Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Presidential Palace, New Delhi, June 22, 2024.

Has the Indian prime minister’s narrow victory in the June 4 general elections marked the beginning of the post-Modi era? India’s 73-year-old strongman, accustomed to a decade of solitary and authoritarian rule, was reinstated at the end of a hate-filled and Islamophobic campaign, but he is weakened. The myth of Modi’s invincibility was shattered.

His continued leadership now hinges on two regional partners, Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu, with whom he was forced to ally to secure a majority in parliament. The two elected representatives from Bihar and Andhra Pradesh are notorious for shifting loyalties and switching sides according to their own interests. They hold the fate of the “Modi 3.0 government” in their hands, as the Indian media have dubbed it.

The danger for the prime minister could also come from his own political family, the RSS, (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which he joined at the age of 8. The spearhead of the large Hindu nationalist nebula – of which Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been the political showcase since 1980 – this far-right organization, founded in 1925, now shows signs of cracking. The day after the parliamentary elections, a usually discreet voice spoke out, sounding a serious warning: Mohan Bhagwat, the highly influential RSS leader, lambasted candidate Modi’s strategy in a few words.

Addressing workers (“sevak”) in Nagpur (central India), the RSS HQ, Bhagwat condemned a campaign marked by “arrogance,” slating the fact that “dignity was not maintained” and “decorum was not followed.” He didn’t name names but everyone recognized his target: the prime minister. Only a leader without ego has the right to be called a “sevak,” he declared. The RSS leader, who kept silent during the campaign, likely fears that the BJP’s lack of a majority will impede the Hindu nationalists’ goal of turning India into a Hindu state.

Several leaders of the far-right organization have followed up on the theme of the BJP campaign’s arrogance. In Organiser, an RSS publication, Ratan Sharda, one of the movement’s senior members, believes that the “results of the 2024 general elections have come as a reality check for overconfident BJP’s karyakartas [“workers”] and many leaders […] Since they were happy in their bubble, enjoying the glow reflected from Modi’s aura, they were not listening to the voices on the streets.” The signatory laments the fact that the karyakartas were spurned, replaced by “new hyper social media warriors.”

Ram Madhav, a former RSS and BJP member who writes a column for The Indian Express, calls for the restoration of “humility and civility,” “qualities,” he writes, “that the Indian polity is in dire need of. Coalitions are great levelers. Hope we witness the restoration of those virtues in our polity in the coming years.” Nothing is less certain.

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