As traditional planks, issues and even grassroots politicians get blown away, Modi 2.0 has managed to change the idea of what India wants
This is undoubtedly a Pied Piper election, where Narendra Modi has emerged not just as an emboldened Prime Minister but a thought leader who has the nation’s belief system wrapped up in a new cloak of nationalism and in a corporatised world, as a superbrand that has the trust, factory-manufactured or otherwise. Rather, he has overturned existing mindsets and their expression, freed up many boxes that so far held the characteristics of India and laid down a narrative sold on the promise of India reclaiming its place in the sun. Simply because civilisationally it was so once but the will to wake up to that truth was lost in our sub-consciousness and the burden of history. He seems to have stoked a sense of purposiveness, now that new-age aspirations have also reached saturation point, and has created a post-truth matrix. It is, therefore, the emergence of Indusisation rather than globalisation and a new idea of India. The reality of this may be unpalatable to existing liberal thought simply because it serves an alternative constituency, which has crept up from the fringes and whitewashed the mainstream. This new cultural awareness is based on the extreme polarity of all kinds of otherness. For some, it is religion, the most virulent kind, as evidenced by the landslide acceptability of a Sadhvi Pragya Thakur. For some it is majoritarianism, which sees minorityism as an encroachment that denies more rights due to itself and, therefore, feels it is losing relevance by its own complacency. For some it is about rewriting history and crossing out the invaders, the most contemporary manifestation being Pakistan-sponsored terror. For some, it is about anti-elitism, an assault of middle India into spatial templates set and appropriated by the Western-educated intelligentsia. For others, it is about inclusivity of opportunity, goals and crucially empowerment — be it village roads and electrification, the Awas Yojana, Ayushman Bharat, toilets and LPGs for women, space age dreams for the young and a tough-as-nails leadership that won’t succumb to any global Trump-card. And the most important, it is the willingness to self-correct despite the skids, the disbursal of Rs 6,000 to farmers’ accounts, blunting the face of farm distress and sending a message that it would be attended to, no matter what the nyay crusades of others might promise. Of course, beyond the man is the BJP’s organisation which has not let up on its groundwork, treating both old and new territories as the same, and not allowing to slip itself into a comfort zone. In fact, the only question that surfaces is if Modi had under-read his own ability and, therefore, pushed his muscular nationalism a bit too far during the campaign, indulging in a dark, divisive propaganda. But that, too, was probably scripted cinematically to gloss over any talk of issues or his inadequate performance and set up a threat so real that even plurality was seen as an enemy of national identity. Or was it a ruse to simplify India’s complexity into an easily readable unitary structure? That alone can explain why Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, for all his gentlemanly sincerity, lost his home seat of Amethi. For Modi didn’t want to be an aspirational choice of 2014, he wanted to be an absolutist destiny’s child in 2019. Almost hypnotically and spiritually ordained.
This nationwide chemistry has beaten arithmetic, even when it was crafted and test-piloted in the electoral laboratory called Uttar Pradesh. That’s why the SP-BSP-RLD alliance has not been able to convince each other’s voter bases that it would pay to invest in joint winnable candidates than bleed out. However, apart from Yadavs and Jatavs, it seems the larger arc of most backward castes and Dalits, some of whom have broken basic livelihood barriers, have migrated to a national party and are staking larger dreams on continuity than standing out with a limiting casteist tag. And Modi has made the right noises by announcing quotas for the poor than caste groups and emphasising on raising rural incomes by 2022. The second big takeaway is that of eastern India, which so far had stood out as a bloc like south India, beginning to give way to a pan-India narrative albeit with adaptations. So while Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik has been voted for the State level, the voter has told him he is good only for Odisha and doesn’t qualify for a national role except being a symbiotic partner. The Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had probably understood it a bit earlier and though she helmed the mahagathbandhan initially, took a step back when she realised her State was in trouble. Quick to sense that a nationalist surge could ultimately decimate even her regional relevance, she has just about held on. Of course, she has lost the battle of perception and has to rework strategies from this moment on. Assam and the Northeast, have, meanwhile shown that for all the anxieties about the Citizenship Amendment Bill, they do not want to be left out of mainstream development. Not that regional leaders have not stood tall. This election’s biggest story has been scripted by YSR Congress’ Jaganmohan Reddy, who has overturned the charisma of Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, silently and fervently. Much credit should also be given to DMK chief Stalin who has lived up to his father’s legacy and occupied the vacuum in Tamil Nadu created by the deaths of his father and J Jayalalitha, both demi-gods of their time. Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, however, failed, losing his turf and sugar belt to the saffron deluge. Does that have something to do with chasing prime ministerial ambitions like KC Rao of Telangana, who, too, has paid for overgrowing national ambitions?
That brings us to the Congress itself, thoroughly emaciated and beaten, where even a younger leadership, despite being instagram pleasures, could not shake off the burden of dynastic entitlement. Even organisationally, the Gandhi scions, Rahul and Priyanka, haven’t concentrated on strengthening structures and have relied on empty rhetoric. While Rahul gifted the BJP a slogan by calling the Prime Minister “chowkidaar chor hai”, and rivals spun it on its head justifying why chowkidaari was needed, he failed to retain the gains he made. Who would have believed Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the Congress earned a hard-won fight in the Assembly elections last winter, would cave in completely? Was it arrogance, complacence or its most telling weakness — old school coterie durbar at the exclusion of well-meaning local leaders? Capt Amarinder Singh scripted the Punjab win despite a Balakot, simply because he acts on his own. Besides, the party played saboteur of the grand alliance, becoming a vote cutter, and could not convert a single issue-based rant into an alternative movement. Nor could it claim authorship of schemes that were implemented successfully by Modi. If the Congress wants to get back its axis, it has to nuke itself and rebuild or else be vapourised. As for Modi, he has had the advantage of being granted time beyond the incubation period of a regime change (yes five years may be theoretically too little). He has clearly the numbers and a seeming hold of the national imagination. He has already spoken of embarking on economic reforms. Question is does he want a legacy based on admiration or fear? For there is a huge sense of fear among the others akin to being second class citizens. Or will he discard the tools of political trade and really set an imaginative and progressive agenda? Will it be about order or disorder? Will it be Modi’s India hereon? Or Kedarnath’s? Only time will tell.