June 19, 2019

How Modi Became Synonymous with India

““The silent majority has spoken,” said the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rajyavardhan Rathore on India Today TV as it became clear on Thursday that the ruling BJP would once again win more than half of the seats in India’s parliament. “We love our prime minister, Narendra Modi.”

Between 1984 and 2014, no single political party could win enough seats to form a national government on its own. There were simply too many, it seemed, and new ones kept emerging. In 2014, 464 political parties competed in the national elections—up from 215 in 2004—with most representing narrow regional, religious, or ideological constituencies. The system gave meaning to the famous catchphrase: “Indians don’t cast their vote; they vote their caste.”

But in 2014, Modi was able to emerge from the crowd and dominate. His Hindu nationalist BJP won an outright majority of seats in parliament by especially appealing to voters in the Hindi-speaking parts of central and northern India. That’s a feat his party has now repeated—and outdone—in 2019, returning to power for another five years.

The prime minister’s victory may feel like deja vu, but the election season that got India here has been different in important ways, and those changes could shape not only the next five years of Modi’s term but also the very nature of Indian politics.

Modi’s 2014 campaign was built on a message of change and hope. He swept to power as a relatively fresh face on the national stage and called for a new mindset in New Delhi. He made grand promises of economic reform, job creation, and infrastructure projects but also offered more tangible gifts: a toilet in every home, a smartphone in every hand, and a bank account to every name. Together, these pledges overshadowed, for a while at least, concerns about the BJP’s brand of right-wing Hindu nationalism.”

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