impressive performance in north-east and penetrating the south.
The former President’s observation proved prophetic; twenty years after he penned his semi- auto biographical book – My Presidential Years – the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election has got absolute majority. The Congress got absolute majority with 364 seats in 1952; 371 in 1957; and 361 in 1962. Then Indira Gandhi won by a landslide majority on ‘Garabi Hatao’ slogan in 1971; it was then called Indira wave. Mrs Gandhi returned to power in 1980 with comfortable majority. In December, 1984, the wave turned into ‘Rajiv tornado’ enabling the young leader to get highest-ever number of seats in the Lok Sabha – 404. Since then no party got majority and coalitions of all hues and colours ruled Indira. The last such multi-party government was that of Manmohan Singh which ruled India for ten long years.
The time of coalitions has come to an end with an impressive victory of Modi and it should be welcomed, irrespective of which party rules India, and whosoever may be the Prime Minister. In the present case the BJP got a comfortable majority, having crossed 282-mark, and rightly Narendra Modi, who was already named as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, would head the single-party government. Indeed it goes to the credit of Modi that he galvanised a rather demoralised BJP cadres.
One does not know what will be role the NDA and its constituents, now that the BJP has unexpectedly got such a comfortable mandate. Allies like, Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, who stood by the BJP in bad days and, recent ally Chandra Babu Naidu of the Telugu Desam party, have to be rewarded. For Naidu it was a windfall; already in political wilderness, he got an unexpected number of seats. Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and TDP will have to be accommodated and they may get ministerial berths at the centre. It is too early to say if Naidu is on a comeback trail but certainly his bad time is over.
So far as powerful regional shatraps like, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik are concerned, they have little option but to sit in opposition in the Lok Sabha. While Mamata and Naveen are clear that they would not have any truck with the BJP, Jayalalithaa is non-committal. She has only welcomed Modi as the next Prime Minister.
Now the question arises what type of challenge Modi government will face and will it be able to come up to peoples’ expectations? Massive mandate also means problems within and outside. The challenges are many – the state of the economy, national security and demand for inclusive growth for over a billion stare at the incoming Prime Minister. The much talked about Gujarat model will now be tested in Delhi, and the challenge for Modi will be to extrapolate the state’s success to a larger and more complex national level. Modi’s immediate challenge will be in selecting his cabinet and other critical appointments, among which the principal secretary to the prime minister and the national security adviser will be foremost.
On security and foreign policy, Modi has already indicated that his preference would be to continue with the Vajpayee legacy, which would mean a certain degree of continuity. The Vajpayee era’s strategic and security policy orientation was shaped to a large extent by the appointment of the late Brajesh Mishra as both the principal secretary and national security advisor to the prime minister.
Modi’s security challenges include the familiar shadow of terrorism and Pakistan, as also managing a rising China and imparting content to the moribund bilateral ties with the United States. As far as China is concerned, Modi has already cultivated business links with China – having visited the country in 2011.
Although he has criticised the UPA for being weak on China on security issues, he has not opposed closer economic ties with that country. Modi’s policy with respect to South East Asia is equally unlikely to be controversial – good relations with countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore are important not only economically but also to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
Yet, there are a number of grey areas in Modi’s foreign policy vision. First, Modi’s discourse with respect to Pakistan and other countries in the neighbourhood, such as Bangladesh is purely security-driven. He often adopts divisive rhetoric on Bangladeshi immigrants but has not spoken about potential benefits, trade and otherwise of strengthening ties with the country. IPA