May 23, 2019

Modi crushes all competition in India election

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP has won or is leading in 303 of 543 seats up for grabs in India's general election — a whopping 6 times more than the largest opposition party, Congress.

Data: Election Commission of India; Note: Vellore, Tamil Nadu did not vote; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

Why it matters: This is a landslide of staggering proportions. It earns Modi another 5 years in office and establishes him as India's most powerful politician in decades.

  • Congress, the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, led India for all but 12 years between 1947 and 2014. It's now fading into the electoral wilderness while Modi remakes Indian politics in his image.
  • The massive election — with 900 million eligible voters and 1 million polling places — unfolded over five weeks, with results tallied today.

Flashback: Modi campaigned in 2014 as the man to invigorate India's economy. The results there have been mixed: Growth is solid, but unemployment has ticked upwards and rural India has struggled on Modi's watch.

  • This time around, he whipped up nationalist fervor and capitalized politically on February's nuclear standoff with Pakistan.
  • "In speeches over recent weeks, one count showed he spent 53% of his time attacking opponents, a further 18% talking of national security, and only the remainder touting vikas, or development," per the Economist.

Modi did make good on another campaign promise to expand India's presence on the world stage.

  • Not since Nehru's era "has India been so engaged in such a wide range of global issues" driven by "the sheer personality of the prime minister himself," argues the Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis.
  • Tellis contends that while Modi has strengthened ties with countries around the world, India won't "realize its great power ambitions" unless he carries out economic reforms at home, strengthens institutions and protects "the nation's internal cohesion."

Modi's victory is a source of joy for his Hindu nationalist base and of fear for many in India's Muslim minority.

  • "A strident — and at times violent — Hindu nationalism has become mainstream in the past five years, with increased attacks against minorities, including the lynching of dozens of Muslims accused of smuggling cows," BBC notes.

The bottom line: "There is no doubt that Modi's politics rest on polarizing the country, but he has polarized very successfully," as Axios fellow Phanindra Dahal pithily puts it.

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