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  Opinion   Columnists  24 May 2019  Modi’s triumph comes with plenty of caveats

Modi’s triumph comes with plenty of caveats

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : May 24, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated : May 24, 2019, 7:21 am IST

The BJP’s share of the percentage of votes has gone up sharply, its seat share has moved up only modestly.

BJP workers welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he, along with BJP president Amit Shah, arrives at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday. (Photo: PTI)
 BJP workers welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he, along with BJP president Amit Shah, arrives at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday. (Photo: PTI)

It is a clear and emphatic verdict for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. The supporters of Mr Modi, most of whom are adulators, are sure to attribute this to the charismatic leadership of their hero. It will be futile to argue with them that this isn’t the case. But it is necessary to underline the fact that people have voted for a stable government and nothing more. Mr Modi, the BJP and right-wing analysts will argue this is a vote for mail-fisted nationalism as seen in rhetorical flourishes by Mr Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on the campaign trail. This should naturally lead to nationalist adventurism with regard to Pakistan. This remains an unlikely scenario. However, there could be a move to remove Article 370 of the Constitution and to amend Section 35A that will modify the status and the rules of domicile in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Modi government post-victory is unlikely to show application of mind in handling the brittle economic situation, besides making some populist announcements. Team Modi will have no gameplan to deal with the exigencies of the economic situation as it would believe the favourable electoral outcome gives it the leeway to be lackadaisical. There will be drift in economic policy.

The trends, which is all that we have as of now, present an interesting picture. The BJP’s share of the percentage of votes has gone up sharply, its seat share has moved up only modestly. The same trend is reflected in a slightly different way in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is leading in about 55 seats — 18 seats less than its tally of 73 in 2014 — its voteshare percentage has jumped up. The Bahujan Samaj Party is leading in 12 seats while it had none in 2014, but compared to 2014, its vote percentage has slipped a few points.

The details of the verdict point to a more complicated picture while the big picture is that of the overwhelming victory of one man and one party, Mr Modi and the BJP. The easy way to describe the 2019 election result is to call it a Modi victory, that it’s the PM’s untiring campaign and his nationalist rhetoric that led to his win and that of his party, and he has emerged as a popular leader in the league of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. And it appears to be true as well.

It’s not a Modi election because Mr Modi is contending with a far more complex polity than did his Nehru-Gandhi predecessors. And he coped with the challenge through meticulous groundwork by the party network and through relentless propaganda. There were also other advantages like a national media that amplified his message more than that of other parties and leaders. But this alone would not have ensured his victory. It is the people who have given their preference for his through their votes. Though he has become a popular politician with a pan-Indian image, and has overshadowed the party and candidates, it’s not true that people are idolising him.

The reason the majority vote went to Mr Modi is due to the fact that the Opposition parties, including the Congress, were feckless. The Opposition did not have a positive narrative. There was no substance to their promises. Mr Modi enjoyed the advantage of being in the government and to have announced schemes and implemented them partially, if ineffectively. It is not Mr Modi’s fault that he had this advantage, but he made full use of it.

It’s a fact that in an election what matters is victory and not so much what you said or what you did to win. On this, Mr Modi didn’t hesitate to paint his opponents as anti-national, and party colleagues joined the chorus. They raised the false spectre of the nation in danger — it is an old trick that goes back to the early years of the 1789 French Revolution, and the slogan then used was “la patrie en danger (fatherland in danger)” — projecting themselves as patriots and saviours. That was stooping low, but victory might seem worth the shameful gesture. Similarly, fielding a Hindu fanatic like Pragya Thakur, with her admiration for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse, does not reflect well on the political maturity of the party. Similarly, targeting illegal immigrants on the basis of religion in Assam is not creditable either.

Mr Modi has a habit of speaking in a pacifist tone after diabolical election speeches without realising that what lumpen right-wingers will remember is his vicious campaign rhetoric than his mellow post-election words. The Hindutva foot-soldiers will go on a rampage with impunity though Mr Modi might believe he has left the viciousness behind. Mr Modi will be hard put to manage this contradiction, which he has spawned.

The Opposition parties on their part will have to accept their foolhardy and equally vicious anti-Modi rhetoric. The liberals and secularists forgot all decency of public discourse in pouring contempt on Mr Modi, who clearly did not belong to the same social class. The vote for Mr Modi and the BJP is a retribution of the people on the old political elite. Mr Modi leads a new political elite of right-wingers and it is but a natural transition from the old to the new. The old liberal-left-secular order is surely less diabolical than the incoming right-wingers, but its immoral superciliousness has been shown the door in this election.

In one of his interviews, Mr Modi remarked this was not an election for class monitor but for the country’s Prime Minister, indirectly justifying the vituperative language of the elections. Mr Modi will have to realise that being a Prime Minister requires him to respect his opponents and critics. He cannot govern the country simply with his fan following.

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