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Saturday, June 01, 2019

Narendra Modi wins India

Narendra Modi’s victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in India is comprehensive. In the heat of the campaigning, some of us who didn’t want him to win, believed (actually, fervently wished) that he’d form a minority government. In retrospect, it may appear that the Modi baiters were willfully ignoring signs that he would sweep the elections.

In January 2019, I was in New Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bombay and nearly everyone who I spoke to – the cab driver, the hotel manager, the official at the chamber of commerce, the director of a think tank, an academic, a former diplomat, a serving diplomat, journalists, nearly everyone in India, when asked for an unbiased viewpoint, confessed that Modi would return.

In many post-election analysis, the following arguments are being made:

1. The victory margin would’ve surprised even the most ardent Modi acolytes.

The massive mandate in favour of Modi shows that the Hindutva juggernaut – led by Modi and Amit Shah, two battle-hardened veterans – was working to a clear plan: unprecedented victory, and a pan-India sweep.

2. Modi appealed to the Hindu identity and focused on religion rather than the not-entirely-dubious record of his government.

The indisputable fact is that the appeal of Hindu identity cut across all traditional electoral barriers everywhere (except the south) and gave Modi the result that he knew he’d get.

Modi’s strategy – which he has perfected since his ascendency from 2002 onward – is three pronged.

  • Coalesce the Hindu identity by the simple act of identifying an external enemy (terrorism abating Pakistan) and an internal enemy (beef-eating Muslims). 

  • Then, attribute the perceived marginalisation of the Hindus to the secular policies that the previous governments followed, which led to the appeasement of the minorities (both religious and caste-based).

So, when Muslims were being lynched in some parts of India and the urban elite took to the streets with #NotInMyName banners, the Modi supporter derisively dismissed their concerns as hyperbolic and exaggerated; and defiantly indulge in whataboutery – “Why the silence over the massacre of jawans in Pulwama?”

The India that voted for Modi is the one that has seethed with rage at the urban elite’s control over the levers of power in the post-independence era. According to the Modi voter, this urban elite – educated in English language – asphyxiated the aspirations of hundreds of millions of Indians struggling to survive. Worse, they – the elite – let a corrupt political class emerge and let it run rampage for 70+ years, milking India dry.

Post-2019 victory, the Modi supporters are openly saying that India is a Hindu civilisation, just as most western democracies are all a part of Christian civilisation. These countries, while democratic, keep their Christian identity. And that the BJP is a Hindu version of the Christian democratic parties that flourished in these democracies.

The corollary is there is nothing wrong for India to promote its Hindu character while broadly adhering to democratic norms. Democracy by this logic is tantamount to nothing more than majoritarianism.

Taking a leaf from the Indira Gandhi style of mass politics (Garibi Hatao, 1971), Modi projected himself as the only leader who mattered, who could deliver and the only saviour of all Hindus. It paid rich dividends because people of India voted for Modi, without looking at the local representative.

So, what does the Modi victory mean for India? The idea of India will be transformed and will acquire a distinct saffron hue. India will happily say goodbye to secularism during the next five years, just as India bade farewell to socialism in 1992.

And as had happened with socialism, when India firmly took to a free market economic model, the leaders continued to profess undying adherence to socialist values; Indian leaders will continue to profess their adherence to secular values, even as they India into a Hindu Rashtra.

While there’s absolutely nothing secularists can do about this transformation, one hopes that Modi would now have the gumption to bring about fundamental changes in improving the quality of life of rural Indians.

The World Poverty Clock (https://worldpoverty.io) estimates that “the number of Indians living on less than $1.90 (considered “extreme poor” by the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda) has fallen from 306 million in 2011 to some 70 million in 2018.”

By early 2021, it forecast that the number of Indians living in extreme poverty will fall below 3% of the population, a benchmark which some development economists consider a watershed moment in a country’s efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.” (source: https://worldpoverty.io/blog/index.php?r=14)

In 2017, when I went to India (my third trip to India since my immigration), I met a cross-section of Indians to understand Modi’s India. I wrote a four-part series,

Modi’s India 2: The angry Hindu

Modi’s India 3: Controlling the mind-space

Modi’s India 4: Hail Hindutva

and upon re-reading the series, what strikes me is that even then, into the third year of Modi regime, there were obvious signs that his sway over India and Indians was complete, unassailable, and unlikely to diminish for a long time.

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