Recalibrating the new Modi govt to Coalition Politics

While Modi’s BJP previously enjoyed a massive mandate, it will now have to operate more effectively within the broader framework of a vast, diverse & multi-party democracy
For representational images
For representational imagesExpress Illustrations, Sourav Roy

Monday, June 9. As Narendra Modi assumes the office of the Prime Minister of India for the third consecutive term, India stands at a crossroads. Are we to expect a continuation of the Modi 2.0, with its bold and controversial interventions such as demonetisation, the abrogation of Article 370, Citizenship Amendment Act, and rebuilding of the Ram Mandir? Or will there be a significant and substantial break from the past? Will Modi’s brand of “Hindutva socialism” continue or will it be overrun by “rewadi-populism”, just to appease coalition partners and an opposition that is expected to be increasingly strident?

Special status for Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Hundreds of lakhs of crores for the former’s new capital in Amravati. Several plum cabinet positions bartered in exchange for continuing support. Even the sacrifice of key leaders, not just cabinet posts. But will this be enough? Will it work? This is the question on everyone’s mind.

For starters, Modi 3.0 will flounder, even come unstuck, if there isn’t a newer avatar of the “Hindu Hriday Samrat”. No more the singular, authoritarian, centralised style, or a one-man show. Modi will not only have to share photo ops with other “lesser” mortals, he may even have to consent to be “co-garlanded” with alliance partners and regional satraps. Will eating humble pie come naturally to Narendra bhai?

Re-elected with a sizeable but sobering reduction in seats, Modi’s leadership remains unchallenged within the BJP, as also among a substantial section of India’s populace. Indeed, his previous two terms have seen the commanding heights of a distinct brand of governance marked by a pronounced presidential style.

Now, he has to change from the presidential to parliamentary style. To sustain India’s growth trajectory and maintain its democratic fabric, Modi will need to alter this approach to ensure a more calibrated “coalition dharma”. This means much lesser assertive central leadership and much more accommodative federalism.

Just as well. Coalition dharma was, until not too long ago, the defining feature of our democracy, the essential balancing act of managing political, religious, social, cultural and geographical diversity. By offering not so much a fractured but moderated mandate, the electorate has sent a definite signal to Modi: be less autocratic and more accommodating. From that point of view, the return to coalition dharma may actually be good for Indian democracy.

The term “coalition dharma” is particularly significant in the context of Indian politics. On one hand, it may refer to indecisive and compromised leadership, unable to carry out big-ticket reforms or work for the genuine interests of the nation. But on the other, when too much power is concentrated in the hands of a single individual or a small coterie of supporters, it may not necessarily mean something positive.

An unwritten code of conduct governs the behaviour of parties within a coalition government. This code necessitates mutual respect, consensus-building and a balancing of myriad interests. While Modi’s BJP has previously enjoyed a massive mandate that eliminated the immediate need for coalition partners, now the party and its leadership will have to recalibrate itself to operate more effectively within the broader framework of a vast, diverse and multi-party democracy.

Modi’s mettle will be tested given the criticism levied against him for centralising power using strong-arm tactics against opponents. Civil society has also been vocal about the control of mass media and the erasure of dissent in the public sphere.

The essential question, then, is whether Modi, once labelled “divider-in-chief” by his critics, can now metamorphose into “uniter-in-chief” for the Indian republic. This will require engaging constructively not only with coalition partners, but with opposition parties. Because implicit to coalition dharma is cooperative federalism.

Modi will also do well to listen to stakeholders of society at large, including activists, intellectuals and marginal groups rather than silencing their voices or resorting to the proverbial “shooting the messenger”. Welcoming competing narratives of national unity rather than pushing compelling ones could reposition him as the champion of a cohesive and inclusive nationalism.

Can Modi 3.0 underwrite a more open and plural style of strong yet responsive governance rather than trying to force major reforms such as the farm laws without sufficient consultation? That was a tactical as well as practical error, which may have actually boomeranged and cost him several seats in this election.

Such a grand reconciliatory approach might include institutional revitalisation, wherein Parliament, judiciary and media function without perceived executive encroachments and diktats. Such a transformation would not only revive democratic institutions but also bolster Modi’s legacy as a leader who fortified India’s institutional integrity and democratic polity.

Finally, to the international arena. Modi’s diplomatic overtures in previous tenures have often been outstanding and bold, with significant emphasis on augmenting India’s global stature. These must be continued, without diluting India’s role as a major player on the world stage, despite the reduced mandate at home.

As the geopolitical environment grapples with power realignments, Modi 3.0 must navigate relationships with the US, China, and Russia, while strengthening ties in the Indo-Pacific region. This requires shrewd diplomacy and strategic partnerships. Would the vision of India as a “Vishwaguru” or world teacher, as espoused by Modi, necessitate some dilution while building these international bridges?

Will Modi rise to the occasion? Will he make a successful transition from the me-first personality cult to the humbler leadership style as demanded by coalition dharma? I believe he can. In fact, he must. He has already taken the first step by publicly bowing to the Indian Constitution as his first act after being reelected as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. Being a consummate political performer, no task is too big or too difficult for him.

If his first visuals—with his 72-member coalition Cabinet—across our screens are any indication, the start of Modi 3.0 is impressive and inclusive. History is being scripted as the Modi era continues.

Makarand R Paranjape

Author and commentator

(Views are personal)

(Tweets @MakrandParanspe)

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