One face of India seemed to project unmitigated gloom and despair.
The 2019 election results were greeted with mostly grumpy faces in drawing rooms of India’s liberal and relatively affluent classes. Many on Facebook swore that this was not the India they wanted to live in. Others warned of apocalyptic times ahead. One face of India seemed to project unmitigated gloom and despair.
The mood in small suburban bazars and rural alleys across large parts of the country was very different. Here, there were more contented smiles as the sun went down on yet another hot and blistering day. They had delivered their verdict quietly but decisively without the aid of social media pontification and political grandstanding.
If there was any consensus in the country, it was for the election of a credible, tough and decisive leader, not some rabid state-level matriarch, caste king or scion of a has-been dynasty. Only Narendra Damodardas Modi fitted the bill.
This general election was about the young voter, 82 million or so of whom joined the ranks of the electoral eligible this time. They constituted a little less than a tenth of total voters in the country. Yet, in all probability, it was their vote that caused the unexpected electoral landslide in Narendra Modi’s favour.
To the new and younger Indian voter, political nuances seem to matter little, nor do political ideologies. The new pragmatic generation prefers someone who is prepared to bash forward through the myriad challenges that beset the nation.
Perhaps the most significant development in this election is the new voter’s growing aversion to rabid caste politics represented by the likes of Mayawati (Bahujan Samaj Party) and Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party). Interestingly, the Patel caste politics in Gujarat too didn’t pay off.
The parochial leaders who had vowed to wrest control of the Centre found themselves given the short shrift, their dashed by the electorate’s changing views on caste-based politics.
In contrast, a somewhat larger section of the electorate seemed willing to give the secular, non-caste-based Congress a chance but its total identification with a fading discredited dynasty destroyed an incipient opportunity.
The proximate question, and one that will determine the character of the Central government in the next five years, is how Narendra Modi sees and interprets the election results.
If he believes the results are a reflection of his absolute unerring decision-making abilities or that the electorate has been dazzled by his supposed achievements in governance, then the country is in for double trouble.
At one level, it will have to contend with slow pace of change, the paucity of radical problem-solving measures and the lack of bold reforms that are so necessary to transform a stagnating and problem-ridden economy.
At another level, it will have to suffer the hubris of a leader who believes he has made no mistakes and can do no wrong. This could lead to more disasters such as demonetisation and the failure to rein in the Hindutva extremists.
If, on the other hand, Narendra Modi realises he has been given another chance to deliver despite his many shortcomings, we could be looking at better times.
The two most urgent priorities currently are the dire state of the economy and the poor condition of the country’s armed forces, particularly the Indian Air Force. The success of Narendra Modi’s somewhat brazen and distasteful use of the Pulwama terrorist attack and the subsequent Balakot airstrike for political advantage, suggests that national security will remain a priority and move into a more belligerent phase.
There will be less incentive for deal-making with Pakistan and the secessionist forces in Jammu and Kashmir, and a harsher response to incidents like the Pulwama attack.
Mr Modi’s victory has been wrought by the poorer sections of Indian society, which sees his partially successful schemes such as Jan Dhan, toilets, medical insurance and so on as evidence of his concern for them. He is seen as a leader trying to alleviate the economic conditions of the less fortunate and disregard his party’s divisive tendencies.
It will be good for the country if the next government concentrates on consolidating these schemes, eliminating the attendant corruption and leakages and broadening their scope.
On the other hand, Narendra Modi’s first five years in power have been bereft of ideas on how to revive the country’s debt-ridden corporate sector, nursing the banking sector back to health, speeding up the many pending insolvency proceedings or preventing corporate scams and collapses such as that of the IL&FS.
The poll results do suggest one overriding reality: a certain commonality of views across the country, a tendency to think in a unified fashion on critical issues. This is oddly in variance with the charge that Narendra Modi is dividing the country.
The truth is that India is and has been divided ever since its emergence as an independent nation in 1947. It has been rent with a thousand dissensions, a “million mutinies”, as writer V.S. Naipaul once observed, and yet it has survived, stayed together and prospered way beyond the belief of the rest of the world.
Perhaps what is new is a parallel thread in the national discourse, one that seeks national unity and desires a common destiny. This is perhaps the gift the young Indian is bringing to the national narrative.
The relatively affluent liberal Indian could feel disappointed as the new rowdy crowds, who aspire to more prosperous and dignified lives, pay scant attention to the nuances of political ideologies or the sophisticated ideals of the privileged classes.
The discomfort of the religious minorities at the consolidation of mainstream unity is a much more justified and serious matter. An oppressive majority is always a cause of extreme alarm and if unchecked could wreak catastrophic damage to the national polity. Mr Modi’s post-election remarks on the need to win back the trust of minorities is heartening and affirms the Indian ethos of co-existence and syncretism.
Complete despondency, therefore, is inapt. Despite the heat, dust and expletives of a raucous national discourse, Bharat is awakening. Narendra Damodardas Modi is a mere cog in the wheel; the processes unwinding will gather momentum in the coming years and drive India to places perhaps not visualised by today’s leadership.