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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi departs after addresing the media following his meeting with President Droupadi Murmu, to stake claim to form the new government at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, on June 7 2024. Picture: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi departs after addresing the media following his meeting with President Droupadi Murmu, to stake claim to form the new government at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, on June 7 2024. Picture: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

New Delhi — Flying back from a meditation break at the end of India’s gruelling election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in a column that he felt a “boundless flow of energy” within himself. He might need the energy as he gets ready to start a rare third consecutive term with a heavy reliance on fickle allies.

For the first time in his high-flying political career, which began in 2001 when he became the chief minister of his home state of Gujarat, Modi, 73, must accommodate the pulls and pressures of a coalition government after his party surprisingly failed to get a majority on its own.

One of Modi’s two main allies was with the opposition as recently as January, while the other is a regional leader who helped build the coalition that tried to unseat Modi at the previous election in 2019.

Modi was due to be sworn in as prime minister on Sunday for a historic third term.

“Modi has always functioned as a lone wolf, doing exactly what he wants to,” said political commentator Arati Jerath. “It’s going to be a very new role for him. And it’s something he will have to adjust to and adapt to.”

Addressing leaders of the National DA (NDA) coalition on Friday, Modi struck a conciliatory note, saying that for him all its constituents were equal, irrespective of the number of parliamentarians they had.

“It’s an experienced team and they will advise me well,” Modi said, pointing to the chiefs of more than half a dozen NDA parties seated together. “Together, the team will take the right decisions.

“We have won the majority and it is needed to run a government. But to run the country, unanimity is crucial. We will strive for unanimity and leave no stone unturned in taking the country forward on the path of progress.”

Modi’s approval ratings have been among the highest among world leaders and, as he ran a presidential-style campaign for his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the loss of majority is likely to rankle with him, analysts said.

Since he became prime minister a decade ago, riding his Hindu nationalist base, Modi has been the ruling alliance’s unquestioned leader, with concerns growing about what his opponents see as India’s slide towards authoritarianism.

The man who as a boy sold tea in his home state has dominated India’s politics so completely in the past decade that few in his party or even the parent ideological group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, dare stand up to him.

Indeed, throughout the campaign in scorching heat, it was Modi with his thinning white hair, neatly trimmed white beard and immaculate Indian attire who towered over everyone else.

Giant cutouts of him were everywhere and his face was on television screens every day as he courted India’s 968-million voters with a personal “Modi guarantee” to change their lives.

“He has become larger than the party itself,” said Surendra Kumar Dwivedi, a former head of the department of political science at Lucknow University. “In a democratic system … a party should always supersede an individual.”

Modi, the first Indian leader to win a third consecutive term since founding prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, has promised a transformative next five years.

Under him, India has become the world’s fastest-growing major economy and he has said he wants to make it the world’s third-largest in three years, behind the US and China.

“My every moment is for the country, my every moment is for you,” Modi said in his address to the alliance. “Together, we have to take the country forward. What we have done in the last 10 years is only a preview, a trailer.”

The BJP has dismissed opposition speculation that Modi might hang up his boots once he reaches 75, as some other party leaders have done in recent years. Modi has said he wants to lay the groundwork for India to become a fully developed nation by 2047, the 100th year of independence from British colonial rule.

A reduced mandate for Modi’s ruling alliance forecloses the possibility of changes to India’s secular constitution that opposition groups had warned against. Any such measures require the support of two-thirds of MPs.

Concerns have grown in recent years that the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda has polarised the country with Modi himself turning up the rhetoric, accusing the main opposition Congress of appeasing Muslims for votes.

Yashwant Deshmukh, founder of CVoter polling agency and a political analyst, said the BJP’s top goal of introducing common civil laws to replace Islam’s sharia-based customs and other religious codes would have to be put on the back burner.

“These will have to be debated,” he said.

Reuters

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