The New Kingmakers Who Could Make or Break Modi’s Government


After his first two national election victories, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India easily set his own terms, with his Bharatiya Janata Party winning clear majorities.

The result was different in this vote. It was still a victory, but one that left him dependent on a host of coalition partners — particularly on politicians from two regional parties who could make or break Mr. Modi’s ability to form a government.

Of the more than a dozen parties that make up the B.J.P.’s coalition, known as the National Democratic Alliance, most won just one or two seats, leaving the party in a difficult predicament.

On Wednesday, the B.J.P. said it had reached an agreement to form a coalition government that includes those two regional parties — the Telugu Desam Party and Janata Dal-United. They will be the biggest junior partners, but they are also avowedly secular and removed from Mr. Modi’s Hindu-nationalist ideology.

Cameras on Wednesday followed every word, meeting and movement of the leaders of the two parties, N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, and Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal-United. Their combined 28 seats in Parliament will give the prime minister the votes he needs to stay in power and push through his agenda.

Here is what to know about the men who unexpectedly found themselves as kingmakers, and about the parties they lead.

Though some of the members of the B.J.P.’s coalition this year share Mr. Modi’s hard-line vision, both the Telugu Desam Party and Janata Dal-United are moderate, secular parties that have a diverse support base.

Speculation in India was focusing on what terms the men were demanding for their support, which are unlikely to be rooted in ideology. Both Mr. Naidu and Mr. Kumar are known to be pragmatic, deal-making politicians whose priorities will be practical concessions for their state, or perhaps cabinet positions.

Mr. Kumar has earned a reputation in India for his willingness to switch allegiances over the past decade. He has gone between aligning himself with the B.J.P.-led coalition to supporting its rivals no fewer than five times.

Most recently, in January, he returned to Mr. Modi’s alliance just 18 months after he’d left it and with just months to go until the election. He has said his switching of political loyalties was in the interest of his state, Bihar.

Mr. Naidu has also at times broken with Mr. Modi, cutting ties with the B.J.P. in 2018 and joining forces with its chief rival, Indian National Congress, ahead of the 2019 elections. He has said that his party has aligned with the B.J.P. out of “political compulsion.”

Mr. Naidu and Mr. Kumar have both been in politics for decades, and have been mentioned as potential candidates for prime minister.

Mr. Naidu of the T.D.P., based in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, is a technocrat who has aggressively pushed for investment from information technology companies in his region. His policies helped bring high-paying jobs for I.T. professionals and transformed the city of Hyderabad.

Mr. Kumar is a nine-time chief minister of Bihar, India’s poorest state, who comes from a homegrown socialist background. He has pushed for more funds for low-caste Hindus, and his alliance with the B.J.P. broadened support for the party in his state.



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