Modi Brings India's Opposition Into Power at Last. Now What?

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi is surrounded by supporters, security, and media after visiting his mother on May 16 in Ahmedabad, India Photograph by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The election results have flashed across TV screens all day in Delhi: The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trounced the incumbent Congress party. What’s more, instead of having to cobble together a coalition that may have weakened its hand, BJP is on course to capture a majority of seats in the 545-seat lower house of Parliament.

It is a humiliating and potentially debilitating loss for the Nehru-Gandhi family, which had dominated both Congress and Indian national politics since the nation’s independence in 1947. (A greatest hits of awkward remarks by scion Rahul Gandhi, who kept cracking a strange grin on his face during a televised concession today, was posted to a site called WhyCongressLost.)

A pro-business Hindu nationalist and the son of a tea seller, BJP prime minister candidate Narendra Modi will now go forward with a mandate built on what looks to be the biggest election win in India during the past 30 years. “India is back in business,” said an executive at a Mumbai investment firm. The stock market climbed, the rupee rose, and BJP supporters beat drums and hollered, “Long live Modi, good days are ahead.”

Once the euphoria of the victory subsides, serious challenges await. Rampant corruption will not disappear overnight, nor will regional power brokers at times in conflict with national progress. After nine years of average annual growth over 8 percent, India’s GDP has slumped to less than 5 percent growth. Inflation is stubbornly high: Retail inflation averaged about 10 percent last year. On top of it all, India is home to one-third of the world’s very poorest people, according to the World Bank.

The domestic pressure to turn those problems around will not abate. India is large, poor, and young—the median age of the nation’s 1 billion-plus population is 26—a combustible mix that would make any leader nervous.

The BJP’s election manifesto (PDF) said the party will “accord high priority to job creation and opportunities for entrepreneurship” and was full of generalities like “We will … generate IT based jobs in rural and semi-urban areas.” Fulfilling those sorts of promises in a challenging economic environment, even with the momentum Modi enjoys, will not be easy. Those problems, though, will wait for a bit—today, party faithful danced outside BJP headquarters and Modi’s staggering poll numbers kept adding up.

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