His supporters in the United States see Modi as a unifying figure, while critics disagree.
The mood at the Sheraton Suites in Elk Grove, a northwestern suburb of Chicago, some 7,500 miles away from the Indian capital of New Delhi, was one of great jubilation. The scene was an “Elections Result Watch Party,” organized by the Overseas Friends of the BJP. The hall was packed with supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Nearly all men and women gathered were Indian Americans, and many of them proudly displayed Indian flags, as well as political symbols and sashes of the BJP. As trends transformed to concrete results, the crowd turned more and more ecstatic.
Indian Americans gathered similarly in suburbs across the United States on Thursday to celebrate the resounding victory of Modi and the BJP.
The ruling National Democratic Alliance won 353 seats, an improvement of 17 seats from the 2014 election. The BJP itself won 303 seats, up from 282.
Modi has attained a cult following in the United States among a large section of Indian Americans, despite the not-so-flattering coverage of the prime minister in the mainstream US media in the past couple of years.
It was on display during his three US visits since becoming the prime minister in 2014, most notably at the Madison Square Garden in September 2014, when some 18,000 Indian Americans from the lengths and breadths of this country gathered to hear the newly elected leader.
Much like Indira Gandhi, the prime minister has become a larger figure than the party he represents, and that is true among his supporters in the United States.
In the run-up to the election, there was a series of critical pieces in the US press, including in TIME, which termed him the “Divider-in-Chief.”
But his supporters see him as a unifying force in India.
“He is the first leader of the great nation of India who treats all Indians equally,” said J.D. Diganvker, a community activist and former Republican congressional candidate from Illinois, who was one of the organizers of the Elk Grove party. “Narendra Modi is the ultimate symbol of national Indian citizenship. Every Indian citizen is a proud national citizen and that belief gave him a clear mandate in election 2019. He is a true unifier, globally, with every Indian united behind Modi.”
While not all share Diganvker’s view, many observers of Indian and Indian American politics say there is more to it than what detractors derisively call the Modi “bhakt” or devotion.
Dan Mayur, Sugarland, Texas, -based author sees Modi’s victory as the continued rejection of the Congress party’s dynasty-centered politics.
“For now the people have spoken loud and clear, giving Modi and his party a clear mandate,” he told the American Bazaar. “And they have been very consistent. Five years ago, they gave an overwhelming thumbs up to Modi and a flat rejection of the dynasty and its sidekicks. Five years later, today, the voters are once again confirming exactly the same message. Clearly, they know what they are doing. The political pundits do not.”
Mayur said only “time will tell what this election means for the well-being and image of India.”
He added: “For now, it means stability and a clear path forward for the incoming government. Politics is complex, particularly in a large and diverse country like India. Prediction is difficult, especially that of the future, in the wise words of Yogi Berra.”
However, author, technologist and historian, Braham Singh, says Modi’s “massive victory cannot be” reduced as a “protest vote,” even though he acknowledged the role of a weak opposition.
“There is also the matter of incompetent nepotism on the opposing side,” Singh said. “It only helped Modi cement his victory that much more.”
The Virginia resident termed the resounding mandate for Modi as a “turning point” in Indian history. “I don’t see it as a good turning point,” he said. “But it is a turning point. Indians are comfortable with a religious party and that’s fine if that’s what they want. It’s not something I want but people like me either have no locus standi or are a minority that doesn’t matter. That appears to be a fact.”
Progressives within the community see parallels between the prime minister’s stupendous victory and the support for Trump in the US, along with the rise of other rightwing strongmen worldwide.
“As an Indian American bearing witness to the socio-economic plight of both nations, equating the rise of Trump, Modi, and right-wing politics is hardly a difficult task,” said Peter Jacob, a social worker and former candidate for U.S. House from New Jersey. “Both embody fascist qualities, oppose the freedom of press, villianize minorities and utilize the fervor of right-wing religious zealots and nationalists while heeding the demands of the wealthy elites and the corporate state. And when the Congress party, or the CPI (M) in Kerala also behave in the same manner placing the few elites above the needs of the many, people will naturally feel less inspired to vote.”
Jacob also sees the current political atmosphere around the world as a ripple effect of neo-liberal economics. “The current neo-liberal economic paradigm enables politicians to create an order of haves and have-nots, exploit the divides of religion, caste, class, gender, etc. having no regard for the improvement of a nation as a whole,” he said. “It’s also important to point out that election rigging has become a predominant tool used by ruling, and often, right-wing parties.”
Jacob also finds another distressing parallel between Indian and US politics. “Additionally, many southern states in the US are infamous for throwing minorities off the voting rolls, a growing concern now in India as well among communities who do not align themselves with the BJP.”