People in general are not too unhappy but they are also deeply dissatisfied with the Narendra Modi government.
The modest mandate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP-led National Democratic Alliance had won in May 2014 — with the BJP having 282 seats of its own, and a 31 per cent share of the vote — did not presage either a utopia as the strong Hindu right-wing support group within and outside the country believed, nor did it spell disaster to the secular fabric of the country despite the sporadic lynching of Muslims by cow vigilantes and the attacks on dalits and loud cries of “foul” by the ardent anti-BJP, anti-Narendra Modi secularists. The reality is grey, with strong shades of grey at one end of the penumbra and bright streaks of light at the other end. People in general are not too unhappy but they are also deeply dissatisfied with the Narendra Modi government. And in an election year, it is the note of dissatisfaction that can prove to be crucial than the hosannas and the dirges.
Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah put on a brave face and assert without a trace of self-doubt that God is in His heaven and all is well with the world, but they are well aware that the situation is not as rosy and optimistic as they make it out to be. The NDA-2 government has not transformed India as Mr Modi had claimed he would. It is of course not his fault that he could not because he could not have with the best will in the world. Did he try enough? Not really. Because it is not enough to sincerely believe that what one is doing is really the best. It need not be, and it could even be wrong. For example, the Prime Minister still seems to believe that the November 8, 2016 decision to demonetise high-value currency notes was a brilliant one. It was not one, but Mr Modi is too proud to admit that he had made an error. But the system reasserted itself and the cash in the economy is back to the pre-demonetisation levels.
Figures show that while the economy has done well in 2015-16, the other years have been below par. There were two years of monsoon shortfall which led to drought and agricultural growth was hampered, and with it the overall growth rate of the economy. Yet Mr Modi, Mr Shah and the BJP claim that the economy is in the fast lane. The fact that it is just keeping its head above water is evident to all except the blinkered NDA government.
The minorities in India — Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains — are not doing too badly. Muslim and Christian ideologues along with the liberal secularists have been indulging in dirges, but Muslims and Christians at large are facing the same problems as Hindus day in and day out. There are not enough jobs, daily life in cities, towns and villages is a hassle. But they are not disheartened. They are working out their destinies away from the political clamour of the Hindutva fanatics and their ideological opponents. They are taking whatever little the government is doing through measly welfare measures and trudging forward with grit. The people keep their faith in the future and it has nothing to do with the grandiose claims of the Narendra Modi government.
The hotheads among Hindus have been indulging in verbal rage and the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have been indulging them, with the cynical expectation that if things become too hot for Mr Modi and the BJP in the 2019 election, the lumpen elements could help sway opinion. But people are not swayed by fanatics, not the Hindus, not the Muslims and the Christians.
The fear among the secularists that Mr Modi will not accept an electoral setback and that the knives will be out to cut off the moorings of Indian democracy is partly imaginary, and partly true. He and Mr Shah hate to lose, but they have no option but to accept democratic verdicts. The electoral outcomes in Gujarat, the home state of Mr Modi and Mr Shah, and Karnataka provide good examples. The BJP got a scare from the people. And in Karnataka, people made it clear that they wanted to replace the Congress but they did not trust the BJP fully. All that Mr Modi and Mr Shah have been able to do is to rationalise the verdicts. They have to accept them.
There is the disturbing streak in Mr Modi that he does not look reality in the face. He does not want to recognise that there are many who support him, but there are many more who do not favour him. He indulges in the fantasy of believing that 125 crore Indians are with him in his bid to make India a developed country. The sentiment is unexceptionable, and no Indian would quarrel with that. But many of them may not agree with the methods to achieve that goal, and the people would consider alternative models as well.
The secular parties can’t be too different from the BJP even as the BJP has not been too different from them in pursuing the development agenda. The democratic test for Mr Modi comes when he is defeated, not when he is winning. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee have shown that they know how to accept electoral defeat. Mr Modi is yet to prove his democratic credentials on that count.
Mr Modi, Mr Shah, the BJP and RSS sure nurse the dream of a Hindu state but they know that they cannot swerve too far away from the vocabulary of development and prosperity. There is no point in ushering in a Hindu state with a ruinous economy. Their goal of the glory of India, that is 125 crore people, which perforce includes Muslims, Christians and several other religious minorities.