The weight of a tsunami victory
The victories and defeats of India Election 2014 were a foregone conclusion, but the magnitude, specially of the defeats, has confounded analysts and political pundits, and of course both the Bharatiya Janata party, which swept to power, and the Congress and other north Indian regional parties who collectively may not be able to number more than twenty. The 800 billion strong electorate has given the Bharatiya Janata Party and its National Democratic alliance led by Mr. Narendra Modi a tsunami victory, drubbing the Congress ruled by the mother son duo of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi, to a figure which is the lowest in its history.
The formal final tally was not announced by the Election Commission of India at the time of going to press, but unofficially the BJP had got 283 seats, a conformable majority in the 543 member Lok Sabha, the lower House of Parliament. With its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, the party garnered an unbelievable 337 seats, with the Congress coming a pitiful and distant second with 45 seats, the victories of Mrs. Gandhi and her son the saving grace in north and west India. The BJP swept the entire north, collecting 72 seats of the 80 in UP and 30 of the 40 in Bihar, apart from sweeping Maharashtra’s 45 seats, these three states propelling BJP leader Mr. Narendra Modi to the chair of the Prime Minister. In actual fact, Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi were the only two seats the Congress won in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP of course retained almost every seat in its strongholds of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Modi’s winning margin in Ahmedabad, 5.70 lakh voters over his Congress rival, will be a world record.
While the three regional satraps, Mr. Naveen Pattnaik in Orissa, Ms. J Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu and Ms. Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal managed to hold their own in a display of strong regional loyalties, elections marked a failure of such regional groups as the Bahujan Samaj party, the Samajwadi party which rules the state of Uttar Pradesh, and the Janata Dal United. What this means to federalism in India, and does it augur a return to two party political discourse of the 1950s and 1960s, is a subject of study For the Congress, the only relief was in Kerala.. The rest of its tally came in ones and twos across the rest of the country.
Mr. Modi will take oath of office as Prime Minister next week, succeeding the phlegmatic Dr. Manmohan Singh who led India into a globalized economy, passed several pro-poor landmark legislations including the right to food, but floundered on the incompetence of his party and the corruption of his government.
For India’s 200 million religious minorities, including some 27 million Christians – Mr. Modi’s stunning victory brings with it some dangerous baggage. This is the stranglehold that the extremist Hindu group called the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has on the new ruling party. Will Mr. Modi, who is proud of his career in the Sangh, allow the Sangh to dictate policy remains to be seen.
An early analysis of the election results shows the Muslims are still far away from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Mr. Modi. The Christians have voted in different manners. The traditional old people have voted for the Congress, many youth and others have voted for AAP, the Aam Admi Party that in two avatars launched the national campaign against the corruption in the Congress government. Some young people have voted for the BJP, supporting the slogan for change. There has therefore been a division of vote. The Dalit Christians were very annoyed with the Congress, which betrayed them by denying them their Scheduled Caste rights for ten years. They may therefore have voted for other parties, especially in Tamil Nadu where Chief Minister Dr. J. Jayalalitha supported their rights. But there is realization in the community that at the end of the day, they seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. “We respect democracy and the voice of the people. We accept the results with grace and with optimism even. We will have to find out how we can tell the new government of our problems and our fears, and our expectations of a strong secularism, and hold it accountable for its misdeeds whenever it falters in giving us our security and our freedom of faith”, the All India Christian Council said in its first statement.
The pronouncements of Mr. Modi’s associates in the party and the Sangh have not been very reassuring. On the eve of the declaration of results, powerful leaders of the Sangh set the agenda for the new government – it must work to do away with Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives a special status in the federal polity to the state of Jammu and Kashmir which ahs a large Muslim population, which is now fife with anti-India sentiments. They also want such other things as a Lord Rama Temple at a contentious site in the city of Ajodhya, and the enactment of a Common Civil Code, seen as targetting Muslims who are now governed by Sharia personal codes. In the past, Chrisians too have been cold to a Uniform Civil Code, demanding instead a Unified Code that will incorporate the personal laws of all religious communities and will not be Hindu-centric.
Patently, many factors have led to the NDA landslide. Mr. Modi is just one of them, the face of it, with his persona and his promise to give a tough government to the country after their experience with the non-governance of Dr. Manmohan Singh. In fact, many would say the Congress is chiefly responsible for the BJP-NDA-Modi tsunami. After a passable first five years in United Progressive Alliance –I which stole a march over the NDA in 2004, Mr. Manmohan Singh frittered away every opportunity he had. He pandered to industry, but lost them when the global meltdown and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s insistence that he show some mercy to India’s poor, made him take some reluctant steps which India Incorporated did not like. Mrs. Gandhi made him bring such momentous legislation as the Right to Food and the Right to Education laws, apart from the Right to Information and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Programme which gave an assured 100 days of work to the teeming millions in India’s countryside. But his own communication skills, and those of his government, were so abysmally poor he never could communicate to the poor that his regime had done so much for them.
His worst sin, perhaps, was not being able to control corruption in his coalition government. He led the notorious leaders of the DMK of Mr. M Karunanidhi steal what they could in one scam after the other, and what they left out, there were others from his cabinet and party, willing to take home from coal minuses, forests and other natural resources. The stink rose to the high heavens, and though the culprits were caught by government agencies, the mud stuck to Mr. Singh and to his government, and the Congress party’s leadership.
The first blow against corruption was struck by retired army driver Hazare of Maharashtra, and taken up in earnest by former Income Tax officer Arvind Kejriwal who formed the Aam Admi party, AAP, and actually became chief minister of Delhi on an agenda of cleaning up the nation of graft. His party ahs now made its debut in Parliament, from Punjab where the corruption of the Akali Dal, controlling the state government, was at par with that of the Congress. The BJP took it up from there, its army of media managers and social media content engineers taking it to a fever pitch that swayed the young and the upwardly mobile middle classes. It is educational to remember that the killing edge of the BJP victories came from a ten per cent of more increase in the voting percentage, the people consistent of young first time voters in cities and small towns right through the country, but specially so in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
But the real reason for the landslide is the micromanagement of the entire election process by the Sangh Parivar, right from preparing the party for the task ahead, selecting its president and its prime ministerial candidate, hosing the election managers, specially in UP and Maharashtra, nominating the candidates, quelling internal rebellions and finally in a master stroke, converting the media hype and popular sentiment into actual votes. Every opposition candidate, every political party was scientifically targetted.
Much of the credit for this must also go to Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh headquartered in Nagpur. He saw early that the BJP till then dominated by Atal Behari Vajpayee, critically ill for some years now, and his comrade in arms Lal Krishna Advani was not equipped to tackle an election dominated by a younger India with issues of economy and governance. The party was also cleft with many internal quibbling’s, with leaders such as Sushma Swaraj, Advani himself, Raj Nath Singh, Narendra Modi and the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, pulling in diverse directions. What the party needed was a supreme leader, second only to Bhagwat, that is. The first step was to ensure that the BJP had a new president in Raj Nath Singh. The second, and critical step, was to effectively silence all the other leaders by choosing former Sangh pracharak and currently the very powerful chief minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi, as the prime ministerial candidate. Everyone else was cowed into submission.
The choice of Mr. Modi also effectively poised him in contrast to the Congress leader, Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s seen as a novice and a namby pamby with no communication skills and his asset only being his mother’s son. In a campaign that quickly went viral, this was posited a san American presidential contest, man against man, two candidates from which the public would be asked to elect one. This caught the fancy of the young, and the twitterati and eventually catapulted Mr. Modi to the prime ministerial seat.
But equally powerful a propellant was the poisoning of the election campaign in a direct appeal to religious and community sentiments. The long-drawn out and acrimonious election campaign — occasionally violent with a reported 100 deaths which includes those killed in a clash between the Bodo tribals and Muslim Bengalis in Assam, and deaths in Maoist violence – did seem to polarize the country. The violence in Moradabad had sowed the seeds of this some months ago. It will take a long time for this poison to be leached out of the body politic.
It is not just the religious minorities who look at the future with trepidation, going by Mr. Modi’s record in his home state of Gujarat where he has been ruling for more than two decades. It is not merely the majorianism of the winning group that is worrisome. Civil society, human rights activists and those on the Left of the centre in the political discourse are perhaps even more worried sat the autocratic and authoritarian style of governance that Mr. Modi has made his own in his years in office. As chief minister, he all but presided over the massacre of Muslims in 2002, and did his best to ensure that the victims were denied justice. Eventually he watched sourly as a cabinet minister, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to a life term in prison. There were a series of assassinations of innocent youth in police “encounters”, and custodial killings. Several police officers are now in jail for their role in this bloodshed.
There is yet another issue, the penetration by Sangh ideology into India’s vast education system, something that happened when the BJP first came to government in 1998. So is the threat of saffronisation of state structures, including the police and the judiciary.
Mr. Modi’s electoral promise of “good governance” will therefore be examined with great care, and watched closely through the process of government formation and the early days in Parliament and budget making. The party has scoffed at the pro-poor legislations of the Congress in the last ten years. Mr. Modi’s proximity to the largest of India’s industrial and business corporations do indicate his economic policies will be designed to benefit the business and industrial sector with possible reduction in money flows to the social programmes. The markets have indeed responded very enthusiastically to Mr. Modi’s resounding victory, his party getting an absolute majority on its own and the National Democratic Alliance crossing the 300 mark with east, out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament.
India’s neighbours too, perhaps are anxious. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have said they look forward to working with the new government – similar if not identical statements have been made in the Untied Kingdom, Europe and even in the USA which ahs denied Mr. Modi a visa all these years for his role in the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. Bangladesh is a much smaller country, but the BJP has always spoken against the migration of Bengali Muslims into India, accusing them of changing the demography of bordering states, specially Assam.
With the Pakistan, the issues are deeper. At one level is Pakistan’s support for Islamic extremists in India, and many terrorist organisations have their bases in that country. India also seeks nuclear supremacy over Pakistan, and in one controversial statement, a Modi aide said their government would end the “No first strike” principle that India has followed since it exploded its nuclear bomb in the government of BJP icon Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee a decade and a half ago. Saner voices in the BJP immediately disowned the remark, but it rankles. Pakistan also has a terrible record against Hindu and Christian minorities. More than 5,000 Hindu refugees cross over into India every year and are given shelter, if not citizenship, by the government in New Delhi. Mr. Modi’s minister for external affairs will have his or her task cut out to present a moderate, and peace loving non-aggressive India which abhors sabre rattling and is committed to resolving sub continental issues through dialogue and bilateral negotiations.
Mr. Modi can be expected not to have major problems with the West, other than issues of human rights, that is, and such niggling matters as persecution of Christians. These were everyday happenings even during the Congress regime, therefore for activists of freedom of faith and human rights matters, it will just be a continuation of their struggle.
Mr. Modi with his dominant persona will face no hurdles in government formation and policy making, but will still have to go out of his way to mollify the many egos he has bruised in his race to the top. Among them are some very prominent leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party. How he accommodates them will be the first signal of his skills at taking people along with him. He has also promised to take the truncated Opposition with him in crucial decisions. His election campaign, aided and abetted by a huge war chest and a galaxy of technocrats based in India, the US and the UK, made his social media and grassroots campaign a close approximation to a US Presidential race. It is time for him to come down to the Indian reality of a more gentle democracy where the poor have to be looked after even as Industry and business are given their head for growth.