Modi’s many critics see India’s grand old party as the only force capable of stopping the BJP juggernaut…


Narendra Modi visits the place where Swami Vivekananda stayed in Khetri, Rajasthan. Photograph via.

From The New York Review of Books:

Hawa, a Hindi word for wind or air, carries a subtler meaning in Indian politics. A politician’s hawa is the tailwind that propels him to victory; it is the superior momentum that comes with being on a roll.

For the past five years in the world’s biggest democracy, one man, one party, and one ideological current have pretty much cornered all the hawa. A puffing guardian spirit tangibly energizes Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister; despite his modest stature, the bearded sixty-seven-year-old can fill a room with a swirling air of quiet purpose or, some would say, menace. All across the country hawa can be felt ruffling the ubiquitous orange flags of his Bharatiya Janata, or Indian People’s Party (BJP), and stirring the long-suppressed ambitions of the Sangh Parivar, the “family” of Hindu nationalist groups that is the party’s ideological home.

Having promised to clean up the system, Modi’s government has also pushed through campaign finance “reforms” that actually make it easier for Indian donors to remain anonymous.

Until very recently, Delhi pundits were virtually unanimous in tipping Modi as a shoo-in to win the next national elections, scheduled for the spring of 2019. Given all his party’s strengths and the weakness of Congress, many predicted that the BJP would again secure a full majority on its own. This would keep Modi in power, and likely controlling both houses of parliament, through 2024.

But Indian politics are unusually volatile and fickle. As more stories of corruption have inevitably begun to stick and loudly touted policies have mired in Indian realities, the hawa seems to be slowly dying down. Congress remains a weak and wobbly opponent, but it is gathering strength and purpose as Modi’s many critics begin to see India’s grand old party as the only force capable of stopping the BJP juggernaut. The smart money is still on Modi, but recent trends suggest that he would be wise to call an early election, or he may see himself returned to power with a reduced majority, dependent on coalition allies. That might at least crimp his style.

“A Mighty Wind”, Max Rodenbeck, The New York Review of Books