Influence of Gandhis fades in India

SlateMay 21, 2014 

— Narendra Modi’s BJP has won India’s election and won big. With 339 seats of the 543 in India’s parliament, the Lok Sabha, the BJP has a mandate to govern without forming a coalition with smaller parties. The Hindu nationalist party appears to have racked up sizeable gains even in areas with large Muslim populations.

The markets are elated at the pro-business Modi’s victory, though there are fears about what it will mean for India’s religious minorities and secular liberals. Though Modi, who will likely never fully escape his controversial role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, has himself toned down the nationalist rhetoric, not all of his party subordinates got the message.

In addition to what Modi’s tenure will mean for Indian politics, the election also raises questions about the future of one of the India’s most powerful political dynasties.

The Gandhi-Nehru family has dominated Indian politics since independence, with Jawaharlal Nehru serving as the first prime minister, his daughter Indira and grandson Rajiv both being assassinated in office, and Rajiv’s wife Sonia currently leading the Congress Party, often eclipsing outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi, never seemed particularly interested in becoming prime minister and was a disastrously bad campaigner who will shoulder a lot of the blame for the Congress Party’s historic defeat.

Modi, known from his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat as a skilled and ruthless political operator, reportedly despises the Gandhis and now that he’s in power, will likely take steps to curb their power.

It seems unlikely that Rahul will be the one to lead the Gandhis back from the wilderness, and some party loyalists are now demanding that his sister Priyanka take a more prominent role. Though she seems to have a bit more charisma than her brother, she has so far stuck to campaigning for the family in their home districts in Uttar Pradesh and has denied wider ambitions.

Plus, Congress and the BJP are hardly the only games in town. The upstart party Aam Admi , which has its origins in the anti-corruption protests on 2011, may have only picked up four seats, but seems to have had a significant impact on the election, providing an alternative for voters who were wary of Modi but fed up with Congress.

In the long and often tragic history of one of the world’s most prominent political families, this is a low point.

Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics.

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