Big victory and bigger challenges

Over the past few days, there has been no dearth of explanations with regard to the BJP’s return to power with a thumping majority. Among the plethora of reports, perspectives, opinions, comments and some insightful pieces of analysis one has come across, one thing that stands out clearly is that most of the pundits in media missed the silent Modi wave. The general consensus before the election was that the BJP would be the single largest party and the NDA would be somewhere close to the majority but would require the help of new allies to form a stable government. This was also the projection of pre-poll opinion surveys. However, not only the end result proved everyone wrong, but the Modi playbook that shaped the narrative in the last five years also dismantled the old wisdom that voters do not reward average governance and economic under-performance. It also proved wrong all assumptions that higher turnout is a sign of anti-incumbency.

A whole lot of factors and under-currents are responsible for BJP’s resounding victory. Some may have played a bigger role over others in making all the difference between BJP’s emphatic victory and the Opposition’s decisive defeat.  But we are still not closer to any definite answer for such a decisive mandate. Did people vote for Modi because they felt he had improved their quality of life and therefore deserved another chance? Or did they vote for him because there was no credible alternative to Modi? There is little to suggest that most of those who voted for Modi – millions of those 600 million are at the bottom of economic pyramid and survival is an everyday struggle for them – have benefited much in an economic sense. In the midst of jubilation and a sense of dejection on the two sides of the political and ideological divide, the real question is: do facts matter or a well-packaged and well-marketed political narrative is enough to win electoral battles?

From the accounts of state of the nation and data on various sectors of the economy, it’s fairly clear that there is an increase in unemployment, the rural economy is down, and the micros of economy are bad while the macros are stressed, the financial sector is deeply impaired and the GDP data is not entirely reliable. There have been concerns raised regarding deteriorating law and order, the decline of institutions, lack of transparency in government data, suppression of uncomfortable facts and lack of accountability in government deals. Was all this not a concern of voters who overwhelmingly voted for the ruling dispensation? Probably, going by the bump in BJP’s vote share and forays into new territories in the East, it seems the TINA (there is no alternative) factor favoured Modi. What also worked for the prime minister was his ‘nation needs a decisive mandate and leadership’ narrative.

The new India, which Modi often spoke about in his election campaign and in his post-victory address to party workers, did not vote for the likes of Atishi Marlena and Kanhaiya Kumar but for Sadhvi Pragya, a terror-accused, Nihal Chand, a rape-accused and Sakshi Maharaj; they are certainly not candidates the new India will be proud of.  If the 2014 mandate for Modi was a vote of hope that he would fix India’s age-old problems and improve the quality of life, 2019 mandate is a vote of confidence in Modi’s ability to revive India’s lost glory and target India’s enemies, both within and outside. Given his divisive and polarising campaign, it may not be entirely wrong to surmise that the vote for Modi’s new India may not be for fixing economy, delivering elusive jobs and addressing agrarian issues of small and marginal farmers but for the agenda of making the minorities fall in line with the majority’s sentiment and legitimisation of the Sangh parivar’s nationalism which is steeped in Hindutva.

In his five years as prime minister, Modi has been neither as good as his cheerleaders foretold, nor as bad as his critics imagined. With his re-election, do the risks outweigh the rewards? His critics would say India would have been better off with a different leader. His admirers and cheerleaders would disagree with this view. Around 37.4 per cent of the electorate which voted for BJP because of Modi would certainly be divided on the risk-versus-reward question because they all have voted for him for different reasons. But their expectations would be more or less the same: development, jobs, better income, better education, and healthcare, improved infrastructure, better law and order, good governance and less bureaucratic red-tape.  So, while the motivation and influencing factors for voting a particular leader or party could be a result of a particular narrative, the primary goal is always communal harmony and political, social and economic integration of citizens.

Elections and campaigns preceding them are always dramatic events. Now that the drama is over, the focus will shift to governance and delivery. Having been re-elected with a big mandate, there are bigger challenges for Modi and his government to rise to the occasion and meet the electorate’s expectations and aspirations. With his victory, Modi has raised the bar of expectations from his government. Having created a personality cult around his persona of a no-nonsense leader who means business and is determined to take India forward to prosperity, he will be judged for his ability to bring radical changes in the country. Will he double farmers’ income in the next three years as promised? The political battle has been won, but the economic battle has just begun. Make in India, Digital India, Skill India were all flops. What’s next to make India a manufacturing hub that will create millions of job?

Despite the meta-narrative weaved around Hindu nationalism and revival of past glory, the only way forward is consensus building and, as Modi said in his victory speech, ‘we have to carry along everyone for the good of the country’. Modi’s re-election is not a validation of his past failures and missteps like demonetisation, the betrayal of farmers, weakening of institutions, media capture, cultivation of hate, the mishandling of Kashmir and the questionable rewriting of the Rafale deal. The good of the country lies in the revival of the economy, creating millions of new jobs, restoring communal harmony and attacking poverty. Will Modi use his political capital to push reforms and bring radical changes in the economy, education, healthcare, judiciary, and police?

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