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    South Asia
     May 19, '14

After Modi victory, comes the hard work
By Daniele Grassi

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Narendra Modi, the incoming Indian prime minister, has kept his first promise to supporters: win in a landslide victory in Indian general elections and reduce to rubble the majority of the Indian National Congress (INC) led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

With over 330 seats won (272 are enough to win the majority of

the 543-seat lower house, the Lok Sabha), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition led by the Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has secured the best election result of the past 30 years.

In contrast, with only about 60 seats, the coalition led by the INC, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), has recorded its worst electoral performance ever.

Only a few people doubted the BJP would triumph in this election. Too little had been done by the INC during the last years of their government to earn a third term. A long series of corruption scandals and the failure to adopt structural reforms have slowed gross domestic product growth to below 5%, a rate insufficient to absorb a labor force in constant expansion.

The Congress campaign led by Rahul Gandhi was unable to reverse a "saffron wave" of Hindu nationalism. The decision of the Indian National Congress not to announce the name of a candidate for leadership of the government has been read as an attempt to preserve the scion of the Gandhi dynasty. However, many believe the party will soon task the charismatic Priyanka Vadra, Rahul's younger sister, with reviving its electoral fortunes.

The anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a group led by the activist Arvind Kejriwal, also performed weakly. Founded as recently as November 2012, the AAP has not had enough time to put down political roots within the country and therefore failed to steal support from the two major parties.

Well supported by media, the Modi campaign had seemed on an unstoppable ride towards the corridors of power. In recent months, the leader of the BJP has travelled 300,000 kilometers and held 457 rallies across the country to spread its political message, which is the idea that building a new India - less corrupt and more meritocratic - is possible.

With a metaphor full of symbolism, Modi has promised the Indians that he wants to restore the purity of the Ganges River just as he will revive a nation sullied by corruption and stalled by mismanagement and bureaucratic sloth.

The economy has played an absolutely central role in the election campaign of the nationalist leader, although his program remained, in many cases, built more on a series of slogans able to captivate the population rather than on concrete proposals.

Thanks to his long and successful experience at the helm of the state of Gujarat state, Modi has been able to provide a factual basis to his pro-market claims. During his tenure, Gujarat's GDP has grown at an average rate of nearly 10%, consistently above the national average.

Counting only 5% of the total Indian population, this state currently covers about 16% of the manufacturing output and 25% of the national total exports. Among the major successes claimed by Modi, is infrastructure development (in particular, the electricity grid) and the simplification of bureaucratic procedures, resulting in a reduction of corruption.

An increasing use of e-governance (through, for example, the organization of an online auction) has allowed the BJP leader to significantly increase the level of transparency and reduce, in parallel, time and costs of government programs.

This is why both the Indian and the international economic community are placing a lot of confidence in Modi. On November 2013, the US-based Goldman Sachs upgraded the rating of Indian bonds from "underweight" to "marketweight", also in view of his possible election at the head of the national government.

Between February and March, there has been a significant increase in the stream of foreign investment, which has also favored the gradual strengthening of the rupee. In recent months, the stock indexes showed significant gains, compared to the general weakness of the other emerging markets.

Few people would have bet on the rise of Modi at the helm of the national government when, in 2002, in "his" own Gujarat, the death of 59 people (mostly Hindu pilgrims) in the burning of a train triggered the massacre of more than 1,000 people who were mostly Muslims.

The train set on fire was returning from the town of Ayodhya, a place where in 1992 militants of the nationalist Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang - an ideological branch of the BJP - demolished the Babri Mosque, a holy place built on the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple.

During a press conference, Modi said that the arson represented an act of terrorism, thus contributing with his statements to unleash violence against Muslims. Accused of not having taken the necessary measures to stop the massacre, the leader of the BJP was later acquitted by a special committee appointed by the Supreme Court.

However, it was not enough to erase the suspicion that the incoming prime minister of India did not want to act in the interests of a minority that accounts for about 15% of the total population. His harsh words against immigrants from Bangladesh, followed by the murder in May in Assam of 41 Muslims of Bengali origin, have fueled fears of a country increasingly divided on religious lines. Even if similar incidents are quite common in this area of the country, there is the fear that the invective launched a few days before by Narendra Modi against them could have, in some way, galvanized attackers.

However, the overwhelming majority of the Indian population has decided to look beyond this, driven by a strong desire to achieve higher levels of well-being. There are many obstacles that the government of Modi will have to overcome in order to realize the promises made.

The clear mandate delivered by the population will deprive the government of any alibi. However, the upper house of parliament (Rajya Sabha) - still dominated by the Indian National Congress - may try to thwart what has been announced as an unstoppable process of reform aimed at making India more attractive to foreign investors.

"India has won. Good times ahead," said Modi on hearing the election results. Of course there will be in the short term a wave of enthusiasm that will bring some benefits to an economy that is currently struggling, but it would be wrong to underestimate the risks that the election of such a controversial figure could entail for the country.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Daniele Grassi is a writer based in Rome.

(Copyright 2014 Daniele Grassi)

Modi, BJP sweep to power in India (May 18, '14)



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