Narendra Modi’s stunning election victory in India shows nationalism trumped policy for voters

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed by supporters with rose petals in Varanasi last month.

When Narendra Modi won office in 2014, it was referred to as the Modi Wave.

What happened in India’s general elections this year can only be described as a Modi Tsunami.

Mr Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a second term with an increased majority.

That has stunned political commentators who were expecting a reduced majority or a minority and Coalition government.

Instead, the BJP won about six times the number of seats as India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, even winning districts where it has never held sway before.

It’s a thumping mandate.

Men in orange outfits release coloured smoke bombs

It’s also a tidal wave of populism, trumping policy.

Mr Modi spent his campaign giving fierce, theatrical speeches and his team has dominated the narrative on social media, where most Indians get their news and information.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi failed to make an impression in the physical or digital world, with critics calling him lacklustre.

His routing was so complete he even lost his seat in Uttar Pradesh state to a former TV actress who ran for the BJP.

Two men smiling at each other

While Mr Gandhi appeals to parts of India’s established elite and intellectual classes, Mr Modi has the common touch.

He sold himself as a man from a poor background who was strong and loud enough to defend India against the world. 

He calls himself ‘Chowkidar’, which translates to something akin to a watchman or security guard.

Perhaps the nation’s faith in ‘Modi the Protector’ is best summed up by a woman who danced at celebrations at BJP offices in New Delhi.

“We as women and housewives need a strong husband to protect the family. Likewise, Narendra Modi is only leader who can protect India,” she said.

Modi wins despite unemployment, tensions with Pakistan

A man in Indian garb holds up his hands in victory signs while walking through a cloud of rose petals

Mr Modi’s government has failed to protect India from disastrous unemployment levels, the highest in 45 years, according to government data leaked to the press earlier this year.

While the economy is growing, millions are out of work despite Mr Modi’s 2014 pledges to create jobs, reform taxation and boost India’s manufacturing sector.

In a country where agriculture employs more than half of the entire workforce, farmers are suffering from low prices and crippling debts.

But Indians believe their Prime Minister has protected them from a far greater danger than economic woe: Pakistan.

When the two countries spiralled towards the brink of war after a terror attack in Kashmir in February, Mr Modi sent warplanes to bomb Pakistan. 

The tiny school that almost triggered nuclear war

The tiny school that almost triggered nuclear war

In north-east Pakistan sits a humble religious school. But did it push the country perilously close to war with a nuclear enemy?

Even though there were no casualties — and no proof the bombs hit their targets — Indian nationalism was masterfully stoked by Mr Modi at every turn.

In a narrative that echoes the style of US President Donald Trump, Mr Modi reassured that they were “winning”.

When Mr Modi declared election victory on Twitter, he didn’t even mention his party or portray the election as a contest between two sides.

“India wins yet again!” he tweeted.

Mr Modi now heads what is probably the strongest government India has seen since independence in 1947, and can claim one of the strongest mandates ever bestowed on an Indian prime minister.

With so much power in the hands of one man, there will be no room for losers in the world’s biggest democracy.

A man holds up his finger while stepping through a yellow, orange and gold doorway