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India’s Hindu “Emperor” Wants a Third Term

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was portrayed as an avatar of economic development in the 2014 election campaign, and a national-security warrior in 2019. But both of those narratives have collapsed, so the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has returned to basics, focusing on Modi’s Hindu-nationalist credentials.

NEW DELHI – India begins the New Year with a general election looming, and the battle lines are already clear. On one side is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On the other is a slew of opposition parties that are largely, though not wholly, clustered around the Indian National Congress party, and together form the Indian National Developmental and Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).

The BJP’s narrative has undergone significant changes during the party’s decade in power. During the 2014 campaign, the BJP’s slogan was achhe dinaane waale hain (“good times are coming”), and Modi, who had been chief minister of the prosperous state of Gujarat since 2001, was portrayed as an avatar of economic development. As prime minister, the narrative went, he would transform the Indian economy, bringing prosperity – including 20 million new jobs per year – to all.

Far from delivering broad-based prosperity, during his first term Modi oversaw a disastrous demonetization process that nullified 86% of India’s currency in one fell swoop, causing widespread hardship and mass unemployment. So, for the 2019 election, a new narrative was needed.