Wed, Nov 11, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Modi is urged to engage rivals after Bihar rout

Reuters, NEW DELHI

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to reverse course and engage with opposition leaders if he is to salvage his economic reform program, senior aides said on Monday, after he suffered a humiliating state election defeat.

Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was hammered in Bihar by a regional alliance, even though the 65-year-old leader addressed more than 30 rallies across the poor eastern state of 104 million people.

The setback destroys any hopes Modi might have had of securing control of parliament’s upper house in this five-year term, barely 18 months after he won India’s strongest national mandate in three decades.

“It’s going to make his life really difficult — he will struggle to form a majority in the upper house,” Capital Economics economist Shilan Shah said. “The next step is to put aside some of the really polarizing issues and form alliances.”

At a meeting after Sunday’s Bihar results, in which Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s “grand alliance” won 178 seats to 58 for the BJP and its allies, close aides urged Modi to reach out to opposition heavyweights he has until now shunned.

“There is a realization that he will have to negotiate,” one senior adviser said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

It remains to be seen whether Modi follows his aides’ advice. Since storming to power, he has made a point of trying to crush the ousted Indian National Congress Party and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that leads it.

He has not met Congress President Sonia Gandhi, even though Congress successfully blocked legislation during the last parliamentary session and frustrated several of Modi’s key reforms.

This is now likely to change, the adviser said.

Signature policies, above all the biggest tax reform since independence in 1947, are at stake.

If Modi is to make headway, aides say he will have to wean himself off the company of friends from his home state of Gujarat, which he ran for more than a decade, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu movement that is the BJP’s ideological parent and moulded him as a politician.

“If they don’t manage to get that consensus, we won’t have sustained and stable reforms,” said M.R. Madhavan, president of PRS Legislative Research and a leading observer of parliamentary politics.

Also under critical scrutiny is the polarizing campaign strategy of BJP President Amit Shah, who irked many by saying firecrackers would go off in Pakistan if the BJP lost in Bihar.

The jibe appeared to be intended to mobilize the party’s core Hindu support base against Muslim-majority Pakistan, India’s archrival.

It was Shah, an old friend from Gujarat, who scripted the BJP’s Bihar strategy exclusively around Modi: The party did not put up a candidate for the post of chief minister.

“We should have projected a local face as our chief ministerial candidate,” one regional BJP leader said, adding that the party should have done a better job of pitching its message of development and steered clear of controversy.

Criticism has rained down on Modi and Shah for trying to turn Bihar into a referendum on the prime minister’s leadership, leaving him vulnerable to a strong campaign by Kumar and ally Lalu Prasad that addressed voter concerns in a state riven by complex divisions of caste and religion.

This story has been viewed 1571 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top