'There were expectations he would win the election again, but the scale of the victory has surprised a lot of people.'
NEW YORK — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won re-election in a landslide victory Thursday after a campaign that leaned heavily on Hindu nationalist and populist themes.
Dhruva Jaishankar is a foreign policy fellow at Brookings India in New Delhi.
“Contrary to many expectations, it looks like he has won a larger mandate than he did five years ago. There were expectations he would win the election again, but I think the scale of the victory has surprised a lot of people.”
The elections were also a logistical feat — with more than 600 million votes cast on 1.7 million electronic voting machines — but Jaishankar says Indian democracy is being tested in new ways, from the influence of fake news and foreign interference to the seeming effectiveness of Islamophobic rhetoric in fueling Modi’s victory.
“One is the rise of identity politics or a strengthening of identity politics in the sense of people voting politically or organizing politically around sectarian lines, whether it’s religious, whether in India it’s caste, whether it is ethnicity or language. It’s not a new issue in India’s case, but we are seeing it taking certain new forms.”
Modi’s victory will give him the credibility to lead new domestic initiatives amid the worst unemployment in 45 years. And with India on track to become the world’s fifth-largest economy and surpass China as the world’s most populous nation, India’s foreign policy muscle will also grow during Modi’s continued tenure.
That’s helpful for the U.S., given mutual concerns about China, though a stronger India could also become less likely to bend to foreign pressure.
“India does have a trade surplus with the United States. That has put it in the cross hairs of the Trump administration. There are also some issues related to India’s import of Iranian and Venezuelan oil. India is one of the largest importers of oil from those two countries. The U.S. has been trying to shut that down. India has been trying to import defense equipment from Russia. That has also been an irritant in the relationship. By any kind of large measure, India is mattering more to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is mattering more to India as well.”