Washington DC: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic mandate not only silenced his opposition parties and put them in a “virtual sleep mode”, but it also shocked the American media. The latter now appears guarded and is not in its usual “Modi’s-India bashing mode”, something which got intense post-Balakot airstrikes and in the run-up to the general elections.
In fact, in the last 72 hours, PM Modi is back as the main news item in the Wall Street Journal as “the next leader to watch” and his India as a “future economic hotspot”. Interestingly, the tone and tenor are different from the way Time covered Modi recently.
More upbeat and euphoric are the India-centric think tanks, Indian-Americans and the Indo-US forums, which see the election results as a “once in a life-time mandate, for which reasons are many. Besides, it throws up an immense potential for an even more intensive Indo-US relations in business, strategic affairs and defence partnership.”
This means a lot more than just a mere hug diplomacy between PM Modi and President Donald Trump. In a way this will strengthen India’s anti-terror stand against Pakistan, with a strong US backing and on the business front, US will move further towards India vis-à-vis the former’s trade issues with China. In return, India may have to loosen its purse strings for US companies for future defence purchases.
Elaborating the mood on the election results, Mukesh Aghi, president and CEO of US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), told The Sunday Guardian: “The vote that gave such a strong mandate to PM Modi is the sheer belief of the people in him that he (Modi) can deliver and for his efforts to better the lives of his citizens. This vote is above caste, region and religion…This is for pure development initiatives he took and to a large extent got it delivered.”
Richard M. Rossow, Senior Adviser at the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) credits the historic mandate for PM Modi to “a much organised BJP at grassroots as against its opponent Congress”.
The Modi government’s effective delivery of tangible
services, such as village electrification, LPG gas connections, bank accounts, and even toilet building played a huge role in demonstrating to voters that the BJP was committed to development.
Rossow told The Sunday Guardian, “It shocked many political pundits, who were expecting the saffron party to lose in the Hindi heartland following the losses in the state Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, as well the formation of the SP-BSP Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh. There was also an expectation that the BJP would make only marginal gains in states like West Bengal, Odisha and even Karnataka. However, the results are opposite and compel many to ‘fine-read’ the new political picture of India.”
Aghi doesn’t miss to add the 60-million strong young vote bank. “They (youth) think Modi can take the toughest stand against a terror attack on India, can be tough against corruption and is hard and committed on deliverance for poor, minority, women and Dalits,” said Aghi.
Frank Islam, investor, entrepreneur and a top figure in the Indian-American community said, “The sweeping victory gives PM Modi a mandate to pursue his agenda. The one thing I think all Indian Americans might agree on is their desire to see a stronger and better India and that the real winner in this election was the Indian democracy.”
For some like Aparna Pande, director of Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia in Hudson Institute, “This is once in a lifetime mandate for the BJP and Modi. The reasons are many. First and foremost, the national security angle of the election must be recognised. If you recall, PM Modi cast himself after the February 2019 Pulwama terrorist attack as India’s chowkidar (watchman). The Indian electorate has voted, saying we want that strong chowkidar, we want that security.”
Pande pointed out significantly the new political aspirations of Indian voters. “We have witnessed the rise of a generation of Indians that has little memory of the post-Independence era and is nationalist and Hindu. This electorate wants an economically strong and militarily powerful country, believes that coalition governments have not been able to deliver and hence, one party must be given a mandate. Also the popularity of PM Modi minus no alternative puts everything to rest.”
Rossow also pointed out that BJP’s effective texting on nationalism to ensure that elections serve as “referendum about nationality” approach has translated into greater success than perhaps the caste-based arithmetic approach adopted by the Mahagathbandhan of the SP-BSP-RLD in Uttar Pradesh.
This euphoria in the US on Indian poll results comes with strong expectations for big investments, seeing India’s growth as a “powerhouse in Asia and Asia-Pacific” and more business opportunities between India and the US. But it also comes with some imminent challenges, as pointed out by these experts for PM Modi in his second term. With a second term and a significant mandate in hand, the onus is now on the BJP to double down and recommit to a reform agenda that provides development that can lift all boats.
Nisha Biswal, president of US-India Business Council, said, “There is a great deal of interest within the global business community in India as a market with tremendous growth potential. Investors are also anxiously watching to see whether the new government will return to a reform-minded approach that will support ease of doing business, create an attractive and competitive environment for manufacturing and supply chains and create regulatory stability and policy coherence.”
Biswal told The Sunday Guardian: “While there are many individual policies that investors will look for, but presenting a comprehensive and coherent vision for India’s growth will be key to restoring investor confidence and attracting higher levels of FDI into the country.”
Both Pande and Rossow think that for PM Modi, there is plenty on the reform agenda to pick up from his last term. Pande says that India’s last major economic reforms took place in 1991, “India needs the next generation of economic reforms that will focus on critical areas of land, labour and capital.” Rossow, on the other hand, said, “PM Modi’s desire to raise Indian economy’s status will require a strong reform agenda, while also maintaining strong diplomatic ties with key partners, particularly the US. By bringing significant reforms to India’s economy, as well as deepening ties with the United States to increase bilateral trade to $500 billion and advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific, will all create the conditions for India to create good jobs and development domestically, and robust trade and rapid economic growth for India globally.”
Frank Islam added up Modi’s “must-do” list in the second term. “Advancing and intensifying critical reforms in areas such as education, health care and climate change that were initiated in the first five years of the Modi administration and ensuring that women and other minorities are given equal opportunities to participate in the political process and contribute to the success of India must be given priority,” he said.
A lot is on PM’s plate already from the American shores!
The writer is Senior Executive Editor of ITV Network and currently a Fulbright Visiting Professor at Delaware State University, United States.