This week, Narendra Modi was sworn in to a second term in office, becoming the first Indian prime minister in over five decades to not only win back-to-back parliamentary elections but to do so while increasing his party’s majority. The BJP, Modi’s party, won a landslide 303 seats in parliament.
As expected, Modi’s victory has drawn mixed reactions. In fact, so much so that TIME magazine ran two bewildering articles: one before the election calling the prime minister “Divider-in-Chief” and another afterward titled “Modi Has United India Like No Prime Minister in Decades.”
As comical as TIME magazine’s gaffe may be, the truth is India stands at a crossroads. Other media reports have pointed to the rise of Hindu nationalism in the BJP and its threat to religious minorities. Of course, we must keep in context the reality that since independence India has been ruled by Hindu majority parties, regardless of who is in power.
Coming into his second term, Prime Minister Modi has the opportunity to shape India for decades to come, but to achieve this he must work toward uniting India by taking these three steps:
1. Reach Out to Indian Muslims
Modi’s first order of business should be to reach out to Indian Muslims who have suffered violence from extreme, right-wing elements, some which claim to support him and his party.
The prime minister has already stated he wants his government to include and be fair to all sections of society. “We have to carry along everyone for the good of the country,” Modi said in a victory speech shortly after the election.
Sadly, many candidates resorted to polarizing language during the election, stoking already existing religious tensions. In a recent example, the day after the election results were announced, two Muslim men and a woman were beaten in public for allegedly possessing beef, which self-proclaimed “cow vigilantes” consider a crime. The men were tied to a tree and beaten with sticks, while the woman was attacked while she laid on the ground.
Though perpetrated by a fringe group of extremists and not by the vast majority of peaceful Hindus, these violent incidents happen more often than they should. The prime minister must act swiftly and put a stop to it.
As the terrible Easter attacks in Sri Lanka taught us, terrorists are looking for opportunities to infiltrate Muslim communities and radicalize young men and women. India, which has the second-largest Muslim community in the world, cannot afford to alienate its Muslim population and risk opening the door to Islamic terrorists.
2. Complete His Economic Agenda
If there’s one surefire way to keep the nation united, it is finishing the economic agenda laid out by Prime Minister Modi.
You don’t have to be an economist to know India has huge economic challenges ahead. The issue of unemployment and lack of job creation stares India in the face. Millions of young men and women, with university degrees, are jobless — and every month, hundreds of thousands more enter the workforce, joining them. India might be one of the few countries on Earth where achieving higher education reduces your chances of employment, as research from the Brookings Institution has revealed.
Despite economic mishaps during Modi’s first term, young, aspirational India has again reposed faith in the prime minister to deliver on the economic front. Prime Minister Modi needs economists on his team who fearlessly carry out both economic liberalization and address the massive economic needs of India’s young as well as the poor and marginalized.
India needs a healthy economy not only to prosper but to maintain a peaceful and orderly democracy. More than religious extremism, it is economic unrest that will harm India.
3. Protect Freedom of Speech and Religious Liberty
Prime Minister Modi’s first campaign received significant help from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the umbrella organization over the BJP. The RSS is a cultural organization committed to the idea of creating a Hindu Rashtra — Hindu nation — from its inception. Its influence stretches wide and far to advance the organization’s vision, and its members have actively campaigned for Modi’s election.
Yet Modi’s recent victory seems to have come more due to his charisma and his position in the BJP than because of RSS support. In other words, people voted specifically for Modi for political reasons, not for cultural reasons.
A government has to take into consideration all of its citizens. Modi is prime minister of all of India, including the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh where the BJP has not won a single seat. He cannot be seen as the prime minister only of the Hindus.
In past years, we have witnessed violent incidents against minorities, writers, artists, and journalists who challenged violent right-wing, extremists, such as the vigilantes who attack Muslims. Leading up to the election, there was palpable fear of retaliation of expressing one’s opinion. Thankfully, India’s democracy appears to be in good shape, as there was plenty of both strong pro- and anti-Modi speeches, interviews and expressions on public and social media.
The prime minister must continue protecting people’s freedom of speech along with their religious liberty. These two freedoms are prerequisites for a healthy democracy.
These are the challenges and opportunities Prime Minister Modi has before him as he starts his new term. If he can succeed at uniting India, there’s no telling what our great democracy can accomplish.
Most Rev. Joseph D’Souza is widely considered one of the most influential voices of global Christianity. He is a justice and peace campaigner, civil rights advocate, interfaith peacemaker and Christian theologian. Rev. D’Souza is the founder and international president of Dignity Freedom Network, a multinational advocacy and humanitarian aid alliance dedicated to restoring human dignity to the poor, marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. Since its founding in 2001, the network has impacted an estimated 14 million people through its educational, anti-human trafficking, health care and economic development initiatives. Rev. D’Souza presides as moderator bishop and primate — or archbishop — over the Good Shepherd Church of India. He is a sought-after international speaker, participating in conferences, peace summits and civil society forums across the world and debriefing governmental bodies on religious freedom and human rights issues. He is a contributor at The Hill and The Washington Times, among others. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.