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India’s Modi is known for hard charging. After mediocre elections, he may have to adjust his style

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NEW DELHI (AP) — Since coming to power a decade ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known for his big, bold and often quick decisions that he was able to implement with ease thanks to the brutal majority he enjoyed in the Indian lower house.

In 2016 he has snatched more than 80% of the banknotes withdrawn from circulation in an effort to combat tax evasion, which sent shockwaves through the country and devastated citizens who lost money. In 2019, his government pushed through a controversial law stripped of special status of disputed Muslim-majority Kashmir, where there is hardly any debate in parliament. And in 2020, Modi quickly introduced controversial agricultural reforms — though he had to drop them about a year later. mass protests by farmers.

In his expected next term as prime minister – when he will then need a coalition to govern results announced on Wednesday showed that his Hindu nationalist party did not win a majority – Modi may have to adapt to a style of governance with which he has little experience or little desire.

And it’s not clear how that will turn out.

“Negotiating and building a coalition, working with coalition partners, grappling with the tradeoffs that come with coalition politics – none of this fits well with Modi’s brand of assertive and stand-alone politics,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center South Asia Institute .

The surprise election results have overturned widespread expectations before the vote and the exit polls, which suggested a stronger outcome for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Ultimately, the party won 240 seats – fewer than the 272 needed to form a government on its own. But the coalition to which she belongs, the National Democratic Alliance, won a majority that should allow Modi to retain power in the world’s most populous country.

“India cuts Modi off,” read an Indian newspaper headline on Wednesday, referring to the 642 million voters as well as the opposing INDIA alliance, which took seats away from the BJP.

This is both a major setback and uncharted territory for Modi, who has never needed his coalition partners to govern since he first became prime minister in 2014. It has made him the most vulnerable he has been in his 23-year political career.

“These results show that the Modi wave has receded, revealing a level of electoral vulnerability that many could not have anticipated,” Kugelman said.

India has a history of messy coalition governments – but Modi, who enjoyed astronomical popularity, offered a reprieve and led his BJP to landslide victories in the last two elections. His supporters credit him with transforming the country into a rising global power, matched by a robust economy that is the fifth largest in the world.

However, that economy is increasingly experiencing problems – and partners are now needed to solve them. His opponents focused on vulnerabilities despite brisk growth, such as unemployment, inflation and inequality – but his campaign offered few clues as to how he might address them.

“Modi barely addressed the issue of unemployment – ​​they skirted around it,” said Yamini Aiyar, a public policy scholar.

It is not just that Modi will have to adapt to relying on a coalition. The election has also weakened him after a decade of building a personality of absolute invincibility, said Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

At the heart of his governing style is his desire for control, critics say, adding that Modi has done just that increasingly centralized power.

But to stay in power now, Modi will have to do everything he can to maintain a stable coalition, which means he may have to govern in a more collaborative way as the smaller regional parties in his alliance could make or break his government.

The BJP’s lackluster performance is “undoubtedly a slap in the face”, said Modi’s Vaishnav, who confidently predicted at his first election rally in February that the party would secure more than 370 seats – 130 more than it did.

The gap between the high expectations that Modi and others set for the BJP and its actual performance has made the victors look like losers and the defeated feel victorious.

Still, Vaishnav said, “we should not lose sight of the fact that the BJP is still in the driver’s seat.”

To be sure: his most consequential Hindu nationalist policy and actions are locked – including a controversial citizenship law and Hindu temple built on top a destroyed mosque. His critics and opponents condemn this policy, saying it has sown intolerance and fueled religious tensions against the population. the country’s Muslim community – and left India’s democracy reeling, silencing dissent and pressuring the media.

Now his agenda and ability to push through policies in the future could face greater challenges, especially from a once deflated but now resurgent opposition.

The INDIA alliance, led by the Congress Party, is likely to have more power to apply pressure and push back, especially in Parliament where their numbers will grow.

“Modi is Modi. But I would say that with the attitude with which he has governed the country so far, he will definitely face some problems now,” said Anand Mohan Singh, a 45-year-old businessman in the capital New Delhi. “Some changes will be visible.”

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Associated Press video journalist Shonal Ganguly contributed to this report.

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