Kudos to Narendera Modi for winning the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand state elections — decisively in terms of the number of seats. He is now being hailed as the “new emerging colossus” after what some described as a “massive victory” for the BJP. Others have referred to India as “Modi’s India now”. Still others such as Amit Shah have declared him as the “most popular leader since Independence.” Many have branded the BJP wins as “Tsunamo”. The Indian media are awash in superlatives preceding and following “Modi”. In the wake of the electoral wins the news reports and opinions are replete with adjectives for him almost as if it was the second coming of Lord Krishna.
While one hates to rain on the parade of his adoring fans and fawning journalists, the truth is that the BJP won the 2014 election with 31 per cent of the vote — the lowest ever percentage of any majority winning party in India. According to the 2014 figures, Modi and BJP did not get support of 57 per cent of the UP electorate. In the just concluded state election in UP he and his party received 42 per cent of the vote. When polarising an entire population by cleverly navigating caste and religious cleavages with a few references to economic development and alleviating poverty thrown in, and winning a state election with 42 per cent of the votes makes anyone a “new and emerging colossus”, it is truly a sad day for India’s media and democracy.
In any rational analysis one could justifiably call Modi a great campaigner and even a better than great polariser. He successfully knit a coalition of castes and won the election without a single Muslim candidate. That rightly should and does make him a great leader of the BJP; some might even say, and in fact some do say, that now the BJP is him. He has been great for the BJP and may keep it in power for several years to come.
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But does that make him a great leader of the nation or its great Prime Minister? The question warrants a look deeper than either the daily panel discussions on TV stations or the opinion pieces hurriedly written for deadlines. Modi won the 2014 campaign presenting himself as the messiah of massive economic development he and the BJP promised to magically unleash upon India –almost as if it was akin to freeing wonderful and long suffocating genie from the bottle and everything would be automatically accomplished. We have seen the results. The farmers are still committing suicides in record numbers. An increasing number of youth go begging for jobs. When they can’t find them in India they end up leaving the country in search of jobs their country can’t still create for them. No significant dent has been made in the brutal poverty devastating hundreds of millions. The education for the poor and ordinary Indians is still the pits. Public healthcare for the poor and the disadvantaged is almost next to nonexistent. The Swachh Bharat’s hamlets, town and cities continue ubiquitously oozing untreated sewage and stench.
After Modi became the Prime Minister, the GDP of India hasn’t grown at a higher rate than it did before 2014 despite the more favourable change in the way it is now calculated. Just as Gujarat being number one was a chimera, so has been his claim of boosting the economic development of India. He and BJP won the 2014 election with a stew of promises of economic development and dog whistle politics of religious and communal polarisation. The massive economic development he promised remains a severe illusion. A crippling unemployment affects as many, if not more than before. Poverty endures as crushing a reality as ever.
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Modi’s modus operandi in 2017 election was no different from the 2014 election. In 2017, he adroitly and magically wove into the campaign “sab ka sath, sab ka vikas” with “shamshan ghats and kabirstans” and “electricity for Ramzan as opposed to Diwali”. Modi claims he is building a new inclusive India. The “new India” built upon the prime minister’s divisive, hateful and hurtful “kabirstans and shamshan ghats” can’t at all be an “inclusive” India. Modi’s post election promise of building an inclusive new India would only be genuine if it started with a heartfelt apology from the Prime Minister for his coded communalism of kabirstans versus shamshan ghats and Ramzan versus Diwali.
Winning elections doesn’t make one great. The simple, undeniable and an unfortunate truth of democracy is that even scoundrels can win elections. Modi is certainly not one — in fact far from it. He is a great campaigner. But great campaigners don’t necessarily make great leaders. The great victors of wars and elections are not necessarily great men and women. Governing, in particular governing for the entire population without fear or favour for any region, religion, caste creed or colour, is much harder and very different from electioneering. Hence otherwise extremely brilliant orators and campaigners don’t necessarily make good or great Prime Ministers.
India has already witnessed three years of Modi’s prime ministership. Three years are plenty long to determine whether one has what it takes to be the leader of the nation and a great prime minister. Modi has shown himself to be a brilliant and crafty campaigner but a mediocre prime minister. He has proven to be a great leader of the BJP. Yes, he is the elected prime minister of the country, but he hasn’t yet grown to be what one could call a great leader of the nation. So far in addition to impressing India with his brilliant oratory and election wins, he has excelled only at promising more and taller statues of leaders from the past — offering nary a hint of prime ministerial greatness himself, nor any proof of great economic development or democratic legacy for the country. One can only ardently hope that UP and Uttrakhand will benefit more from the BJP rule than has India — at least so far.