NEW DELHI: Indian newspapers on Saturday urged prime minister-elect Narendra Modi to reach out to Muslims and avoid the temptation of triumphalism after the Hindu nationalist leader’s crushing election victory.
After winning the first outright majority by anyone for 30 years, Modi will not have to seek out coalition allies who might otherwise act as a moderating influence on his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.
But the main newspapers said it was vital for Modi to allay the fears of minorities who did not jump on his electoral bandwagon, particularly Muslims who remember how around 1,000 people died in communal riots in 2002 soon after he took over as chief minister of Gujarat state.
“The reality remains that there is a huge trust deficit with the minorities, especially the Muslim community, which must be addressed,” said an editorial in The Hindu.
“He is still regarded as a deeply polarizing figure not really reaching out to minorities.
“In order to close the credibility gap that persists as regards his acceptability to govern all Indians, Mr. Modi must ensure that the idea of India as a pluralist and inclusive landscape in which all citizens have equality before the law as constitutionally decreed, is upheld consistently and transparently, while he is in office as Prime Minister.”
While Modi made governance and development the focus of his campaign, several senior BJP figures were accused of trying to whip up antagonism against the Muslim minority for electoral gains in key battlegrounds.
A Modi government “needs to, first and foremost, reach out to those that did not vote for it. It needs to talk to the Muslim community,” said an editorial in The Indian Express.
“Ever since the violence in Gujarat in 2002 on the Modi government’s watch, and because of his refusal to directly address questions of his own political and moral accountability, a Modi prime ministership stokes insecurities in India’s largest minority that Prime Minister Modi cannot afford to relegate or ignore.”
While Modi said in a speech on Friday that he would ensure that he governed on behalf of all of India’s 1.2 billion people, the Times of India pointed out that the new parliament would contain just 24 Muslim MPs, the lowest number since 1952.
The Hindustan Times said it was vital that what it called the “bad eggs in the party do not make overtly triumphal remarks about any community.”
The papers were all agreed that the result was an unmitigated disaster for the ruling Congress party which saw its share of the seats slump to an all-time low after a lacklustre campaign fronted by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the country’s most famous dynasty.
The Hindustan Times called the result “the rudest of wake-up calls” that should prompt Congress, which has ruled India for all but 13 years of its post-independence history, to reinvent itself.
“India has changed but clearly the Congress has not,” the paper added.