India’s Modi To Lay Out Third-Term Plans As Parliament Meets

Indian legislators began taking their oaths on Monday as parliament reconvenes following an electoral loss that forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi into a coalition government for the first time in ten years.

The first session, which runs till July 3, is expected to provide a preview of Modi’s ambitions for his third term, as well as the likely formal nomination of Rahul Gandhi as opposition leader — a position that has been vacant since 2014.

Modi’s first two terms in office were marked by landslide victories for his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which allowed his administration to push legislation through parliament with little debate.

Analysts now expect Modi, 73, to temper his Hindu-nationalist agenda in order to appease his coalition partners, focusing instead on infrastructure, social welfare, and economic reforms.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Kiren Rijiju called for a “peaceful and productive” session on Monday, while Indian media predicted a heated debate with a significantly larger opposition.

“All set to spar”, one headline in the Hindustan Times read Monday.

“Resurgent opposition set to push government”, the Indian Express front page added.

Rahul Gandhi, 54, defied analyst expectations to help his Congress party nearly double its parliamentary numbers, which was the best result since Modi was swept to power a decade ago.

Gandhi is the scion of a dynasty that dominated Indian politics for decades and is the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, beginning with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

Parliamentary regulations require the opposition leader to come from a party that commands at least 10 percent of the lawmakers in the 543-seat lower house.

The post has been vacant for 10 years because two dismal election results for Congress — once India’s dominant party — left it short of that threshold.

Lawmakers elected behind bars

The legislative session will begin with freshly elected legislators taking their oaths on the first two days.

Many will be watching to see if two members elected from prison, who are fierce opponents of Modi, will be allowed to participate.

One is Amritpal Singh, a fiery preacher apprehended last year after a month-long police manhunt in Punjab province.

The second is Sheikh Abdul Rashid, a former state legislator from Indian-administered Kashmir.

It’s unknown whether either will be allowed bail to attend the event in person.

Modi’s decade as prime minister has seen him build a reputation as an uncompromising advocate of the country’s predominant Hindu faith, which has alarmed minorities, especially the country’s 200 million-plus Muslim population.

However, his BJP won only 240 seats in this year’s election, falling 32 seats shy of a majority in the lower house – its poorest performance in a decade.

It has left the BJP reliant on a loose coalition of minor parties to govern.

Modi has maintained important positions in his ministry, and the BJP continues to dominate the cabinet.

Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, and S. Jaishankar, the BJP’s defence, interior, transport, finance, and foreign ministers, will all remain in their positions.

However, 11 posts in his 71-member government went to coalition supporters in exchange for their support, including five in the top 30 cabinet positions.

Many will also be looking forward to the election of the speaker, a key position that oversees the operation of the lower house, which is scheduled to occur on Wednesday.

Coalition partners want the job, but some believe Modi will nominate a member from his BJP.

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