Does Modi’s win signal a progressive India?
If you had to isolate one reason why PM Modi was voted back to power, it is his unimpeachable integrity.
India has been plagued by a corrupt polity for decades. The last government of the UPA, called UPA 2, from 2009 to 2014 is considered to be the most corrupt formation the country has ever witnessed. As scam after scam tumbled out, the media (usually pro-Congress), the opposition, and civil society came out all guns blazing.
It was a tipping point and the right time for a leader like Modi, with his reputation for honesty, to debut on the national stage. What we witnessed in May 2014 was Modi Wave 1.
But even his own ardent supporters were not prepared for the results on May 23. It would be safe to state that this was beyond their wildest hopes for a man, who inspires a dogged following, unmatched by any other political leader in the present day.
I was on India’s largest news network, CNN News 18, throughout counting day, a large screen, serving as a backdrop, as it projected the numbers. Once counting began, like a New Years Eve clock, the numbers required by PM Modi’s NDA kept steadily reducing.
Star anchor Bhupendra Chaubey, joked once that, every time he stepped away from the screen, the number for a win reduced by one seat. It was all over by 10am … not a wave this time but a Tsunami, or a TsuNAMO as it has been dubbed. PM Modi was back for a second term and this time with more seats.
This victory is unprecedented in recent political history, for an incumbent to return with an absolute majority and boasting more seats is unheard of. Indira Gandhi accomplished a similar feat in 1971 and, ironically, the opposition’s chant against her was “Indira Hatao.” In 2019, the opposition chant against PM Modi was “Modi Hatao.” It didn’t work in 1971 and it hasn’t in 2019.
The opposition failed to articulate a single reason why they were the alternatives India needed, but for their hate for one man, that brought them together, there was no reason why the voter should have entrusted them with the responsibility of governing India.
Their message was that a national mandate was meant to settle the personal scores of politicians, not the development and wellbeing of the country. It was a losing strategy, opinion after opinion poll in the last five years have indicated the growing popularity and acceptability of PM Modi across demographics.
Including, yes, Muslims.
And especially Muslim women, for whom he has spoken for in no uncertain terms in his steadfast intention of outlawing the regressive and anti-women Triple Talaq practice -- which is already illegal in Bangladesh, but continues unabated in India. Modi, on the other hand, went to the people with oratory but also work on the ground. In India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, the formidable caste alliance of the two major caste parties was meant to decimate the BJP.
I said this at the time and repeat it that it was going to be a contest between arithmetic and chemistry, as it turned out chemistry won. And the credit for that goes to the PM, who, through his schemes of social welfare and gender justice, has created a coalition of the poor that exists and votes beyond caste lines.
When he came to power and insisted on building toilets, the New Delhi elite of Lutyens sniffed in condescension, but these toilets were built and came to be called “izzat ghars.” Women, the primary beneficiaries of this scheme, who used to go out into the fields to defecate, articulated their gratitude through words and tears. It was the restoration of their dignity.
In Amethi, Rahul Gandhi’s family bastion which he has lost, a striking image was that of a mud hut standing next to a toilet built of brick and mortar. This has been an emotionally charged election, PM Modi was abused repeatedly and called a chor (or thief) ad nauseum by Rahul Gandhi. At the time, I tweeted that the solitary PM with no son or family of his own was unable to defend his name in the way Rahul Gandhi did his father Rajiv Gandhi’s name, a PM who has been hyphenated with the BOFORS scam.
Would the people I asked, then, stand up and provide PM Modi with the defense he needed? On May 23 they did.
Advaita Kala is an Indian author, screenwriter, and columnist.