The resounding repeat mandate for Prime Minister Narendra Modi can safely be assumed to be a validation of the idea of India that survived as a steady yet understated counterweight to the construct of the country fashioned by the post-Independence elite for decades.
His campaign revolved unwaveringly around the themes of national pride and Hindutva, without once being defensive or apologetic about his party’s ideological moorings.
The party’s decision to field Sadhvi Pragya, a Hindutva hardliner, from Bhopal was an exercise in audacity, as was its pointed attack on the Opposition for being less than nationalistic. The tenor of the entire campaign was clear from the word go. The clarity of purpose and the intensity of intent left the rival formation fumbling for a response. The verdict delivered a blow that the latter would fund difficult to recover from for a long time.
Elections 2019 were extraordinary in every sense of the word. It was not simply a competition between political parties to gain power; it was a gladiatorial battle between two conflicting narratives of India: one of the makers of the Constitution of India and the other of the Sangh Parivar, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP.
One draws sustenance from harmonising trends of the country’s past and propagating a syncretic and inclusive India, and the other does the same but draws its kinetic energy from multiple fissures and fault lines that India presents.
One is steeped in hypocrisy despite looking pious, and the other perfectly in sync with the public mood despite appearing malicious.
The results make the victor clear. It will get into the act now.
The return of Modi was not unexpected given the state of the Opposition, but the size of the mandate is confounding. The government was surely not fighting the poll on bread and butter issues. Joblessness is a serious problem, aggravated by reckless decisions such as demonetisation and shoddy implementation of GST. Economy, both rural and urban, is in distress. Other factors remaining constant, such matters would have dictated the poll conversation and influenced the voting choice. It is clear now that they didn’t, other factors overshadowed the popular verdict.
That Modi’s tremendous personal popularity would swing a good chunk of votes, particularly of young voters, in BJP’s favour was never in doubt, but the degree to which it overrode existential concerns is intriguing. The BJP appears to have developed a winning concoction by mixing the credibility of Modi with emotions attached to Hindutva and nationalism. India’s politics is going to revolve around this concoction in the years to come. Every challenger has to find a formula to beat it, which won’t be easy.
In some ways, this election has snatched the Indian democracy from the old elite and shifted it to the masses. After the UPA experience, it was something that was waiting to happen. The gap between the rulers and the ruled had gone too wide. The leaders didn’t even think it fit to communicate with the masses. The equation of the political class with the people they represented had to change. Modi, with the power of communication, has served as the agent.
Pandering to popular emotion, particularly religious sentiment, and the overreliance on a person rather than institutions is fraught with dangers but the blow to the arrogance of the old political class is a welcome development. Perhaps this will spur a new compact between both and herald a new-look politics for India.
Coming back to the battle of different narratives of India, we have to wait and watch how it pans out. The new dispensation is likely to re-arrange our history and a significant chunk of our past. In the process of glorifying the past it might lose sight of the scientific temper and liberalism that shaped India. It might also come into conflict with the very young generation that voted for with so enthusiastically with its regressive agenda. We have seen the tendency in several BJP-ruled states already.
However, let’s not be too sceptical at this point. A new India is taking shape. Hope it strengthens the democracy.