India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi took oath on Sunday, accompanied by 72 ministers of the new coalition government. The new cabinet includes 30 Cabinet Ministers, 5 Ministers with independent charge, and 36 Ministers of State.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the oath of office for a third straight term, equalling the feat of first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. As the most successful leader in recent history, Modi led the 2024 general election campaign on “Modi ki guarantee” or his own surety and assurance.

He set the goal of “Chaar-sau par” or 400 plus for his party in the 543 member Indian Lok Sabha or lower house. But he got only 240. The Congress, which had only 52 last time around in 2019, came second with 99.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the principal constituent, crossed the halfway mark comfortably, with some 290+ seats in its kitty. But singular and spectacular optic was that the BJP, on its own, could not form the government. The pollsters and experts were proven wrong.

I myself thought that the BJP would get a majority on its own, though 400+ was more strategic than realistic. I too was mistaken in my assessment.

The electorate had not bought into “Modi’s guarantee.” In fact, they had denied him even the ability to carry it out. Neither Modi, nor the BJP could rule on their own. It would be an NDA government, a coalition in fact. Just like the old days when no single party had been able to muster the majority.

Endorsed as the BJP’s and the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate for a third consecutive term, Modi is at a historical crossroads. The question on everyone’s mind is how successfully will he handle what has come to be termed the “Coalition Dharma,” which comes into play when no single party has an outright majority.

Read more by Prof Makarand R. Paranjape

Challenges and demands

In such a scenario, governance becomes an exercise of balancing different interests, ideologies, and demands to maintain harmony within the coalition and ensure the government’s stability.

For Modi’s BJP, which has enjoyed a clear majority and a relatively straightforward decision-making process previously, the shift towards coalition governance presents a new set of challenges and demands significant adaptability.

For Modi, known for his strong leadership style, the advent of coalition politics might necessitate personal sacrifices and a shift in governance approach. This could involve relinquishing key cabinet positions to allies, a move that could potentially weaken his control over crucial policy areas.

India’s growth trajectory

Moreover, Modi might find himself in positions where he has to prioritise coalition stability over personal loyalty, possibly leading to the reshuffling or sidelining of some of his trusted lieutenants.

If we indulge in some simple speaking, one might expect numerous compromises and comedowns that Modi and the BJP will have, per force, to capitulate to. If they want to remain in power, that is. Just how many pounds of flesh will powerful allies like Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal United (JDU) demand?

For running a coalition is a totally different ball game than being an undisputed leader. Setting aside personal pride, what sorts of sacrifices would be demanded of Modi? Will he have to give up his plum cabinet positions, even put the heads of one or two of his most dependable deputies, on the proverbial political chopping block?

These and similar questions confront not only Modi but the nation as he assumes office again. As the new cabinet is announced and the first policy pronouncements made, the picture will become somewhat clearer. But the road ahead looks rocky for Modi. Who knows if a midterm election will be necessary? 

For now, there are more questions than answers. But one thing is clear. The “old” Modi magic may not work anymore. Instead, both the man and the office will have to reinvent themselves. Will Modi rise to the occasion? I believe he will. The more serious and sombre question is whether others will let him. The complexities of coalition politics mean Modi must navigate a landscape of diverse interests and demands.

Modi 3.0’s new cabinet has been sworn in. It is a massive inclusive council of ministers, with dozens of key and time-tested old loyalists, as many as five former chief ministers, twelve coalition partners, and several newer and younger faces.

The optics of the grand ceremony in the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan or erstwhile Viceregal Palace, with neighbouring heads of government in attendance, are unmistakable.

Stability, continuity, and India’s growth trajectory, in the midst of change, is Modi’s message at the start of his third term.