The dust has now settled on the general election and its aftermath. Narendra Modi has become prime minister for the third consecutive time. That’s all that matters for the next few years.

Ten years in office is a long time. Only some editors manage to serve for longer. But jokes aside, it’s justified to try and judge Modi now, on two counts: as a political leader and as an administrator.

It can’t be denied that this 2024 general election has diminished him as a leader who gets votes, not only because he couldn’t lead the BJP to a simple majority as he had done in the past but also because — and this is very important — his victory margin came down by almost 3.3 lakh votes in Varanasi to 1.5 lakh votes. By his standards it was a close shave. Some would even call it a defeat.

This was inevitable. It often happens that leaders in all walks of life, when they achieve outstanding successes, start believing they are infallible. After all, he has been winning elections on his own since 2002, each time with a bigger majority. Modi hasn’t been an exception to the resulting narcissism.

It’s not a very well kept secret either that the RSS, the parent body of the BJP, wasn’t very approving of this personality cult. It had worked a few times but was beginning to face increasingly diminishing returns. If ten years is a long time, 15 is even longer. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were both three termers. Both found this to be true to their own and their party’s cost.

The same thing has happened all over the world when leaders depend on popular choice. It’s inevitable because voter preferences change and the leader doesn’t, or at least not enough. We have to see how Modi responds. My bet is that he is in cruise mode. At least that’s what his new Cabinet suggests.

The administrator

What about Modi’s administrative abilities? For 22 years, first as chief minister and then as prime minister, he has shown how remarkable they are.

He has rarely been impatient. He listens. He has always paid attention to the details, over which he has a remarkable mastery. He has a great memory and, above all, he knows that regardless of who his ministerial colleagues are, he must have the right bureaucrats to execute and implement policy. So he has also widened the pool from which he chooses them.

He has also made egregious mistakes. Demonetisation was the biggest. The lack of preparedness before GST was implemented was another. The abrogation of bilateral investment treaties was a third. There are a few more which were inevitable over a decade. Some like unemployment are structural and not of his doing.

But his management successes like Covid and over China and Pakistan, and his delivery systems, deletion of Article 370, to name just a few, must also be taken note of. Above all, he has imbued the country with an undeniably renewed sense of purpose.

That said, we do need to see how well his administrative skills will serve him now. Will he run the government even more from the PMO or will he let his ministers have more freedom? I would bet on the former. Most of his ministers don’t have either the experience or the expertise. Many have neither.

We now have an ageing and tired prime minister who must work harder than before, an ageing and inexperienced council of ministers that will make mistakes and, therefore, in all likelihood, a lacklustre third term.