World media lauds Narendra Modi on historic win, but sceptics warn of a totalitarian five-year spell that neglects minorities

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came back to power on Thursday as the citizens of India gave a thumping mandate to the Narendra Modi-led government bringing it back for a historic second term with a sweeping majority in the Lok Sabha election 2019.

As the NDA crossed 272 seats, wishes started pouring in for the saffron party and its leader from all quarters. World leaders were quick to congratulate Modi and hoped for better international relations with India under his renewed tenure.

Pakistan watched with keen interest as India chose its new leader in a massive seven-phase election. As the numbers for the General Election results trickled in throughout Thursday, and leads consolidated into wins, the international media also concluded its intensive coverage of the democratic exercise in which over 90 crore people polled to choose their next government.

 World media lauds Narendra Modi on historic win, but sceptics warn of a totalitarian five-year spell that neglects minorities

File image of Prime Minister narendra Modi. Image courtesy: Twitter/@BJP4India

While most Indian newspapers and media outlets hailed Modi's victory and termed him the undisputed choice of the people, foreign news networks were divided in their stance. Though almost all of them praised the saffron leader for his mavericks and ability to churn such an assuring victory, many also raised doubts on the unprecedented turnaround in India's democratic history and opined that this won't auger well for the minorities in the nation as, under Modi's regime, there would be an effort to establish a 'Hindu state' — a push his party has been advocating throughout its campaign.

Reporting the news of Modi's return, The Washington Post wrote: "Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party won a landslide victory in the world’s largest election as voters endorsed his vision of a muscular, assertive and proudly Hindu India. Modi’s win is a victory for a form of religious nationalism that views India as a fundamentally Hindu nation and seeks to jettison the secularism promoted by the country’s founders. While India is roughly 80 percent Hindu, it is also home to Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and other religious communities."

The same idea of a threat to India's secularism was mirrored by The Guardian that stated in an opinion piece, "Now it appears that high watermark was no aberration, and that Indian politics has likely entered a new era of Hindu nationalist hegemony fuelled by Modi’s extraordinary popularity." "Behind Modi’s victory is a Hindu hard-liner on the move," The New York Times noted.

Suhas Palshikar, a political scientist and columnist told the Washington Post, “What will change are the social and cultural values in the society. Religious minorities will be reduced to secondary citizens, while Hindu nationalists will have free play."

The New York Times also carried a column written by economist Amartya Sen titled, Modi Won Power, Not the Battle of Ideas. Sen notes that Modi's campaign for the General Election ran mainly on polarisation and exploiting the "fear and apprehension" in Indians.

He wrote, "These factors fill up the story of what has been happening in Indian politics. Many might prefer the account that the BJP won what is called “the ideological argument” against the Congress Party. But there has been no particular victory for the philosophy of Hindu nationalism and no noticeable vanquishing of the idea of inclusiveness and unity championed by Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore.

What is clear enough is that during the past five years of BJP rule, India has become much more divided along religious lines, making more sharply precarious the lives of minorities, particularly Muslims."

 

The brand Modi, which has only consolidated itself over the course of the last five years as corroborated by the landslide result, was applauded by political commentators and critics alike; however, the consequence of so much power landing in the hand of one person is what the liberal thinkers opined they were scared of. With the Congress decimated, India stares at the complete loss of a credible Opposition to the ruling dispensation, a concern raised by many opinion writers. "The governing BJP of Narendra Modi has swept back to victory with a resounding majority of well over 300 seats. The result is a major blow for Rahul Gandhi's Congress, which once dominated Indian politics," the BBC reported, echoing the sentiment of the world's largest democracy. "Modi and BJP Make History in India. Gandhi Concedes," The New York Times headlined its cover story.

However, as astonishing as it is, an incumbent democratic government's return to power with a pro-incumbency wave and an even bigger mandate was not left unnoticed by the media. And most of the international media credited it to Modi's persona and 'seducing' leadership which was able to tilt the voters in its favour.

An article by the Associated Press, which was carried by The Guardian and Washington Post, highlighted the charismatic effects of this carefully curated image of brand Modi. "Modi, 68, has carefully constructed an image of himself as a pious man of the people, a would-be monk called to politics who has elevated India's status globally and transformed its parliamentary elections from a contest of political parties on social and economic issues into a cult of personality," the piece read.

Al Jazeera, in its coverage, noted that 'Modi is the first non-Congress prime minister in India to return to power after a full five-year term'. Whereas, CNN suggested that even the BJP wouldn't have been expecting such a powerful result in the polls but it managed to stage a 'stunning victory'. "Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is poised to secure a stunning victory in the country's general elections, defying expectations of even his own party, early results show," was one of its headlines on the result day.

"The BJP’s win is down to the prime minister, not the party," The Economist said. And India's The Economic Times put its headline straight: "Brand Modi made it a one-party race".

Meanwhile, The New York Times continued  TIME magazine's editorial line of terming the Indian prime minister as 'divisive' as it reported the election results on Thursday. "Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of the most powerful and divisive leaders India has produced in decades, appeared easily headed for another five-year term, according to election returns so far," the American daily's reportage said.

Pakistan's leading media platform Dawn headlined its top story as 'India wins again, says Modi; BJP set to secure historic victory in general election as votes are counted'. The Express Tribune carried an agency story titled 'Modi stuns opposition with massive' election win. Another story speculated that the Indian prime minister was successful in shifting the focus of his election campaign after losing three assembly elections on trot.

Some observers in Pakistan also referred to the Balakot strikes saying that while the attack on terror camps in Pakistan's territory boosted Modi's image, they proved "baseless" in its effect. In an opinion piece published in Dawn by journalist and author Zahid Hussain said, "Unlike the 2014 elections when Modi swept into power on the basis of his economic agenda that got him the support of corporate India, this time, he garnered support on the basis of national security. India’s incursion into Pakistani territory, the first since the 1971 war, just weeks before the polls, was used by Modi to whip up nationalist fervour."

Many organisations also noted the BJP's substantial and significant inroads in traditionally Left-leaning states like West Bengal. "For much of the election campaign, Amit Shah, 54, a Hindu hard-liner... focused his attention on the state of West Bengal, home to many of India's Muslims. And his rhetoric has been bluntly anti-Muslim. In countless speeches there, he painted his rivals as soft on illegal immigration from Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which borders West Bengal. He accused opposition politicians of funding Islamic schools that jeopardized India’s Hindus," The New York Times article editorial said. "Modi and Shah visited the state several times. They accused (Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee of corruption and “appeasement” of the state’s Muslims, who make up about a quarter of the population," the article notes. And as it became clear that the saffron party was set to seize at least 18 seats in the state, breaching the fort of Mamata led-TMC, the article noted that "that’s nearly half the total seats in the state", for a party which had won just two constituencies in the 2014 election.

The Washington Post meanwhile alluded Modi's meteoric rise with a right-wing uprising across the globe. "The result represents a stunning vote of confidence in Modi, a charismatic and polarizing politician who is part of a crop of right-leaning populist leaders around the globe," said it's article by internal contributors Joanna Slater and Niha Masih.

"Like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary’s Victor Orban and President Trump, Modi has stirred voters with a combination of hope and fear, mixing a desire for national greatness with perceived threats from enemies internal and external. He also shares those leaders’ disdain for the news media: Modi did not hold a single news conference during his first term."

The op-eds also remarked how Modi despite the fallings and major economic shortcomings of his government was able to return to power. "Modi’s economic record was his biggest liability in this election — but he clearly managed to overcome it," the Vox noted. "Modi wins despite unemployment, tensions with Pakistan," said Australia's ABC News. For this, Modi, the Vox article states, "played to voters’ nationalist sentiments to distract from the country’s problems".

"He may have failed to create job opportunities for disadvantaged Indians. But he has sanctioned them, with his own vengeful contempt for English-speaking elites, to raucously talk back to, and shout down, the already privileged," author Pankaj Mishra wrote for The New York Times in a piece titled 'How Narendra Modi Seduced India With Envy and Hate'.

Back home, the critics of the Centre in Indian media though accepted the BJP sweep and Congress' ultimate doom, they were severely critical of Modi's policies and his majoritarian, populist agenda. The Wire's Siddharth Varadarajan wrote: "More than anybody else, he (Modi) knows how this result was produced. His campaign carefully avoided any reference to the promises of development he had made five years ago and relied instead on stoking fears about Muslims in the minds of Hindus and marketing himself as the only Indian leader capable of defeating terrorism."

Modi blatantly used the paramilitary victims of the Pulwama suicide bombing as an electoral prop, stooping so low as to canvass for votes in their name. It helped that the principal opposition party, the Congress, did not know how to counter this cynical strategy, Varadarajan said.

The publication also pointed to an overenthusiastic social media campaign, money power and peddling of "fake news" and "blatant lies" as the force behind the BJP's raid and blamed the Opposition's "lackluster" campaign for its rout. The Telegraph said,... "the biggest factor that contributed to Modi’s success was the lack of a credible and cohesive alternative. In a presidential-style contest, Rahul was seen as too inexperienced to offer even a semblance of a challenge."

All in all, even as the Indian and foreign media alike celebrated the grand verdict delivered in style to India's ruling party, the critics weren't far behind to point out the shortcomings of the BJP's ideals and the faults in the stride of its — now established — tallest leader so far.

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Updated Date: May 25, 2019 15:52:53 IST