Indian Prime Minister Modi Wins Reelection

May 23, 2019
Originally published on May 23, 2019 9:58 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It looks like a landslide victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. Votes are still being counted today after elections that lasted six weeks. NPR's Lauren Frayer has been following all of it, and she joins us live from Mumbai.

Lauren, so we're looking at another five years for Prime Minister Modi, huh?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: That's right. It certainly looks that way. Results show his Hindu nationalist party will have enough seats in parliament to govern, maybe even on its own without having to form a coalition. Modi was elected in a historic landslide in 2014, and it looks like he's just done it again. He could be sworn in again as early as this weekend. His main opponent, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party, has just conceded. And here he is speaking at his party headquarters in New Delhi. He was asked what went wrong with his party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAHUL GANDHI: Frankly, today, it doesn't matter what I think went wrong. What matters is that the people of India have decided that Narendra Modi is going to be the prime minister. And as an Indian person, I fully respect that.

MARTIN: I mean, that name Gandhi, Lauren - that's a long family history.

FRAYER: It's a family dynasty. That's right. So we should point out no relation to Mohandas Gandhi, the freedom leader, but the great-grandfather of Rahul Gandhi was India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. So this is a long family dynasty - produced three previous prime ministers. And Rahul Gandhi has just lost his seat in the family's hometown, so that's pretty symbolic. The Congress party, you know, helped win independence from the British for India and really dominated India ever since, until Modi was elected five years ago.

MARTIN: So let's talk about what Modi is saying about his victory in a moment. But why did it take six weeks?

FRAYER: (Laughter) Right. Rachel, this is a big - the world's biggest democracy. Stuff takes time here - 900 million eligible voters from tropical islands in the Indian Ocean to the Himalaya mountains. And Indian law says no one should have to walk about a mile and a quarter - more than that - to vote. And so literally you had more than a million polling stations coming to them. And people voted in seven stages across the country over the course of nearly six weeks. And the votes were just counted today.

MARTIN: So what's Modi saying?

FRAYER: Right. So he is declaring victory kind of on Twitter. I mean, we're expecting him to come out and make a traditional victory speech at some point tonight. But for now, here's what he wrote on Twitter. He said, quote, "together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India." And the key word there really is inclusive because this campaign has been super divisive. Modi's Hindu nationalist party has been accused of using hate speech and fear as campaign tactics. So one of the challenges going forward will be, really, to heal the country and make all Indians feel like they are part of India. We'll be watching particularly for any outreach by Modi to India's Muslims. There have been a lot of attacks on Muslims here by supporters of Modi's Hindu nationalist party.

MARTIN: I mean, did - was that central to his campaign? I - what did he try to rally voters around? What ideas?

FRAYER: Right. So, like, he was elected five years ago on economic promises - promised to streamline India's bureaucracy, cut corruption, create jobs. India's economy is booming. It's one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but unemployment is still high. And so Modi has struggled to deliver jobs. And instead, his campaign message this time has sort of pivoted to social, religious issues and national security. He really talked tough against Pakistan. Pakistan-based militants have carried out attacks in India. And coincidentally or not, today, Pakistan test-fired a ballistic missile. Hours later, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was among the first to congratulate Modi and say he's looking forward to working with him.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer for us this morning on the outcome of the Indian elections.

Thanks, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.