For me, the defining metaphor of the 2019 elections is the 250000+ votes victory of a terror accused ( who also described the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi as a patriot) over a two time Chief Minister with forty years of political experience. If this is the extent and nature of India’s transformation from a compassionate society to a brutalised one, then it’s time we stopped blaming Rahul Gandhi. He never stood a chance, for the India he was addressing in his campaign speeches- about jobs, farmers, adivasis, religious divisions- no longer exists. Mr. Modi has created a new India in just five years.
No right thinking person will deny that Mr. Modi initiated a number of economic and welfare measures; but equally, they remain at best a mixed bag for the moment: GDP growth is below 7%, private investment is at an all time low, MSMEs and the informal sector have yet to recover fully from demonetisation and GST. unemployment continues to climb, farmer distress is very real. Welfare measures like the Ujjwala yojana, free toilets, household electrification have yet to bite, encountering many kinks that have yet to be ironed out. There is a palpable insecurity among the minorities. One would expect that a mixed bag would result in a mixed result, albeit tilted in favour of the BJP. That it has instead delivered such a massive sweep for Mr. Modi and the BJP indicates that the former has offered to the people a nostrum that overrides and discounts these concerns, makes them forget about their distress. In 2014 he had done the same thing and had packaged it as Hope, but this time he has packaged the placebo differently- it now comes in the form of a cultural nationalism, an assertion of a new Indian identity. If you can’t give them bread, at least give them a sense of pride.
The Modi- Shah duo have single handedly replaced the idea/ideology of a humane, plural, tolerant India with an assertive, Hindu dominated, impatient, proud India which is prepared to wait another five years for the fruits of development to trickle down to it. It has worked beautifully: the BJP has won 303 seats out of 542, 31 more than last time; its vote share has gone up by almost 10%, it has made 17 states ” congress mukt” and in all probability driven Mr. Rahul Gandhi into permanent retirement. But there is a catch to this New India- it has no place for minorities, for dissent, for consensus, for independent institutions, for the impartial rule of law, for any ideology other than the BJP’s. It is an India which has given unprecedented power to one individual and has now been asked to identify itself with just this one Great Leader: ” India is Indira and Indira is India” was just a slogan, but “India is Modi and Modi is India” is a reality. It is dangerous to identify a country with just one man, for if he fails then where do we turn? Every alternative support structure would have been destroyed – ideologies, leaders, institutions- and the country would have only chaos to fall back on.
Mr. Modi is here for the next five years. He, however, now stands at a crossroad and has to choose between two paths before him: one, the high road, leads to economic development and the lifting of 200 million people out of poverty and a subsistence existence, the consolidation of health, education and agriculture, the strengthening of institutions, the assurance that all sections and communities form part of this new India, the eradication of all classes and castes, an acceptance of Kashmiris( and not just the real estate of Kashmir) as part of India. The other, the low road, leads to an aggressive assertion of a nation postulated on only one religion and ideology, a narrow concept of what constitutes nationalism, the equation of all dissent with sedition, a majoritarian democracy that denies any space to the opposition, the steam rollering of all Kashmiri sentiments as anti-national, the use of official and public institutions to further the ruling party’s political agenda, the equation of a political party with not only the government but with the country, the putting into practice Savarkar’s dictum: “Hinduise all politics, militarise all Hindudom.”
There is a very real possibility that Mr. Modi may choose the latter path because it has been carved out by the organisation that he grew up in; it is also the path he has been treading on these last five years and he may well decide that, since it has worked so well so far and has given him a renewed mandate, it is the right road to follow. As the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But this would be a mistake, for it is not the road the people of this country have given him the keys to, even though they may have temporarily bought into his heady concoction of cultural majoritarianism and masculine militarism. Cultural redefinition without economic development is not what they have voted for. They would want him to follow the high road to economic prosperity and social harmony, to lead them to a new India shorn of all the ideological and political baggage of the last seventy years, which is what he has promised them. He alone can make the choice whether he chooses to be a Moses or a Pied Piper.
He must choose wisely, for there will be no third chance for him and no second chance for India.