If there is an element of surprise in the eventual outcome of the 16th Lok Sabha elections, it lies not in the fact that the BJP is going to head the next government but in the kind of majority that the NDA has secured. The BJP securing a clear majority on its own and adding nearly 100 seats to its previous best tally is surely more than what most opinion polls and exit polls predicted.
Only ten years ago we had seen an NDA government get voted out in India. That was when the NDA claimed Indians were ‘feeling good’ even as tens of thousands of farmers committed suicides across India and the lives of thousands of Muslim families were devastated in BJP-ruled Gujarat. The Gujarat genocide and the man who presided over it were counted among the principal factors responsible for that ‘shock’ defeat suffered by a complacent BJP/NDA.
If ten years later the current elections have catapulted the same Narendra Modi who now promises to be the harbinger of ‘better days’ to the Prime Minister’s chair in Delhi, the irony tells us a lot about the immediate situation and the developing context as well as the peculiarities of the Indian electoral system.
Massive corruption, soaring prices, vanishing jobs and irresponsible and unresponsive governance had become the hallmarks of the UPA government, especially in the last few years, and we could see the severity of the people’s anger against the Congress/UPA misrule in the results of the Assembly elections held in November and December. It was clear that in large parts of the country the BJP was destined to be the most dominant beneficiary of that anger and consequent desire for change.
The spectacular rise of the AAP in Delhi did provide a glimpse of a popular quest for change beyond the BJP, but the way Kejriwal and his team resigned after just seven weeks took the AAP out of most middle class minds, and once Kejriwal started questioning the Modi-Ambani-Adani nexus, the corporate media’s dalliance with the AAP was all but over. Thereafter the Modi marketing mission virtually took over the mainstream political discourse and the results are now here before all of us.
The Modi campaign tapped the depth of the public despair and sold hopes of good times. Questions regarding Modi’s past record were brushed aside as an obstinate obsession with the past and Modi was presented as the fast forward call of the future. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s arrogant ‘tea seller’ comment or Priyanka Gandhi’s ill-advised ‘neech rajneeti’ remark were all lapped up and used to the hilt by Modi to highlight his OBC origin.
And of course there was the systematic use of communal venom – whether it was Amit Shah invoking Muzaffarnagar for ‘revenge’ or demonising Azamgarh as a den of terrorists or Giriraj asking Modi baiters to go to Pakistan or Modi himself asking Bangladeshis to pack up or attributing the issue of poaching of rhinos in Assam to a grand conspiracy of settling Bangladeshi immigrants and benefiting from ‘votebank politics’. This has played no small role in the BJP’s electoral mobilisation.
The BJP victory has also benefited immensely from the inherent imbalance of the first-past-the-post system. The BJP’s current vote share of 31% – phenomenal going by the BJP’s past record and considering that it has got votes from across the country including 15% from West Bengal and 10% from Kerala – which has fetched it more than 280 seats is actually 3 percentage points less than the Congress vote share in 1977 when the Congress got routed almost everywhere beyond the southern states! The BSP with 20% vote share has drawn a blank in UP as has the AAP in Delhi with 31% vote. The DMK and its allies in Tamil Nadu also failed to win a single seat despite a vote share of 27% while the Left Front got just 2 seats in West Bengal with 30% vote. It is time to reform the electoral system and introduce aspects of proportional representation as in neighbouring Nepal if not effect a complete shift to a proportional system based on the party vote as in many European countries.
The verdict has challenged and dented several myths and conventional wisdom. The Congress which now stands reduced to less than 50 seats will have to find ways to re-energise, if not reinvent itself, even though the question of finding a non-dynastic cementing factor has perhaps been deferred for a while with both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi retaining their traditional seats. The hypotheses about the supposed inevitability of coalitions and invincibility of identity politics have also proved to be overrated. The Nitish Kumar plank of trying to create an overarching politics of sub-nationalism or ‘Bihari identity’ has failed miserably. With 4 seats and 2% vote share, AAP’s debut parliamentary election has been significant in its own right, but certainly a massive climb-down from its initial claims of 100 seats and no government at the centre without AAP!
The CPI(M) and CPI attempts at winning seats and intervening in national politics through the ‘third front’ route have also reached a dead end. The conventional script of a Left revival in West Bengal, banking on the Congress-TMC split and the assumption of a rising BJP eating into the TMC vote, has not come good and the Left Front has clearly lost sizable chunks of vote to both TMC and even the BJP. We in CPI(ML) are also faced with the challenge of raising our level of electoral assertion by expanding our pockets of work and influence and backing them up with greater interaction and vigorous intervention in the wider democratic arena.
Going by the central slogan of the Modi campaign, the coming days are promised to be ‘good times’. The corporate houses who have lavishly funded the Modi campaign will surely insist on quick paybacks and a freer run and greater control over the country’s natural and financial resources along the lines already seen in Modi’s Gujarat. The RSS, the organisation which even the BJP now openly admits has played a huge role in managing the BJP’s election machinery, will also have a wider role in the affairs of the NDA-III government. And finally there is the whole question of how the Modi phenomenon will unfold.
The personality cult and the authoritarian mode of the Modi brand of governance – the systematic stifling and even physical elimination of every voice of dissent within or outside of the establishment – which Gujarat has been experiencing and which will now be sought to be replicated nationally along with other core features of the ‘Gujarat model’ will pose a whole new challenge to democracy as we have known it so far in India. There are already some reports of attacks on minorities and opposition parties. In other words, the ‘good times’ promised in the Modi campaign will turn out to be ‘difficult days’ and ‘challenging times’ for the Indian people and India’s parliamentary democracy.
The corporate media has already proved its readiness to crawl even before it is asked to bend. During the dark days of Emergency, the state had imposed censorship on the media, what we see now is ‘voluntary censorship’ choreographed by ‘invisible’ corporate-controlled strings. It remains to be seen how far the institutional edifice of India’s constitutional order can assert its independence in the face of systematic subversion and manipulation. But at the end of the day India has always defied regimentation and stagnation, and the Indian people will surely not allow democracy to be transformed into Modicracy.