India Elections: For Karnataka coalition, a year of living dangerously

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Lok Sabha elections 2019: For Karnataka coalition, a year of living dangerously

The alliance was forged in the confusion that surrounded the results of last year’s state elections.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: May 23, 2019 07:51 IST

Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Karnataka legislature,Lok Sabha elections,Lok Sabha elections 2019
The BJP had come closest to a majority, winning 104 of the 224 seats to emerge as the largest single party in the assembly.(HT Photo)

Exactly a year ago to the day, leaders of opposition parties from across the country sat on a platform in front of the majestic Vidhana Soudha , the seat of the Karnataka legislature, in a show of solidarity to mark the swearing-in of a new coalition government in the state.

Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD (S), and deputy chief minister G Parameshwara of the Congress took the oaths of office and secrecy that day following days of intrigue over government formation.

The alliance was forged in the confusion that surrounded the results of last year’s state elections. The BJP had come closest to a majority, winning 104 of the 224 seats to emerge as the largest single party in the assembly. The Congress had been reduced from a majority to 80 seats, after providing the first government in over two decades to complete a full term in Karnataka. With the support of the 37 MLAs of the JD(S), and the lone Bahujan Samaj Party legislator, the coalition cobbled together a majority of 118.

And although it began with promise, the coalition has spent a tenuous year in power, fretful about legislators switching allegiance to the BJP and bickering among themselves.

Matters reached a head in January when the coalition appeared to be teetering on the brink after four Congress legislators went missing. The four rebels had been expected to defect to the BJP; only one, Umesh Jadhav, eventually did so. Another MLA, Ramesh Jarkiholi, has stated publicly that he would quit the party at a suitable time.

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These issues have continued unabated, as was seen again on Wednesday. JD(S) state president AH Vishwanath, a long-time foe of former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah, once again rebuked him for failing in his duty as the chief of the coalition’s coordination committee.

“Siddaramaiah, as chief of the coordination committee, should ensure we work together and also draw up a common minimum programme. However, there are no such guidelines for this government,” Vishwanath said.

One key factor in these internecine quarrels has been the overhanging shadow of the Siddaramaiah government. And Siddaramaiah’s influence over the government has been such that even Congress leaders have lashed out at him. On Monday, Congress MLA Roshan Baig accused Siddaramaiah of being arrogant.

The Lok Sabha seat division and subsequent election campaign, too, turned into a flash point as first the parties took a long time on settling on a seat-sharing formula. The Mandya Lok Sabha seat became the focal point for dissenting leaders from both sides. Independent candidate Sumalatha, wife of the late film star and former union minister MH Ambareesh, received the tacit backing of Congress leaders from the constituency. As a result, what had once seemed to be a cakewalk for Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil turned into one of the most bitterly fought contests. These infractions from the Congress were serious enough for party president Rahul Gandhi to instruct state leaders at a meeting in New Delhi on Sunday to make sure the coalition did not collapse. Privately, several leaders of the coalition admitted to HT that the arrangement was fraying fast, with both parties daring the other to pull the plug.

“The alliance was not formed to provide good governance, it was formed to show the country that we can work in a coalition. If we cannot hold on to a coalition with one party, how will we convince others nationally that they can forge a large front with us,” a senior Congress minister in the state government said.

According to the minister, it was apparent to the party that its vote base in the southern old Mysuru region was being affected by the alliance. “Politically there has been little benefit for us from this at the state level. In fact, our association with this government is hurting our image,” the minister said.

These fundamental differences have made the BJP sense that a collapse of the government may be around the corner. On Wednesday, Union minister DV Sadananda Gowda predicted that the government would fall by the evening of Thursday, when the results of the Lok Sabha elections will be declared .

First Published: May 23, 2019 06:54 IST

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Indian PM Narendra Modi and his party just swept India’s elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S ‘VOX’ NEWS)

 

Indian PM Narendra Modi and his party just swept India’s elections

It was a stunning victory for Hindu nationalism.

A supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wearing a mask of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dances as he celebrates on the vote results day for India’s general election in Bangalore on May 23, 2019.
 Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Image

The world’s largest democratic elections have concluded — and India’s pro-Hindu nationalist prime minister and his party are on pace to win by a landslide.

The early results from India’s weeks-long general election show a clear victory for incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which has so far won 300 of a total of 543 seats in parliament. The BJP seems to have trounced its main rival, the Congress Party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a famous political dynasty.

Modi and the BJP swept into power in the 2014 elections with a majority win, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in 30 years, promising to clean up the pervasive corruption plaguing the country and improve the economy.

But once he came into office, Modi began pushing a strident form of Hindu nationalism that inflamed tensions with many of the country’s minorities, including India’s sizable Muslim population.

Media reports have noted a dramatic rise in hate crimes during the five years Modi has been in power. Vigilante groups have sprung up around the country to protect cows, which are sacred to Hindus. A report by Human Rights Watch found that at least 44 people were killedbetween May 2015 and December 2018, most of them Muslims accused of storing beef or transporting cows for slaughter. Oftentimes, the guilty were not punished, and hate crimes were encouraged by speeches from senior BJP leaders. In May 2017, the Modi government banned the sale and purchase of cows for slaughter.

Meanwhile, Modi’s grand economic promises have not been met — unemployment in the country is now the highest it’s been in 45 years, and there are growing concerns of an economic slowdown.

So when the 2019 election rolled around, Modi decided to lean into his nationalist platform, which served to divert attention from the country’s more pressing problems. And now that the results are in, it’s clear his gamble paid off.

Modi’s economic record was his biggest liability in this election — but he clearly managed to overcome it

When Modi won in the 2014 election, his party defeated the Congress Party-led government by winning 282 seats. The Congress Party, routed at the polls, managed to win only 44 seats.

Modi’s sweep in the 2014 elections was based on a platform of development. His slogan was “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,” or “inclusive growth through collective effort.” He promised to wipe out corruption, improve infrastructure, and boost the economy. For a citizenry and businesses tired of rampant corruption, Modi’s slogan offered a hopeful change.

But those promises have not materialized. Unemployment reportedly grew to 7.2 percent in February. And a leaked government report on unemployment revealed that the numbers were the highest in 45 years.

Some of Modi’s economic policies have also gone horribly wrong. In 2016, he introduced demonetization — in a surprise move, he pulled all 500- and 1,000-rupee currency notes out of circulation. He claimed it would get rid of corruption, as it would flush out unaccounted cash that had not been taxed.

He also claimed that the move would check the circulation of fake currency that was being used to fund terrorist activities in IndiaBut experts say it’s had no effect on this type of money. Instead, small businesses were severely hit.

There are other problems, too: Farmers in India have been distressed for years as costs have gone up several times while their incomes have stagnated or even declined. In fact, suicides by farmers because of their debt are depressingly common. Farmers played a big role in helping Modi sweep to power in 2014, as he’d promised to double their incomes.

But that hasn’t happened, either. The BJP government announced it would provide cash support of 6,000 rupees (about $86.22) for individual farmers in its February budget, one of a raft of policies aimed at securing the farmer vote before the election. Yet there was no guarantee that last-minute gambit would work, as farmers want more lasting solutions, including better prices for their crops — something Modi also promised in the last election.

Modi played to voters’ nationalist sentiments to distract from the country’s problems

When he released this year’s election manifesto, Modi announced a new slogan: “Nationalism is our inspiration.” It was a stark contrast to his previous economy-focused slogan and a clear signal of the kind of campaign he planned to run.

And sure enough, as political scientist Ashutosh Varshney, whose research focuses on India, explained in an email, Modi and his party campaigned on a “plank of nationalism and national security” rather than on their governance record.

In his campaign speeches, Modi used divisive language. At a public rally, he accused Congress of committing the “sin of defaming our more than 5,000-years-old [Hindu] culture.” And in keeping with the Hindu nationalist ideology of India’s glorious past, he promised a “new India,” and a return to its “glorious past.”

A recent conflict with neighboring Pakistan may have also helped him in this regard. In February, a group of militants launched an attack in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir, killing dozens of soldiers. As anger mounted in India in the wake of the attack, Modi promised forceful retaliation.

His government later claimed to have struck a major terrorist training camp located in the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir and killed “a very large number” of militants in response. Modi’s approval rating surged to 63 percent on March 7 after this action, up from a dismal 32 percent on January 1.

“National security was one of the loudest themes of the campaign,” Varshney said. The message that Modi had “hit back [against Pakistan] strongly, was decisive, and had taught the enemy a lesson worked well.”

It also helped that Modi’s main opponent, Rahul Gandhi, failed to convince voters to support him over Modi.

Gandhi comes from a famous political dynasty: His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, was India’s first female prime minister, and his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first prime minister following the end of British rule. His father, Rajeev Gandhi, was also prime minister of India. Both his grandmother and his father were killed violently while still in office.

In this election, Rahul Gandhi promised a “final assault on poverty.” He said that if elected, his government would provide a minimum income for the poor and waive farmers’ debts. He also promised to increase the education budget, and, in an attempt to woo women voters, said he would reserve 33 percent of government jobs for women.

However, the Congress Party has come to be perceived as one that favors the Gandhi family — Rahul is the fourth generation to lead the party — over the country.

And Modi has used this to his advantage, taking repeated swipes at “dynasty politics” and speaking about the costs India suffered as a result of one family’s “desire of power.” He specifically pointed to the 21 months of emergency in 1975, during which then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s opponents were imprisoned, the press was censored, and civil liberties were curbed.

For many Hindus, the Congress Party was also seen as a party that “appeased” minorities for political gains, an issue that resonated strongly with Modi supporters. In what was seen as a clear attempt to counteract this perception, Gandhi and his sister Priyanka, who campaigned alongside him, were often seen frequenting Hindu temples.

But it seems that wasn’t enough to overcome the seductive power of Modi’s nationalism.

The new government will now have to address the growing economic crisis.

Modi’s party may be victorious, but that doesn’t mean its troubles are now over.

Recent media reports have pointed to worrying signs of an economic slowdown. The BBC reports that economic growth has shown a decline, and sales of cars and SUVs are at a seven-year low. Kaushik Basu, former chief economist of the World Bank, told the BBC that the slowdown is “much more serious” than he initially believed.

Another big challenge facing the new government is providing jobs to an increasing number of young Indians. Some 84 million young voters became eligible to vote this year. Additional employment opportunities are urgently needed, but the unemployment data is not promising.

A recently leaked report based on official government survey data revealed that unemployment hit a 45-year high of 6.1 percent in 2017. A 2018 International Labour Organization (ILO) report also showed that the number of unemployed people in India is projected at 18.9 million by 2019.

Even more concerning, though, is whether Modi will continue to try to distract from the country’s economic troubles with even more overt appeals to Hindu nationalism.

Experts such as Varshney told me that if Modi comes back with a strong mandate from voters, a Hindu nation is almost certain, in practice if not constitutionally. This means that India’s rich and diverse culture — as well as its very identity — may be under threat.

Kalpana Jain worked for many years at India’s leading national daily, the Times of India, and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 2009.

For more on India’s 2019 elections, listen to this episode of Today Explained, Vox’s daily news podcast.

India: Decision on oil purchase after Lok sabha polls, India tells Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Decision on oil purchase after Lok sabha polls, India tells Iran

The US decision to end exemptions to sanctions on Iranian oil imports on May 2 has hit India.

BUSINESS Updated: May 14, 2019 23:46 IST

Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Tehran was among New Delhi’s top three energy suppliers, providing 23.6 million tonnes of oil last year, or about 10% of the country’s energy needs.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj informed her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on Tuesday that a decision on purchasing Iranian oil in the face of US sanctions will be made after the conclusion of India’s general election, people familiar with developments said.

Iranian oil exports and Tehran’s approach to recent developments in the region, including tensions between Iran and the US over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iranian nuclear deal, figured in the discussions between Zarif and Swaraj.

Zarif arrived in New Delhi late on Monday for a previously unscheduled visit to lobby for India’s support against the backdrop of the Iran-US tensions. He last visited India in January, and the current trip was organised at short notice at Zarif’s request, the people cited above said.

When Zarif raised the purchase of oil from Iran, Swaraj reiterated India’s position that a decision will be made after the general elections while keeping in mind the country’s “commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests”, the people said.

The US decision to end exemptions to sanctions on Iranian oil imports on May 2 has hit India. Tehran was among New Delhi’s top three energy suppliers, providing 23.6 million tonnes of oil last year, or about 10% of the country’s energy needs.

The sanctions were imposed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Zarif briefed the Indian side on Iran’s approach to developments in the region, including on JCPOA, and also reviewed bilateral cooperation.

The outreach to India, he explained, was part of Iran’s consultations with key countries, including Russia, China, Turkmenistan and Iraq, over the past few days.

The impact of the sanctions on Iranian oil exports, the country’s main revenue earner, prompted Tehran to threaten last week that it would roll back its compliance with the nuclear deal.

Zarif referred to President Hassan Rouhani’s announcement on May 8 about Iran keeping larger amounts of enriched uranium and heavy water, instead of exporting the excess as required under the JCPOA. He also mentioned the 60-day timeline given to the EU3 (France, Germany, the UK) and other parties to the JCPOA (China and Russia) for restoring oil exports and banking channels.

The Indian side, the people said, reiterated its position that New Delhi would like all parties to the JCPOA to continue to fulfil their commitments and engage constructively and resolve issues peacefully through dialogue.

Both sides expressed satisfaction at the operationalisation of an interim contract between India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) and Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) for the development Chabahar port. They also discussed Afghanistan and agreed to “maintain close coordination on the evolving situation”, the people said.

First Published: May 14, 2019 22:32 IST

India: ‘Ask kin to leave Libya’ Sushma tweets, says situation worsening fast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

‘Ask kin to leave Libya’: Sushma tweets, says situation worsening fast

In a tweet, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that though there had been massive evacuations from Libya, more than 500 Indians were still stranded in Tripoli.

INDIA Updated: Apr 19, 2019 19:14 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sushma Swaraj,libya,External affairs minister sushma swaraj
External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday tweeted saying that those who have relatives or friends in Tripoli should ask them to leave immediately.(AFP Photo)

External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday took to Twitter to reach out to relatives of those Indians who are living in Libya.

In a tweet she said that though there had been massive evacuations from Libya, more than 500 Indians were still stranded in Tripoli.

“Even after massive evacuation from Libya and the travel ban, there are over 500 Indian nationals in Tripoli. The situation in Tripoli is deteriorating fast. Presently, flights are operational. Pls ask your relatives and friends to leave Tripoli immediately. We will not be able to evacuate them later,” she tweeted.

Libya has been witnessing intensifying fighting in Tripoli ever since the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, launched an assault on the country’s capital on April 4. The move has been seen as one that could potentially drag the country into a civil war.

An arrest warrant has been issued against Haftar and six of his aides, even as the Libyan prime minister Fayez Al-Sarraj called on the International Criminal Court to investigate “crimes and violations by the forces of warlord Khalifa Haftar and bring them to justice”.

Chowkidar Sushma Swaraj

@SushmaSwaraj

Even after massive evacuation from Libya and the travel ban, there are over 500 Indian nationals in Tripoli. The situation in Tripoli is deteriorating fast. Presently, flights are operational. /1 PL RT

3,719 people are talking about this

Chowkidar Sushma Swaraj

@SushmaSwaraj

Pls ask your relatives and friends to leave Tripoli immediately. We will not be able to evacuate them later. /2 Pls RT

9,974 people are talking about this

More than 205 people are reported to have died with more than 900 others being injured.

Libya has been in witnessing unrest since 2011 when an uprising led to the overthrowing and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

On April 7, Swaraj had tweeted that the entire Indian contingent of peacekeeping forcescomprising 15 CRPF personnel from Tripoli had been evacuated after the situation there “suddenly worsened”.

“The situation in Libya has suddenly worsened. There is fighting in Tripoli. Indian Embassy in Tunisia @IndiainTunisia has evacuated the entire contingent of 15 CRPF personnel yesterday itself. I appreciate the excellent work by the Indian Embassy in Tunisia. #Libya,” Swaraj tweeted early on Sunday.

First Published: Apr 19, 2019 19:07 IST

‘Sea change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India after Balakot air strike’, says PM Modi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

‘Sea change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India after Balakot air strike’, says PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Pakistan’s attitude towards India and that during the Congress government has undergone a sea change and terrorists and their sponsors in Pakistan are living in fear.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: Apr 11, 2019 21:27 IST

Avijit Biswas
Avijit Biswas
Hindustan Times, Bhagalpur
Lok Sabha Elections 2019,Election Rally,Election news
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the audience during an election rally, in Bhagalpur on Thursday.(Santosh Kumar /HT Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said that in order to talk of peace it is essential to be strong as he came down heavily on the opposition, particularly Congress, over national security.

At an election rally in Bhagalpur, Modi said that the country has emerged stronger after retaliatory action against Pakistan following the Pulwama terror strike. He said the air strike was carried out to address “the restlessness of 130 crore people of country for a firm and definite action against Pakistan”.

“Pakistan’s attitude towards India today and that during the Congress government has undergone a sea change,” the PM said. “Terrorists as well as well as their sponsors in Pakistan are living in fear.”

He attacked the opposition alliance for “speaking the language that supports terrorism”. He stressed that the opposition alliance should clarify whether they are with terrorists or with armed forces.

Modi who was campaigning for JD (U) nominees contesting as NDA candidates from Munger, Banka and Bhagalpur parliamentary seats, said the NDA has a clear policy of giving free hand to armed forces in the fight against terrorism and extremism. While he did not mention the Congress manifesto, he asked the people whether they approve curtailing power of the armed forces. The Congress manifesto promises to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which gives the forces in disturbed areas sweeping powers of search and arrest and provides immunity from prosecution in civil courts.

He said as chowkidar of the people he has done what was expected from his government for social security and national security. He referred to works undertaken in social security front under various centrally sponsored schemes including Ayushman Bharat.

He said opposition leaders were fighting for their existence and were trying their best to create fear among people that there would be no election in the country in future and that the reservation policy would be abolished if he is voted back to power.

“On the contrary I favour further strengthening of reservation policy,” Modi said and cited the 10% reservation which his government had announced for poor people of upper caste.

He referred to the government’s minimum support price agriculture produce of farmers against their crop expenditure and said the Congress had no interest in improving the lives of farmers.

“Once we are voted to power again all farmers would be covered under financial assistance scheme instead of present coverage to farmers having land holdings up to five acres,” Modi said.

He also spoke about future plans aimed at extending support to small and marginal farmers besides small businessmen. He mentioned the development work undertaken in Bihar praised Nitish Kumar’s government for its performance.

In the silk town, the PM also spoke about the problems faced by local silk industry and apprised them on what his government has been doing to boost their business globally. “The mega handloom cluster was established here as a step towards solution of your problems,” Modi said.

First Published: Apr 11, 2019 20:56 IST

Why These Indian State Elections Matter To The Whole World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Why these Indian state elections matter to the whole world

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a roadshow in support of state assembly election party candidates in Varanasi on March 4.

New Delhi (CNN) India’s ruling political party has won a crucial state election, strengthening its ability to push through a development agenda in the world’s fastest growing major economy.

As vote counts trickled in from five state elections on Saturday, one result loomed large: that of central India’s Uttar Pradesh, home to more than 200 million people. The staggered five-week vote in that state alone marks the biggest election in the world in 2017.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP, looks poised to take about 75% of the 403 seats on offer in Uttar Pradesh.
The clear majority means the BJP will be able to form a state government without the help of other parties. In the previous Uttar Pradesh election, in 2012, the BJP won only 47 seats. 2017’s vote marks a significant endorsement for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the BJP, and the face of its campaign across state elections.
Four other, smaller states declared results on Saturday: Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur. In Punjab, India’s storied but declining Congress Party emerged victorious. The BJP took Uttarakhand and was vying for dominance in close races in Goa and Manipur as results continued to be firmed up.
The state elections are crucial at national level because each state nominates a proportional number of representatives to India’s upper house of parliament.
While the BJP has a clear majority in the lower house — won in 2014’s national vote — it is underrepresented in the upper house, which has stymied some of its reform proposals.

A referendum on Modi

According to Shailesh Kumar of the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, the Uttar Pradesh result was a referendum on Modi.
“Voters largely support his policies. The win indicates that Modi’s efforts to tackle corruption were a far bigger draw than any negative consequence attributed to demonetization.”
“Demonetization” refers to a shock move in November when Modi recalled all 500 and 1,000 rupee currency notes.
The two high-value notes represented 86% of all cash in circulation in India. The surprise recall, and the subsequent release of new 500 and 2000 rupee notes, led to weeks of long queues at banks and ATMs across the country.
At the time, Modi said the recall was aimed at cracking down on corrupt hoarders of untaxed cash. A number of reputed global economists, included Harvard’s Lawrence Summers and Ken Rogoff criticized Modi’s move as excessive.
On the campaign in Uttar Pradesh last month, Modi refuted their criticisms by saying “hard work beats Harvard.”

Economy and tackling corruption still the focus for now

The results themselves are not a great surprise, but the margin of the BJPs win in Uttar Pradesh is greater than predicted.
However, even with the landslide win in Uttar Pradesh, Modi will still fall short of enough support in the parliament’s upper house, says Eurasia’s Kumar.
“Modi’s national focus will still be economic development with an added focus on corruption. Changes to economic policies will be through executive action and tweaks to regulations that do not require legislative approval.”
Modi is also expected to double down on his plans to improve infrastructure.
“He is now well positioned for 2019,” Kumar said, referring to the next national elections.

India shows faith in Modi — can he now deliver?

At a time of global anger against elected leaders, India’s state elections represent a vote of confidence for the country’s Prime Minister, as well as a much-needed boost of morale.
Modi had previously lost an important election in Bihar, a state which shares a similar voter base to Uttar Pradesh. Modi also suffered in recent months with the chaos and fallout from his demonetization move.
With a cutback in consumer spending and economic activity, economists had predicted a fall of as much as one percentage point in India’s growth rate.
However, in India’s most recent GDP figures released last month, quarterly growth had slowed only slightly to 7%, which meant India once again edged ahead of China as the world’s fastest growing economy.
While India is still seen as a developing nation, its size and speed of expansion underscore its massive importance to the global economy. According to the consulting group PwC, India accounts for about one-sixth of the world’s GDP growth.
With Modi now firmly ensconced in power until at least 2019, and perhaps further ahead, the focus will now shift to whether Modi can deliver on his promises of rapid development.