Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party have scripted history by being the first party since the era of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to continue in power after an election following their first term. The BJP is the first non-Congress party to do so — that too with a greater mandate. When reports of confirmed seats last came in, the BJP had won 302 seats while it was leading in one. This is a quantum jump from the 2014 score of 282, out of which quite a few seats were lost in the course of five years in by-elections. The faith India has reposed in Modi and his team is a victory of trust, which, in turn, was a result of welfare economics and patriotism. Even where the previous government couldn’t pull off reform, its core supporters believed Modi could do it in the second term, which they insisted he deserved. To brand Modi’s patriotism with the negative Western classification of “nationalism” and credit this victory of the BJP to “polarisation” is to live in a world of denial, which the left-liberal-elitist cabal has betrayed in ample measure in the past 24 hours on television and in print. As was evident in many State and civic elections, the opposition simply did not know how to challenge a leader who was as leftist as he was right-wing. What India’s retaliatory surgical strike and airstrike in response to Uri and Pulwama atrocities respectively did, at best, was assure Indians that the economic amelioration they dream of would get an enabling environment of safety and security under Modi’s stewardship, as the prime minister showed a strong intent to fight the evil designs of both internal and external enemies.
In fact, if this was a vote for Hindutva, Hindus were right in thinking the way Muslims typically do. The reason that no political party dares talk economics to the Muslim constituency — their promises are centred around building madrassas, promoting Urdu, reforming Waqf boards, etc — is the fact that the community is insecure about its very existence. Obviously, when one believes his very life is imperilled, he couldn’t be thinking of money. To let the GDP grow at a rate near 10% with a bonanza of jobs, Hindus thought, the nation must be safe from Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks, China’s territorial ambition, Maoist insurgency and the communists who find the disintegration of the country a cool idea. The nation believed Modi was best placed for the job as it recalled the Manmohan Singh government’s pitiable response to 26/11 and the contemporary fact that the Naxals have resurfaced with gusto since the Congress returned to power in Chhattisgarh.
Even where Modi 1.0 faltered, people hoped Modi 2.0 would realise the mistake, work on it and improve. A classic case of the type was the Sabarimala issue where both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP had initially welcomed the Supreme Court verdict and then realised that the state, of which the judiciary is a part, could not be an arbiter of the faith of a sect. The number of Hindus who appreciated this revision in the Sangh Parivar far outnumbered those who scoffed at the ‘illiteracy in Hinduism’ of the purported Hindu party. Compare this to a correction on the economic front: the government couldn’t stop either Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi from escaping alright, but thereafter it put its heart and soul in pursuing the fugitives by taking the matter up with the judiciary of England.
Why Modi’s economics was endorsed by the people needs a detailed analysis too. Saying that he won the election by pampering the have-nots with doles would be as facile as attributing the massive victory of the BJP to polarisation. While doctrinaire capitalists would love to see an Indian government throw open the whole market to the private sector in one go, India has realised since the age of PV Narasimha Rao that an element of caution always helps. We understood it the best during the US subprime mortgage crisis when while the world economy receded, we experienced just a slowdown at the worst of times. The other problem with a sudden opening up of the market is that the big fish devour the small. With a plethora of schemes meant to uplift the poor and the lower middle class, Modi has ensured that, in the future, when he liberalises the economy further, there will be real competition rather than monopolies and cartels. Before farmers are allowed to operate like full-fledged manufacturers, traders and independent sellers, they needed to be brought up to a certain financial level so as not to be outwitted by large, established retailers. The youth among the poor, unlike those in the privileged urban middle class, needed start-up capitals. And the rest of the have-nots had been, until 2014, crying for a life of dignity. Modi addressed each of these sectors with his Pradhanmantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Start-Up India, Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjwala, Swachh Bharat and finally the package for marginalised farmers and workers. None of these schemes, of course, is perfect, but they all exude the government’s sincerity of purpose. Having ensured during his first term that a critical mass of competitors would prevail in every sector, Modi is expected to draw closer to a free market in his second innings.
As for the opposition, they earned their defeat with a shrill campaign of negativity and paranoia, where the line of demarcation between criticising Modi and wrecking the nation often blurred. The fountainhead of the suicidal ideology, the communist parties, has thankfully been relegated to irrelevance in electoral politics. With no seat in West Bengal and a handful in Kerala, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its allies have been dealt the hardest blow. A trickier challenge confronts the nation albeit in the university campuses that tend to, from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University to Hyderabad Central University to Indian Institute of Technology – Madras, punch above their weights. The thinking section of the right-wing that uses BR Ambedkar as a stick to beat MK Gandhi needs to revise its strategy too as, when the groups that bear the names of Marx, Lenin and Mao subside, the Amebedkarite-Periyarite clique will rear its head with no less vitriol. This cannot be, however, a job of Modi. What the political head can work on is depoliticisation of the centres of education, implementing religiously the recommendations of the James M Lyngdoh Committee.
The only smart thing the Congress did in this election was tie up with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Thanks to the listless progress or regression of the AIADMK after the death of J Jayalalithaa, a rebellion by Dhinakaran and Sasikala, no show by Rajinikanth and confused politics by Kamal Haasan, the DMK has staged a comeback. With MK Stalin as an ally, the Congress got a face-saver from Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, the local unit stood in support of Lord Ayyappa’s devotees with no help from the New Delhi-based leadership. Congress’s betterment of score from the 44 of 2014 to 52 of 2019 is thus explained. Otherwise, party president Rahul Gandhi had done everything to pull the Congress further down, not the least of which was lying blatantly on India’s Rafale deal with France — which was, anyway, never an issue in rural India — and a charge that did not stick because of Modi’s welfare schemes: that the prime minister was a crony-capitalist who favoured Anil Ambani, the companies of whom the whole world is seeing collapsing.
Finally, there was the mahagathbandhan that wasn’t. The closest the opposition leaders had come to forging a grand pre-poll alliance was on 19 January when West Bengal chief minister had organised a mammoth “United India” rally at the huge Brigade Parade Ground of Kolkata. They forgot that, much as each of these leaders was popular in his or her State, each one of them was also a scary prospect to the rest of India. The proposition that either a pro-Muslim Mamata Banerjee or a self-serving Mayawati could be the next prime minister of the country pushed more voters to the Modi fold. The road ahead for the opposition in India, out of which only the communists have no hope for rejuvenation, is to hit upon an idea that would be a viable alternative to Modi’s patriotism-capitalism-socialism mix. Notably, Modi gains strength from vicious attacks on his person. The opposition indeed never occupied a more unenviable position where they need to defeat an enemy whom they cannot attack!