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Unlimited mandate for a limited man
In retrospect, it is quite clear that the die for the transformative vote of May 16 was cast in the third week of January 2014. Two events that week foretold the Modi mandate. On January 17, at a special session of the AICC, the Congress had showcased Rahul Gandhi as its electoral mascot but betrayed its own uncertainty when it failed to name him as its prime ministerial candidate. The young Gandhi came across as eager to appropriate the spoils of success but unwilling to dare the adversity. That week, Rahul Gandhi forfeited a claim to national leadership.
And then, a few days later, on January 21, the then chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, decided to sit on a dharna outside Rail Bhavan, insisting on the peremptory transfer of two police inspectors. Till then, he was the articulate, prosperous middle classes’ hope for an authentic, alternative political idiom; suddenly, he came across as a dangerous henchman of anarchy, who could not be trusted to operate the levers of governmental responsibility.
Thanks to these two political infelicities, the third alternative, Narendra Modi was in business. He had tom-tommed the “Gujarat model” for few years now. And, he had already displayed a gift for going for broke when he took on the old, tired establishment in the BJP itself. It helped that he had the RSS in his corner, yet he touched a cord among the young voters who seemed happily determined to kick out the jaded and the faded crowd across the board. The country desperately yearned for change and Modi adroitly positioned himself as the commander-in-chief of that sentiment.
It was no surprise that in his prime ministerial quest Modi became the favourite of big business, which had its own selfish and unhealthy reasons to throw the UPA regime out. And, with big business came big media. Never before had the republic witnessed such an unequal and un-balanced electoral coverage; and Modi out-spent, out-thought, out-talked and out-foxed the Congress. For its part, the Congress seemed bent on breaking all rules for political ineptitude.
Modi’s creative team should be credited for coining the “maa-beta party” moniker for the Congress. And, with clangorous insistence, Modi hammered away at the “dynasty model”, inviting the voters to question and revise some of the basic assumptions and arrangements of the last 40 years. Modi’s campaign rhetoric was low-minded, un-elevating, but perhaps fit in with our coarsened habits of discourse. So comprehensive seems to be the desire to turn a new national leaf that voters did not mind Modi’s low cunning and cultivated tastelessness. And, electoral regulators simply could not slow down the Modi money-spending machine.
Modi’s moment of success carries with it, let us be warned, seeds of its own failure. There can no beating about the bush that the Modi vote is also an unadulterated communally polarised vote; there is no secret that the minorities, especially the Muslims, were deeply apprehensive of a Modi victory and did everything possible to defeat the BJP.
This is the first time since 1952 that the minorities have not counted in determining as to who rules in New Delhi. And, coupled with the fact of the near-decimation suffered by the Left Front, the BSP and the SP, it is easy to conclude that, for now, the centrist, secular and progressive voices have lost out. In immediate terms, the Indian polity stands redefined. The new Modi-Amit Shah regime may be tempted to do a “Gujarat” all over India.
This disquiet cannot be brushed aside as a “secular” overreaction. After all, Modi’s indebtedness to the RSS bosses is all too real. Had it not been for their indulgence and influence, Modi would not have won the baton race within the BJP. This election was the first time the RSS had come out of its self-imposed burqa of being just a “cultural” organisation and had pitched in wholeheartedly for a Modi victory.
Moreover, so far “moderate” BJP leaders have been able to fob off the Sangh Parivar and its antediluvian cadres because it lacked a parliamentary majority of its own. That excuse is no longer available. Now, pressure would be brought to re-open all the “contentious” issues. Modi may soon discover that happy days may be here, but the difficult months are just round the corner.
On his way to this sweeping victory, Modi displayed a capacity for disciplined recklessness. He devised his own rules of the game and was least interested in winning brownie points with New Delhi’s self-appointed guardians of political correctness. For all his brilliance and innovation, Modi did not enlighten the nation about his “agenda”; he simply harnessed the anti-Congress mood. Now, harsh realities await his attention.
Economic dislocations and social breakdowns are too deep and pervasive to be amenable to slogan mongering and chest thumping. Governing India is a project that calls for wisdom and sagacity, qualities that Modi has not displayed so far. In a moment of national pique, the country has given unlimited mandate to a limited man. Consequences will follow, sooner or later.
The writer is a senior journalist and a research scholar