Whooooosh! And five years have raced past the incredulous Indian voter! Five dramatic years during which we watched a nation of 1.3 billion citizens go through cataclysmic changes, the likes of which nobody could have anticipated. Not all the changes were terrible. Some were rather good! The most valuable contribution of the Narendra Modi government has been the “Swachchh Bharat” campaign. Of course, India is still filthy. But at least we are “woke” enough to admit filth is filth. Filth cannot be taken for granted. Filth causes disease. Filth must be tackled. Today, travelling through a few of our most overcrowded and habitually dirty destinations has become a less traumatic experience, thanks to the national campaign urging us to tackle the dirt on a war footing. It was always a matter of enormous bewilderment to me that our pilgrimage centres were strewn with garbage and were possibly the smelliest places on the planet. Since “Cleanliness is next to Godliness’’ was an oft-repeated slogan, I always wondered why we displayed scant respect for the message. Temple courtyards and river banks of sacred rivers were the worst offenders. Well... after “Swachchh Bharat”, these holy places have seen a mini-transformation. They are still a mess — but at least, one can spot large garbage bins provided by the local administrations. Bins that are infrequently used and frequently stolen. But at least they exist.
As of now, those states that have finished voting have gone back to business as usual. Business such as it is. Most traders and vendors are playing “wait and watch” before upping their business plans. In Mumbai, dhanda is on hold, and the overall commercial atmosphere remains thanda. When “dhanda” becomes “thanda” in India’s most commercially aggressive metropolis, it is seen as a sign that the results of Elections 2019 are being second-guessed. Yes, there was no discernible “Modi wave” this time. That much can be stated without ambiguity. With zero enthusiasm and voter sentiment staying mysterious, we will play our usual meaningless guessing games, with political pundits making the standard, totally off predictions, complete with numbers, a systematic seat share in each state, and the likelihood of last-minute upsets.
The most wonderful thing about our electorate is the unpredictability factor which proves the best of poll forecasters wrong time and again. This is by far the most thrilling aspect when India votes. Despite monumental uncertainties and below the belt tactics indulged in across party lines, India still pulls it off! This what impresses the watching world. It is a feat that deserves to be applauded. It is also what makes us proud to know that democracy is well and truly alive in our part of the world. For a few short euphoric hours, when we line up to cast our votes, we do so with the fullness of our hearts. We should remain thankful for this monumental exercise that makes each and every citizen feel like a stakeholder in India’s future. This cannot be said about many other democracies — not even the American version. India, with its major faultlines and tumultuous upheavals (on an hourly basis, as it were!), still manages this phenomenon every five years.
As we roll into the fifth and final phase of the Battle of the Ballot, we will witness a heightened state of excitement as Narendra Modi marches into Varanasi like a conquering emperor. The heady, giddy, celebratory atmosphere envelops the ancient city even before a single vote gets cast in his constituency. And why ever not? If he sweeps again, albeit with fewer numbers, it will still be seen as a gigantic triumph. And forever more, it will be viewed as one man’s personal victory. Which indeed it will be. The fear factor that such a win generates for opponents and critics is a given. The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear he will be cracking the whip and silencing anybody who has issues with his policies. Isn’t it much better this way? No ambiguity. No arguments. No resistance. What he says becomes law. Be prepared to eat what he approves of, dress according to his tastes, think as he deems fit, even dream his dream. Anybody found defying his “model code of conduct” for citizens will be “dealt with”. By now, everyone knows the implications of that.
NaMo has been extraordinarily lucky as far as international developments go. Just look at the timing of the United Nations’ decision to designate the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist” after China buckled. Two coups in one stroke! And China forced to eat humble pie. It is a big feather in the Prime Minister’s cap, and only petty minds will deny him his hour of glory. No matter what people may think of his rather tawdry attempts to appropriate the Indian Army and treat it like his personal force, the average voter (and Modi supporter) saw nothing wrong in it. Nor did the same person find it abhorrent that a Prime Minister would choose to manipulate national sentiment by taking credit for strategic military moves against Pakistan — from surgical strikes to the retaliation in Balakot. It needed the sobriety of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to call out the gaucheness of the act. The idea of exploiting the valour of our soldiers for personal aggrandisement is really embarrassing in the extreme. But who is to talk finesse and propriety to the Supremo?
Brace yourselves, folks. It sure looks like we are in for a reign of... of... let’s say “emphatic” rule. We were warned in clear, assertive terms by the Prime Minister himself. Terms that left no room for manoeuvring or negotiation. If this is what you voted for... well, then lie back passively for the next five years and enjoy it! If you didn’t ... God help you! Remember, you have till May 23 to make your travel plans. One-way ticket to the moon, anyone?