As Prime Minister Narendra Modi ushers in a new era in India, The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center hosted Dr. Shashi Tharoor of the Indian National Congress and Mr. Prodyut Bora of the Bharatiya Janata Party to reflect on the sea change occurring across the spectrum in Indian politics.
Tharoor congratulated the Prime Minister’s victory and overwhelming mandate in what he described as perhaps the most well executed campaign in Indian political history. “Brand Modi” was “well financed,” outspending other parties 5 to 1 in most periphery districts. Tharoor went on to state that “domestically we are seeing a Modi 2.0” referring to the Prime Minister’s recent statements, which are said to be inclusive in nature and untainted by the Hindu nationalist sentiment for which the Prime Minster has previously received criticism. Modi, Tharoor asserted, essentially sold the promise of hope to a young electorate echoing Margret Thatcher’s promise of “getting the country back to work.” Addressing skepticism regarding whether Modi’s first 100 day agenda is overly ambitious, Mr. Bora described the Prime Minister as “a realist and pragmatist” and therefore someone who could deliver.
On the BJP’s worldview
Both Tharoor and Bora agreed that the government’s vision and direction would have to be tailored to the aspirations of the young voter class. On the foreign policy front, Tharoor claimed that Modi’s foreign policy would be dictated by economic considerations. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi visited China no fewer than four times and was impressed by what he saw. It is little surprise then that China’s foreign minister will be the first foreign minister to visit the country after the Chinese Premier offered Modi a “robust partnership.” Modi will engage in economic diplomacy, Tharoor claimed, despite China remaining India’s main geopolitical adversary. The same can be applied to Pakistan and India’s other regional neighbors. Bora on the other hand described the BJP’s worldview as a “throwback to the cold war of non-alignment where India is much surer of itself.”
Congress Introspection: Why Congress Failed
In essence – food, fuel, and corruption. Rising food and fuel prices according to Tharoor were two key reasons why Congress has a terrible electoral showing. Although the rise in prices were largely caused by international factors, Tharoor claimed “it was held against us”. While Tharoor didn’t defend the dismal record of corruption in his government, he labeled it as “endemic in Indian society” and stated that “no political party has a monopoly on corruption” and therefore while corruption was widespread and occurring across political parties, it happened under “our watch.”
While India’s minority appeared skeptical of Modi, a significant portion of India’s Muslim population did vote for the BJP according to Bora. At the very least, he argued, the percentage of Muslims who did vote for BJP was higher than the last election. Bora claims that Modi’s message to Muslims of “fighting Hindu’s or fighting poverty” was the reason Muslims voted in a decisive leader who could deliver despite having reservations about the Prime Minister’s despotic tendencies and Hindu nationalism.