Modi 2.75?

Given Modi is new to coalition politics and his allies are political bargainers, many questions about the future arise

Farrukh Khan Pitafi June 08, 2024
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and policy commentator. Email him at


They say there are two tragedies in life. Not to get your heart’s desire. And to get it. But what happens when you get what you want but only in a diminished quantity? When writing these lines, the following has transpired so far. On the evening of June 1, when you read my last piece, the Indian media released the eagerly awaited exit polls. All of them, and there are quite a few of those, showed the Modi government returning with a thumping majority. In fact, some of them seemed to fulfil Modi’s prophecy of ab ki bar, char sau par (this time, we will cross the four hundred milestone).

On June 4, vote counting began, and the BJP failed to meet the expectations. In a house of 543, it secured 240 with a loss of around 60 seats and 32 short of the majority mark. With his NDA allies, he easily makes the difference. In his career, this is a first. When he was appointed the chief minister of Gujarat in 2001, he had never been an MLA. Shortly after the riots, the state held an election, and Modi’s government comfortably won a majority. Since then, he has never had to rely on coalition partners to rule. This time, he does.

Since the opposition INDIA coalition exceeded expectations and yet fell short of a majority, fear has grown in Modi’s camp that his allies may switch sides. If they did, that would have been it for Modi, who has ruled India like his personal fiefdom for the past ten years. His electoral misfortunes have been compounded by a low-intensity insurgency within his party, where his lieutenant Amit Shah had spent the last year sidelining major contenders. So, to foil any attempts to replace him, he first took the NDA allies on board. And obtained his parliamentary party’s support later. As these lines are being written, he has managed both. If all things go smoothly, he takes a fresh oath on Sunday.

Given that he is new to coalition politics and his allies are astute political bargainers, many questions about the future of this venture have arisen. Will all of this work? Will we see any change in his approach to governance? Will his party do to these allies what it has done to most of his partners — either steal their mandate over time or their entire party? If so, why are these partners risking it then?

Pundits call the next government Modi 3.0. I prefer to call it the NDA 3.0 or Modi 2.75 (two and three quarters). The reason is simple. It is almost but not quite a Modi government. His past governments have been known to enjoy sweeping powers. So much so that in the past ten years, there was no opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament. No party got enough seats to cross that threshold. With no check on power, he did not need coalition partners who, in turn, needed his support to stay in power. Hence, addicted to power, they were forced to put up with the treatment meted out to them.

That now changes, albeit for the time being. The smart money is on his minions using old pressure tactics within months to scavenge other parties (there is no distinction between allies and opponents) and increasing the BJP’s tally to 272. This way, the blackmail of the allies can be put to an end.

But until that happens, he is forced to work with crutches. And a look at the allies tells you he is in thick soup. If the two leading coalition partners, the Telegu Desam Party (16 seats) of Chandrababu Naidu and the Janata Dal United (12 seats) of Nitish Kumar, withdraw their support even the NDA falls short of a majority. Both of them have worked with the BJP and Modi before. Both had to quit the coalition because of Modi’s intransigence. Chandrababu even had to go to prison for a while. And both are hard bargainers. Nitish Kumar is the architect of the India coalition and gave it the winning formula of caste census. But since the opposition coalition was dragging its feet in appointing him the national coordinator, he quit his own creation and returned to the NDA.

If these two parties are among Modi’s victims, why are they rescuing him from oblivion? First of all, they know that in the parts of the country where Modi has support, he is wildly popular. Aligning with a rightwing populist makes it easy for them to sustain whatever gains they make through bargaining. And some blame must rest with the opposition leaders, too.

But even so, their endorsement speeches at the BJP/NDA parliamentary party meet were illuminating. Nitish Kumar’s speech seemed to carry a dual meaning. On the face of it, he said that whatever deficiency remained in Modi’s development agenda, he would soon eradicate it. But to the ears trained to catch Kumar’s dual meanings, it carried another layer. That whatever he was left with would be gone soon.

Chandrababu’s speech repeatedly called him a visionary and, at one point, referred to his power of visualisation, which seemed to lend credence to the rumours that Modi indulges in new thought magic. This earned him a startled look from Modi.

Both these allies are reportedly demanding quite a lot from the next government. We will wait and watch to see what becomes of those demands.

And you might be wondering what happened to the party’s internal divisions. Well, only unconfirmed reports have emerged from an interaction with the RSS, his party’s ideological mentor. He reportedly told his detractors that he intended to step down in about a year at the age of seventy-five, and they could choose to appoint his replacement at that time. If they believed this assurance, they may deserve what’s coming. He could spend the intervening period rebuilding his brand and then call for a fresh election when he is done. For now, however, he is being asked to remove Amit Shah from power and send him back to the party.

While it is uncertain whether this experiment will work for long, his opponents clearly lack his ‘will to power’. And his party is still in his awe. So, I have made peace with the idea that we probably are in a dystopian Bollywood film, and this is our fate. Modi’s critics often accuse him of possessing a washing machine, which he uses to clean and recycle the opposition politicians he accuses of corruption or targets due to political animosity. I am currently trying to locate that machine.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2024.

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