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Modi, Striking a Modest Tone, to Be Sworn In for a Third Term

As a humble Narendra Modi prepared to take the oath of office for a third term as India’s prime minister on Sunday, the political air in New Delhi seemed transformed.

Elections that ended last week stripped Modi of his parliamentary majority and forced him to turn to a diverse set of coalition partners to remain in power. Now, these other parties enjoy something that for years was uniquely Modi’s: relevance and prominence.

Its leaders have been surrounded by television crews as they went to present demands and political opinions to Mr. Modi. His opponents have also been gaining more air time, with stations cutting their press conferences live, something almost unheard of in recent years.

Above all, the change can be seen in Modi himself. At least for now, the messianic air has disappeared. He presents himself as the modest administrator voters showed they wanted.

For many, Modi’s change of approach can only mean good things for the country’s democracy: a move toward moderation in a hugely diverse nation that was being transformed into a Hindu monolith in the image of a single man.

The question is whether Modi can truly become something he has not been during his more than two decades in elected office: a consensus builder.

“He is a pragmatic politician and for his own survival and that of his party, he will be a little more appeased,” said Ashutosh, a New Delhi-based analyst who uses one name and is the author of a book on how politics has changed. India under the Modi government. “But to assume a qualitative change in his governing style is to expect too much.”

A feature of the Modi government in recent years has been its use of the levers of power at its disposal – from the pressure of police cases to the lure of power-sharing and its benefits – to break down its opponents and get them to stand. on your side. . A battered ruling party could well try such tactics to alienate some lawmakers from its side, analysts say, to shore up its place at the top.

But in the days leading up to the swearing-in, a shift in focus became evident. As members of the new coalition filled the hall of India’s old Parliament building on Friday to deliberate on forming the government, each time a senior ally sitting next to them rose to begin his speech, Modi also stood up. lifted When it came time for Modi to be crowned the coalition’s choice for prime minister, he waited for the leaders of the two main coalition partners to arrive at his side before the crown of coalition was placed around his neck. purple orchid congratulations.

His hour-long speech contained none of his usual third-person self-references. His tone was measured. He focused on the coalition’s promise of “good governance” and “the dream of a developed India,” and acknowledged that things would be different from the past 10 years.

The last time Modi came to the Parliament complex for a closely watched event, last May, when he inaugurated a new, more modern building for the assembly, he made an entrance that some observers compared to that of a king: with markings on his forehead. as a sign of piety and with a scepter in his hand, while shirtless and singing Hindu monks walked in front and behind him.

This time, he went straight to a copy of the Constitution, which declares India to be a secular and socialist democracy, bowing before it and raising it to his forehead.

For the first time in his more than two decades in elected office, Modi finds himself in uncharted territory. So far, while he has been at the helm – whether at the state level as chief minister of Gujarat or at the national level – his Bharatiya Janata Party has never been far from a majority. Analysts say never having been in the opposition has shaped his heavy-handed approach to politics.

By the time he left Gujarat, after 13 years, he had established such firm control and so defeated the opposition that the state had effectively become a state of one-party rule. His first national victory in 2014, with a majority for his BJP, ended decades of coalition government in India, in which no party had been able to capture the 272 seats in Parliament needed for a majority. In 2019 he was re-elected with an even larger majority.

Modi’s enormous power helped quickly implement what had been his right-wing party’s agenda for decades, including building a lavish Hindu temple on a long-disputed site that once housed a mosque, and revoking the special status that for a long time he had enjoyed the game. Muslim-majority Kashmir region.

A feature of his government was a disregard for parliamentary procedures and debates over legislation. Its unexpected overnight demonetisation in 2016, which invalidated India’s currency in an effort to combat corruption, plunged the country into chaos and dealt a blow to an economy that still relied on cash. Similarly, rushing to enact laws aimed at reforming the agricultural market resulted in a year of protests that choked Delhi and forced Modi to back down.

Before the election results were known, Modi’s party had predicted that his coalition would win 400 seats in India’s 543-seat Parliament. The opposition would be reduced to sitting “in the spectator gallery,” Modi said. His government officials had made clear that in his new term he would seek to implement the only major issue left on his party’s agenda: legislating a “uniform civil code” throughout this diverse country to replace the various laws of different religions that currently exist. they govern. issues such as marriage and inheritance. His party leaders spoke of Modi not only as his leader for the current term but also for the next elections in 2029, when he would be 78 years old.

“He has been trying to transform the country,” Sudesh Verma, a BJP official who wrote a book on Modi’s rise, said in an interview before the election results were announced. “I hope he works like Lee Kuan Yew from Singapore, who worked until he was 90.”

But under a coalition government, Modi’s traditional approach will be difficult.

Two of the main coalition parties that helped him win the minimum number of seats in Parliament to form a government are secular, in contrast to Modi’s Hindu nationalist ideology.

N. Chandrababu Naidu, whose party has 16 seats, has been scathing in the past in his criticism of Modi’s treatment of the Muslim minority. He has also openly criticized Modi for using central investigation agencies to attack his opponents and taking “steps to subvert all democratic institutions”.

Neerja Chowdhury, a political analyst in Delhi and author of the 2023 book “How Prime Ministers Decide,” said: “Controversial ideological issues, such as enacting the uniform civil code, may take a backseat if allies do not feel comfortable. with that”.

Modi’s popular image is based on two strong pillars. He is an advocate of economic development, with an inspiring biography of a rise from lowly caste and relative poverty. He is also a lifelong Hindu nationalist, with decades as a foot soldier in a movement seeking to turn the secular and diverse state of India into an openly Hindu place.

At the peak of his power, the Hindu nationalist aspect increasingly predominated. Analysts say the recent voter rebuke could be a stroke of luck for the nation: prompting Modi to tap into his development advocate side and focus on a legacy of economic transformation that could improve the lives of all Indians.

“To govern you need a majority. But to govern the nation a consensus is necessary,” Modi said in his speech. “People want us to deliver better results than before.”

Suhasini Raj contributed reports

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