Paradox at the heart of Modi’s victory

He promised radically new politics but resorts to the same old tactics and strategies to ensure victory

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Ajay Singh | October 20, 2014




Election results are easily open to many inferences that one draws according to one's own political assessment. The results of the Haryana and Maharashtra polls, which saw continued resurgence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are not an exception. This can be summed up as a victory of astute strategy combined with exceptional charm of an individual – prime minister Narendra Modi. Conversely, it can also be explained as an absence of a credible alternative to Modi and the BJP across the country.

Yet, politics has an uncanny tendency of concealing many imponderables which make any oversimplification redundant. There is little doubt that the BJP's victory in Maharashtra and Haryana has once again reaffirmed its unique and dominant position in Indian politics. In terms of geographical expanse, the party occupies nearly half of India. By the turn of next year, it may consolidate its position in Jharkhand and Bihar, which will go to polls.

Such a setting would enable Modi and the BJP to stand in splendid isolation and proclaim that they are masters of all that they see. And herein would arrive a situation where Modi and the BJP would be sitting atop a precarious political perch. Within less than a year, Modi would have a carte blanche which has few parallels in independent India. Having attained a position of unquestioned leadership in the saffron brotherhood, he is unlikely to be hampered by political or institutional resistances in future.

Focus would then turn exclusively to delivery. Those who have watched Modi grow in political stature can vouch for the fact that he is a leader cautious of his image. In his 12-year stint as chief minister of Gujarat, he projected himself as a strong-willed leader capable of dealing with any adversity. At the same time, he kept the state bureaucracy always on the move by organising one event after another to relate to people. His ability to reach out to people made up for any inadequacy on the delivery front. But a larger part of the mystique around his persona was built on his image of a leader beleaguered by the Congress and courts, all for wrong reasons. Now this sense of victimhood would no longer be associated with Modi.

How would Modi sustain this euphoria among voters who see him as a saviour? This question needs to be understood in the context of contours of politics which remain unchanged. Though Modi has promised to radically alter the manner in which politics is conducted in the country, he has employed the same tactics and strategies which are conventionally used by mainstream parties. In some cases, Modi and the BJP seemed to have mastered them and outmanoeuvred their rivals.

For instance, the manner in which the religious sect of Dera Sacha Sauda was roped in to support the BJP in Haryana was no different from Sonia Gandhi knocking at the doors of the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid to seek votes of a particular community. Similarly, the appearance of DP Yadav, a gangster and history-sheeter from west UP, on a BJP platform in Haryana along with BJP president Amit Shah was a familiar and conventional political tactic of winning over people on caste lines without bothering about criminality. This is the precise reason why over one-third of BJP candidates in Haryana had defected either from the Congress or Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

Though the elections in Maharashtra witnessed a high-pitched campaign against criminality and corruption, the BJP is now forced by circumstances to choose for support either Shiv Sena, infamous for running extortion rackets, or Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), accused of rampant corruption in the state. In either case, the promise of a government free of corruption and criminality would prove to be a mere rhetoric employed to win an election. A close scrutiny of the selection of candidates would expose the hollowness of the BJP’s protests against the perpetuation of a dynasty rule. The BJP has drawn enough leaders on the basis of their ancestry in the mid-level leadership, and the party appears as much in grip of dynasty as other parties.

Notwithstanding high-sounding rhetoric of taking Mother India to new glory, the crux of the matter is that the basic features of the BJP's politics are not very dissimilar to those of the Congress. Perhaps, an apt description would be to call the BJP a new Congress, which retained all its characteristics of the party of principal pole. It employs all tactics of statecraft to win elections and never hesitates in co-opting those whose conduct violates established moral and ethical behaviour.

Given the fact that Modi has captured people’s imagination, he is not seen as a conventional politician. His mandate also reflects people’s aspiration for an unconventional approach to the issues of governance and politics. So far, Modi has shown a remarkable urgency in diagnosing the chronic disease that afflicts governance and polity, though he is yet to create a new antidote. Continuing with the same medicine would make things worse.

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