Addressing economic slowdown and social unrests main challenges.
India is assured of another five years of a Mazboot Sarkar. Votaries of a Majboor Sarkar led by Rahul Gandhi have bitten the dust. Because they turned it into a Modi versus All contest, Narendra Modi beat them hands down, winning far more seats than he did in 2014. Thanks to Rahul Gandhi and his robotic chants of “Chowkidar Chor Hai”, a parliamentary contest was turned into a presidential one, with Modi alone as the candidate in all 542 constituencies. No faceless candidate, much less the leader of her casteist party, stood a chance. Modi swept away everything before him.
Until the exit polls nobody had hinted about such a humiliating rout for the Opposition. And, come to think of it, till Thursday morning they were accusing the exit pollwallas of being BJP’s paid agents. Not since Indira Gandhi swept the poll in 1971 have we had a leader who could single-handedly take the country by storm as Modi did in Mandate 2019. Reducing the Yadav-Jatav-Jat Mahagathbandhan to a poor second underlines the triumph of national security and nationalism over casteist and regional interests.
The Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav-Ajit Singh gang-up could not cross the huge Pulwama-Balakot hump. Hardcore caste followers, especially the under-35s, were as taken up with aggressive nationalism, which Modi purveyed on the stump, as any RSS-BJP bhakt. “Beating Pakistan inside its home”, was a powerful imagery, which did wonders for the incumbent. If the 2014 Modi mandate was a vote against the scam-ridden UPA, 2019 is a positive vote for Modi, glossing over some of the glaring lags of his government.
The unabating tide of nationalist fervour brushed aside all concerns about joblessness, farmer distress, etc. Secularists-liberals can launch a million tweets lamenting how a whole election was hijacked by extraneous issues. They can bemoan the use of excessive money power to steal peoples’ mandate. But it is a fact of democratic life everywhere that a better campaign invariably ends up a winner. They may like to remember Indira Gandhi’s pummelling of the Opposition in 1971 on the heady slogan of Garibi Hatao. Had she kept her promise, we wouldn’t be talking of rampant poverty, illiteracy, joblessness at all half-a-century later.
History of democracies is a history of broken promises. No leader is able to keep his election promises. (David Cameron did and the Brits are still paying the price.) So, let us not talk about that Rs 15 lakh in every Indian’s account. Or Rahul Gandhi’s promise of Rs 72,000. Rahul can keep his Rs 72,000 for all that the voter cares. If despite widespread farmer distress Maharashtra still stayed strongly with the BJP-Shiv Sena, it may be because the Congress-NCP did not have a worthy leader.
In a parliamentary poll, people elect a Prime Minister and not an MP. Modi was the only candidate on the ballot. That would explain the wholesale rejection of the Congress in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where only a few months ago they had installed Congress governments. Indian voter is now fully conscious of upaar and neechey elections. The return of Naveen Patnaik for the nth time in Odisha and the relatively good showing by the BJP in the Lok Sabha underline the discriminating nature of the vote in one of the poorest states in the country. Likewise in Andhra Pradesh, the complete rejection of Chandrababu Naidu, who fashioned himself as a match-maker at the national level, running from one opposition leader to another like a headless chicken in order to cobble together an anti-Modi caboodle, is so thorough that it will take a while for him to nurse his wounds.
Without doubt, another regional chieftain who should feel humiliated is Mamata Banerjee, despite her attempt to put up a brave face. She thundered vile hatred for Modi, vowing not to allow BJP to win even a single seat. In the event, BJP stormed her citadel, leaving her fuming about the nefarious role of the Central forces. The capitulation of the Left and the Congress was to BJP’s advantage. Polarisation of West Bengal finds full reflection in this election. Mamata will have a fight on her hands in the 2021 Assembly election, unless her MLAs desert her earlier.
Which brings us to the increasing vulnerability of the Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh governments. Even if Modi were to adopt a hands-off approach, which he should, fickle loyalties of legislators, particularly those left out of the patronage pool, would cause them to join forces with the bigger winners. Even given a benign Centre, huge tremors in Bhopal and Bengaluru shaking out incumbent regimes in the coming weeks cannot be ruled out.
In his second innings, we hope Modi will be able to reflect humility rather than arrogance. It behoves a great leader. Modi has achieved greatness in electoral terms. He should now be magnanimous towards his opponents. Even if small in numbers, do not blank out their voice. Leaving behind the bitterness and acrimony of the campaign, make a grand gesture of reconciliation, gratuitously offering the post of the Leader of the Opposition to the Congress even if it lacks the numbers to claim that post. In the last House, the Congress was ill-advised to fight for the LOP position as if it was its birthright, though even then it had lacked the requisite numbers.
Again, Modi should ponder why he evokes strong feelings amongst the minuscule but articulate secularist-liberal class. This time around, the lumpens claiming allegiance to the Sangh Parivar must be told in no uncertain terms that mischief in the name of gau raksha, love jihad or ghar wapsi, etc., will be visited by the most stringent punishment available in the IPC. Modi cannot allow his global image to be sullied by a handful of mercenaries out to make a fast buck by claiming proximity to the Sangh Parivar.
Granted, stray incidents of madness were blown out of all proportion by a hostile media. Yet, Modi can make a conscious effort to nullify that impression. He does not have to patronise the media with ads or interviews. All that he needs to do is to leave it well alone, do nothing to undermine the so-called freedom of the press (which in effect translates into the freedom of the owner-ji anyway). Incidentally, if the media was truly controlled, the anchor of a Hindi TV news channel, belonging to a pro-Gandhi media group, could not have got away spewing venom 24×7 against the ruling party. After the results, he was heard lamenting the role of his counterparts in other channels who he claimed made the Modi win possible. Whether he realised it, by blaming other anchors he virtually admitted his own failure since he was the unabashed poster boy of a viciously anti-Modi propaganda.
Vitally, the economic scenario is not very rosy. War clouds hover over the Middle East. And the ongoing US-China trade war can unsettle the global economic order. GDP numbers of the last couple of quarters confirm a creeping slowdown. Contrary to his ingrained statist approach, Modi ought to further open up the economy, sell Air India and a few other dud public enterprises. And, crucially, undertake urgent land and labour reforms. Before Modi, the BJP was widely perceived to be right-of-centre, under him it is seen to be left-of-centre. The party needs to be returned to its historical moorings. Modi will profit from inducting outside talent into the new government.