Sunil Gatade | PM, BJP, allies on test as Modi begins his 3rd term

The Asian Age.  | Sunil Gatade

Opinion, Columnists

Modi's third term with coalition challenges signals a new era for Indian politics

As Narendra Modi embarks on his third term, a coalition government signals a shift in India's political landscape, prompting introspection and adaptation. (PTI Image)


Narendra Modi has begun his third term as India’s Prime Minister, only the second person to achieve that feat, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the nation’s first Prime Minister. But the faithful of the Sangh Parivar are still stunned that Mr Modi failed to secure a clear majority for the BJP and is now forced to depend on his partners in the National Democratic Alliance.

The swearing-in on Sunday evening of 72 ministers, including the PM, on the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan had been neatly planned and executed like the earlier two occasions. The need and eagerness to show that nothing has changed despite the arrival of the NDA government has itself shown that much has changed.
The body language of the leader projected to have a 56-inch chest now looked subdued. He does not want to show it, but all except the gullible know it and feel it.
The induction of affable leaders like Shivraj Singh Chauhan and the continuance of Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari signals that Mr Modi can manage the continuity with change if he depended more on such leaders.

J.P. Nadda being brought into the government means that the BJP will have a new president and perhaps a slightly assertive one. No one would miss the likes of Smriti Irani and Anurag Thakur. People have already forgotten Ravi Shankar Prasad.

One good thing is that, besides Mr Chouhan, there are six other former CMs. They include Manohar Lal Khattar of Haryana, H.D. Kumaraswamy of Karnataka, Sarbananda Sonowal of Assam, Jitan Ram Manjhi of Bihar, who at 78 is the eldest among the members. The PM is also a former CM.

The I&B minister and the parliamentary affairs ministers need to be amiable faces if the NDA government wants to start anew with the media and the Opposition, breaking from the tumultuous past. The INDIA alliance is now in good numbers and business as usual will not do.

Mr Modi’s over-centralisation of power in the PMO has turned counter-productive and could be a bane in what the Opposition describes as a Naidu/Nitish Dependent Alliance.

Much water has flown down the Ganga and Yamuna in the past decade. The success of Modi 3.0 depends on how the traits and characteristics, whims and fancies, prejudices and the propaganda of the two earlier Modi governments are buried for a common cause. Running a coalition is a fragile business. You have to handle it with care and be always cautious. It’s better said than done.

The strangest thing that would be seen in the “Three N” government headed by Narendra, Naidu and Nitish is that there will be three “Mann ki Baat” -- which could be quite confusing. Don’t take it literally, but the plans and priorities of the trio could clash at some point in time. All coalitions come with an expiry date.

Interestingly, Mr Chandrababu Naidu had played the kingmaker during the third term of Atal Behari Vajpayee, and now he is at hand to enable Mr Modi to do the honours.

History has turned full circle after 25 years, and the country is back in the coalition era after 10 long years.

What is ticklish is that the BJP can’t give up on its Hindutva agenda, while Nitish and Naidu are unapologetic about their stand for a better deal for the minorities and communal harmony.  Turning a middle roader would save the coalition from accidents, both man-made and natural, but no one likes to give up its USP. Since it is an NDA government, there is a need for a convenor. George Fernandes and Sharad Yadav had held this position during the Vajpayee era.

These are early days for the NDA government and it needs a New Deal to make a mark.
Mr Modi and Amit Shah so far exuded the arrogance of “my way or the highway” and also an irritating allergy towards the Opposition, which does not go well with parliamentary democracy.

Former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot has declared that the desert state has the first claim to be granted “special status” because of its peculiar problems. It has come in the backdrop of reports that Mr Modi could seek to placate Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu by such a status for Bihar and a special package for Andhra to build a new capital. The moral of the story is that any hasty step will create a row.
Mamata Banerjee has cautioned the PM against any attempts to break the non-BJP parties to gain a majority as she wanted him to realise that there was much latent discontent in the BJP too, which could explode.

The choice of Lok Sabha Speaker would give an ample hint on the road ahead. The Om Birla era, a black spot on parliamentary democracy, needs to be over.

The wages of running a coalition are tricky for a leader like Mr Modi, who is not given to play the sweet and amiable host except to foreign dignitaries. Now Mr Modi will dread the prospect of doing a “zoola” to Naidu and Nitish as he did once to Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad.

Mr Modi’s problem is that he is neither Vajpayee nor Sonia Gandhi, who had mastered the art of being a good coalition builder. The PM is neither given to listen to voices from within the BJP nor the Opposition, which he always condemned as “corrupt to the core”.

The PM’s spin doctors are already on overdrive seeking to paint the new set-up at the Centre as the “N” government. The BJP needs to be patted for its smart public relations, which helps to promote the false feeling that saffron is the paragon of virtue in matters of cooperation, cohesion and co-existence.

After winning the third Lok Sabha elections, one should not compare the Modi 3.0 with Pandit Nehru’s government. The Congress had a mandate then, and Mr Modi is now leading a coalition as the BJP failed to get an absolute majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha. There cannot be a comparison between apples and oranges.
Let Mr Modi say: “This is a historical moment in India’s history”. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Narendra Modi has to reinvent himself by turning the crisis into an opportunity. He has entered an era of turmoil and the road ahead is not easy. How he drives in difficult terrain and a hostile environment would ultimately decide how tough he is. “Modi hai to mumkin hain” is on test.