Modi, hailed from the state of Gujarat and was responsible for merging the many princely states in British India into the Indian state, often through coercion and/ or force.
Sukhamoy Chakravarti, a doyen among Indian economists, has written that Nehru did not want economic development led by the private sector because it could have accrued greater power to Patel. This debate reappeared in the late 1960s when the “Syndicate,” in which Morarji Desai was a key player, lost to Indira Gandhi. Gujarati conservatism has a long lineage in Indian politics and not surprisingly Modi, in his recent campaign, has deliberately adopted the mantle of Sardar Patel. It is Patel’s brand of socially conservative and aggressive nationalism — not that of another Gujarati, M.K. Gandhi — that serves as Modi’s model.
But Patel’s social conservatism is not the only reason Modi has chosen him as his ideological guru. Patel also favoured the decisive use of political power and the fact that Modi presents himself as a strong leader challenges the tradition Indian politicians have adopted of being discrete in their use of political power. Modi’s speeches on the campaign trail have been noteworthy because of their aggressive tone, presenting him as a decisive leader who does not shy away from disparaging others, notably the Congress party’s Gandhi dynasty. The idea of a muscular leader, a leader who takes quick and firm decisions and is not necessarily inclusive, plays well in small-town and rural India, which is deeply socially conservative and values strong leadership, not least because this is what it is accustomed to. Violence in these areas is an acceptable political currency.
Indeed, all of the regional parties that have done well in these elections are headed by local politicians (Mamata Banerjee, J. Jayalalithaa, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad) who share important traits with Modi — they are socially conservative. All these regional politicians are associated with the unabashed use of power as the currency of politics. The newly assertive small town and rural India does not nod to institutional politics in the same way that the urban elite does. In turn, this suave urban elite, which has thus far dominated the intellectual discourse in India, often looks down upon the often less well-educated, seemingly less sophisticated small-town politicians. The Congress and the urban elite are deeply disturbed by the tone of Modi’s campaign, but the English language “chatterati” seems to forget that it is a tone that resonates in small town and rural India and has now met with indisputable electoral success.
In celebrating India’s democracy, those in Delhi often overlook the fact that at the local level politics remains violent. While national elections are, by and large, free of this type of coercion, local elections are certainly not.
Even the communists stayed in power in the Indian state of West Bengal by means of local-level manipulation and force. Thus, it is fair to say that this election marks the victory of an India that has persisted in the face of the accommodating and deliberative …continued »