Former senior administration officials attribute BJP's massive win a personal triumph for Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Photo/Flickr user U.S. Embassy New Delhi/Press Information Bureau/GOI

WASHINGTON,D.C. — Former senior administration officials, retired ambassador Teresita Schaffer and Raymond Vickery, attribute the massive win by the BJP as a personal triumph for Prime Minister Modi, who, they argued, artfully changed the conversation to nationalism and religion, leaving the traditional definition of ‘Indian secularism’ in the dust-heap of history.

Schaffer, who with her late husband Howard Schaffer, both retired career diplomats, between the both of them had over 60 years of experience in and on South Asia, serving as ambassador to the subcontinent and enjoying several stints in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, told India Abroad that “for the second time in a row, Narendra Modi has outperformed the polls and the political analysts, winning an absolute majority of the seats in parliament for his BJP.”

Former senior administration officials attribute BJP's massive win a personal triumph for Modi

Teresita Schaffer 

She said, “This is a personal triumph for Modi, whose dominance of the political scene is even stronger than before,” and predicted, “ The policies on which he has put his personal stamp will continue with even more vigor, for example, ‘ Make in India;’ ‘ Ease of Doing Business’ efforts, etc.”

Schaffer, who now runs the popular blog, which she started with her husband, single-handedly, acknowledged that “Modi does not yet control the upper house of parliament, which will be a relatively modest obstacle to some of his legislative efforts – but even this could change if state legislative assemblies change hands.”

She said, “Modi’s ambitions for a stronger economy require more investment – but not more open trade. He shares the concern of most Indian civil servants and politicians that import competition is politically dangerous.”

Meanwhile, Schaffer said, “the second catastrophic defeat leaves the Indian National Congress in serious disarray. The Congress instinct will be to cling to the family, but Rahul Gandhi was the marquee party leader in both these defeats.”

“As a group, the regional parties acquitted themselves a bit better,” she said, “but they are inherently less well positioned to present an alternative to Modi.”

Schaffer also said, “The last two elections have left the traditional definition of ‘Indian secularism’ on life support,” and said that even though “ Modi has not lent his voice to the most high profile expressions of Hindutva,” she pointed out that “ neither has he pushed back against those who argue for shrinking the space available to communal minorities.”

Vickery, erstwhile Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Trade Development in the Clinton Administration, and now a Senior Advisor of the Albright-Stonebridge Group, run by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,told India Abroad, “Modi came to power in 2014 through a campaign centered on promises of increased economic prosperity and less corruption. In the 2019 campaign, he was vulnerable on both issues—since India needs almost a million new jobs a month just to keep pace with new entrants to the labor market.”

“In Modi's first term, job creation was not nearly that. Corruption lessened at the federal level, but the Rafale fighter deal cast a pall(a political controversy in India related to the purchase of 36 multirole fighter aircraft for a price estimated at €7.8 billion by the Defense Ministry of India from France's Dassault Aviation),” he added.

Former senior administration officials attribute BJP's massive win a personal triumph for Modi

Raymond Vickery

Thus, Vickery opined, “With neither the economy nor anti-corruption being a sure winner for Modi, he simply changed the political conversation. This campaign became about nationalism and religion.”

He argued, “The opposition did not have a leader with sufficient charisma to focus the public on lack of economic progress or perceptions of corruption. Further, the opposition was not able to put across a convincing response to Modi's claims of leadership on national security, the religious values of the majority, anti-corruption, or the economy.”

Although acknowledging that “Modi was hurt somewhat on the economic and corruption issues,” Vickery said, “with his charisma and the attraction of nationalism and religion for the majority of Indians, these wounds were not nearly enough to prevent his return to power.”

However, in the final analysis, he declared, “India and Indians love democracy. They have once again given the lie to the Chinese andothers who say that a large developing country cannot be run by democratic means.”

But Vickery, till recently a scholar in the Asia Program ofthe Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and an adjunct professor at George Mason University, and now also a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)’ U.S.-India Policy Studies Program, argued, “However, democracy requires more than full and free elections. It requires institutions that protect the rights of minorities and preserve basic human rights for all. These rights must be secured regardless of religion or degree of nationalistic fervor.”

He said, “After this campaign of nationalism and religion, India is now faced with the challenge of determining whether it can achieve economic prosperity and national security without damaging its founding principles.”

Vickery said, “Modi now has the political capital necessary make the difficult reforms necessary to build jobs and increase growth. These include labor reform, further deregulation, privatization, and land reform.”

“Modi is also in a stronger position to deal with the U.S. creatively,” he added, and noted, “This will be necessary to resolve the many trade disputes with the U.S. including the unintended consequences of the Trump administration positions on trade with Iran, Russia, and Huawei.”

Vickery said, “Modi can now assure that India is a strong and equal partner in an Indo-Pacific strategy to make sure that China does not become a hegemon for the region.”

But, he acknowledged, “A major challenge for Modi will be to effectively meet the threat of radical Islamic terrorism from Pakistan and elsewhere without war and without compromising minority rights.”

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