Will Modi return to his throne?
The 17th parliamentary election of India is underway. This seven-phase exercise is spread between April 11 and May 19. The results will be out on May 23 when one will know who the 543 new MPs are (two Anglo-Indian MPs to be added later through presidential nomination). The question is whether Narendra Modi will continue in power.
Election is a routine matter in any democracy. But this Indian election assumes larger importance because Modi has introduced a new brand of politics which India was previously unfamiliar with.
RSS-inspired BJP has ruled India earlier also when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the prime minister (1998-2004) but his was more a continuity of India’s democratic journey. The Modi regime has marked a departure on several counts, some of which have hit certain fundamentals of the Indian polity. In that sense this election represents India’s search for its soul.
In 2014, Modi started off with a bang, as if a new India was just to kick off. An India that would be corruption-free and prosperous. Although the votes in Modi’s kitty were barely 31%, he boasted to the world that 1.3 billion Indians were behind him.
It was this persona which was on display at his inauguration. He invited all Saarc leaders to witness the event, which is something that has never happened before. Soon he started hopping from capital to capital, warmly hugging the world leaders and addressing the local Indian communities. His foreign visits became so frequent that a stand-up comedian christened him as India’s first “multi-national prime minister.”
Two things became Modi’s brand statements. One, condemning Pandit Nehru at every chance (The Nehru regime had ended 55 years ago) for everything wrong in the country.
And two, glorifying India’s past with ludicrous bragging. Both belong to the same narrative: How to de-emphasise the Nehruvian “scientific temper” which is an anathema to all that BJP represents.
The first point that BJP’s 2014 manifesto said about the party’s foreign policy outlook was that India is the “viswaguru” (the leading light of the world).
Soon after assuming power, such boasts touched obnoxious heights with every passing day. The party bragged ad nauseam about ancient (Hindu) India’s scientific exploits: India had plastic surgery, test-tube babies, aeroplanes, spaceships, and the internet. Even pen-drives were found in excavations, claimed Tripura’s BJP chief minister.
Such outlandish gibberish was heard earlier too but they were confined only to some self-styled “intellectuals” or drawing-room chats. When they were peddled by the ruling class, their impact became vicious.
A contempt for the intelligentsia became fashionable. Intellectuals and liberals, whether in academia or journalism, were ridiculed as libtards (liberal bastards), siccular (sick secularists), or presstitudes (prostitute female journalists).
Modi himself ridiculed Amartya Sen and his ilk on several occasions. He tauntingly rhymed Harvard versus hard-work to cheering crowds. The only crime Sen committed was doubting the efficacy of Modi’s demonetisation scheme.
Now even a common man knows that it was a gaffe for which Modi alone was responsible as it had the approval of neither the Reserve Bank, nor the Finance Ministry, nor even Modi’s own economic adviser.
Taking advantage of the recent face-off with Pakistan, Modi has projected Islamic terrorism and Pakistan as his electoral talismans.
They provide the subtexts of his larger narrative: Hindus of India have only one enemy and that enemy is India’s Muslims. Never during the 600 years of Muslim rule and the 200 years of Christian rule were Hindus as insecure as they are now in Modi’s India.
According to Ashis Nandy, India’s leading political psychologist, Modi is “a classic, clinical case of a fascist [who believes in] … a theory of cosmic conspiracy against India that paints every Muslim as a suspected traitor and a potential terrorist.”
Many would argue that he has changed his stripes after being in power for so many years. But the way he has overlooked those who have lynched and terrorised the Muslims in the name of beef eating, love jihad (Muslim boys are forcibly marrying Hindu girls to convert them) and ghar wapsi (Indian Muslims must come back to their original Hindu fold), it is difficult to agree with this proposition.
Modi has shed tears for both the massacred Muslims of Christchurch and the murdered Christians of Sri Lanka but one who has carefully noted his statements knows that his tears had different thicknesses.
If all the above is true, then Modi’s defeat must be unavoidable. But it is not so simple in any mass democracy. Much of his failings on the delivery fronts are compensated by his party’s organizational strength.
In the ultimate analysis, what matters the most is how and in what numbers people vote. The RSS, which has grown exponentially during the Modi rule, would see to it that its foot soldiers throng the BJP election rallies and on the election days, and come in droves to vote for Modi.
Also, thanks to his clever ploy of introducing the system of electoral bonds, Modi’s party is flush with funds from corporate donations, much of which is laundered black money. Theoretically, all parties can take advantage of the scheme.
But donors know where the maximum return of their investment will be. Of the thousands of crores of rupees so donated, 95% has gone to the BJP.
Any article on elections must end with a forecast. That is what the readers like to know the most. This piece may be a disappointment in that sense.
In a mass democracy, academic reasoning does not necessarily work. Given the fact that we are in an age of big money, fake news, manipulated social media, a castrated press and TV, and most importantly, bogus election issues, I would rather prefer to be woolly: It is a predictably unpredictable election.
Anything is possible: A BJP rule with Modi as PM, a BJP rule without Modi as PM, a Congress rule with Rahul Gandhi as PM, or a non-BJP-non-Congress coalition rule with a “dark-horse” as PM.
Remember that IK Gujral was woken up from sleep at midnight to become India’s 12th prime minister (1997-98). And he was a pretty successful prime minister too.
Partha S Ghosh is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, and a retired professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.