Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was meeting party allies and members of his cabinet Friday to plot a course for his second term after a landslide victory left the once-mighty Gandhi dynasty licking its wounds.
A considerable to-do list includes addressing India’s lacklustre economic growth and reducing unemployment, as well as fixing a stricken agriculture sector on which 70 per cent of households depend.
India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley is unlikely to continue in his current role due to poor health as prime minister Narendra Modi begins his second term, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter, reports Reuters.
The sources said that Jaitley, 66, is unlikely to take up any offer to continue in the top job steering Asia’s third-largest economy as his health has deteriorated over the past few months.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was projected to sweep 303 seats in parliament, giving it an even bigger majority than five years ago and defying predictions of a dip.
The main opposition Congress party, which has ruled the roost in India for much of its post-independence history, improved on its historic low five years ago of 44 seats but still only managed a paltry 52.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi even lost his own seat in Amethi, long a family bastion. He did win a seat in the southern state of Kerala, however, a quirk allowed under Indian election rules.
Chinese president Xi Jinping, meanwhile, joined a chorus of international well-wishers, with US president Donald Trump hailing Modi’s ‘BIG’ win and even Pakistan’s Imran Khan tweeting congratulations.
On Thursday there were delirious scenes at BJP party offices across the nation of 1.3 billion people, including its headquarters where Modi was showered with petals by chanting fans.
The voting numbers in India’s election is the biggest event in the history of (the) democratic world. The entire world has to recognise the democratic strength of India,’ Modi told cheering crowds.
‘Modi will make India great again. Modi is the strongest prime minister India has ever had and will get. We need to support his policies to prosper,’ said one supporter, Santosh Joshi.
Modi, 68, conferred with party allies on Friday ahead of a cabinet meeting later in the day, after which the president was due formally to dissolve the outgoing parliament.
With the election behind him, Modi must now tackle the economy and unemployment - notably among women, who have one of the lowest labour market participation rates in the world.
‘The real question is can Modi deliver on his economic commitments - for example creating the high number of jobs needed?,’ said Champa Patel, of the Chatham House think-tank.
‘This is essential to address India’s growing wealth inequalities. Can he address the challenges that millions of Indians face on a daily basis in a highly stratified country?’
India’s agriculture industry is also in a dire state with drought, low prices and debt driving thousands of farmers to suicide in recent years.
The country’s waterways are filthy and India is home to 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, killing 1.24 million people early in 2017 according to a Lancet Planetary Health study.
Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP must also try to heal divisions which have left religious minorities - including
India’s 170 million Muslims - feeling anxious for the future.
During the campaign he managed to deflect criticism on these issues by focusing on national security, claiming he alone could defend India.
Congress meanwhile was picking up the pieces after the second election debacle in a row, having failed to win a single seat in 13 states and five union territories.
These included Rajasthan where it won state elections late last year. This time the BJP swept all 25 seats, and in Uttar Pradesh Congress took just one constituency.
An anti-Modi alliance in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with 200 million people, also failed to prevent the BJP juggernaut sweeping 64 out of 80 seats.
Even in West Bengal, run by formidable Modi critic Mamata Banerjee, the BJP made major inroads, boosting its seat tally from two to 18.
Congress on Friday was forced to deny media reports that Gandhi - the great-grandson, grandson and son of three former premiers - had offered to throw in the towel.
‘The Congress leadership has clearly failed. It is a discredited and bankrupt leadership,’ Kanchan Gupta from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank said.
‘It is astonishing that Rahul Gandhi has not yet resigned’, Ramachandra Guha, a renowned historian, said on Twitter. ‘The Congress should dump the Dynasty.’
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