It is too early to conclude that caste will play
no further role in Indian politics, but the result does signal that fundamental
issues of governance and basic needs are gaining in salience.
Indians, particularly the young, are becoming
increasingly impatient with poor governance. The single most important plank of
Modi’s election campaign was his promise to provide good governance, under the
slogan ‘minimum government, maximum governance’. He made the
Gujarat model of good governance
the mantra of his campaign.
But it is not only Gujarat that performed well.
Other BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are
considered far better in terms of governance than Congress ruled states.
If there was one negative about the election
result, it was the lack of adequate
representation for Muslims. The
BJP has traditionally been seen as a pro-Hindu party. Modi himself invites
adoration from his supporters but fear among his detractors, particularly within
the Muslim population. While in this election Modi seems to have united more
than 80 per cent of Hindus across caste, linguistic and regional divisions, few
among India’s Muslims trust him.
Of the BJP’s 282 members of parliament, not one is
a Muslim. Of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, about 32 have 15 per cent or more
Muslim voters. Yet because of the vagaries of India’s first-past-the post
system, for the first time since independence Uttar Pradesh does not have a
Muslim member of parliament.
As the Chief Minister of Gujarat and then as a
prime ministerial candidate, Modi could afford to ignore minorities. As the
Prime Minister of India he can no longer do so.
Now that his honeymoon period is over, Modi needs
to reassure minorities that they can be safe, secure and successful in his
India. This means focusing on the agenda for economic growth and good governance
that has made Gujarat the envy of other states. Modi must pay little heed to the
many who will want him to advance potentially divisive social and political
Those who had expected Modi’s foreign policy to
take a more muscular stance will probably be disappointed. Instead, Modi has
emphasised using the carrots of economics and soft power.
The incipient Modi
foreign policy doctrine has four
main elements. First is pursuing a foreign policy of enlightened national
interest. This is arguably the recognition that the narrow pursuit of
self-interest in an interdependent world can lead to suboptimal policy outcomes.
Second is the idea that India will help to build
and strengthen a democratic, peaceful, stable and economically interlinked
neighbourhood. The presence of South Asian heads of government at the
swearing-in of Modi and his cabinet was encouraging.
Third is Modi’s emphasis on soft power, explained
through yet another Modi alliteration, the ‘five Ts’: trade, tourism, talent,
technology and tradition. Translating this into reality will require real
Fourth, the Modi doctrine suggests a policy of
‘multi-alignment’ with all the great powers: China, Japan, Russia, the United
States and European Union.
If the government
can deliver on the promises
made, Modi will make history. If he lets himself be distracted by divisive
social issues or is provoked into adopting zealous nationalism, he will prove
his critics right.
India requires stability and peace within the
South Asian neighbourhood and beyond for at least the next decade to emerge as a
great power. During that period it is best not to get dragged into external
conflicts, assume leadership or prominence on the international stage, or
attract too much attention. That is Modi’s biggest challenge.
Author is the Director of the Australia India
Institute, Professor of International Relations at University of Melbourne and
Professor of International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
This article appeared in a recent edition of the East
Asia Forum Quarterly under the title
Japan that can say ‘yes’."