May 16th, 2014 was the day when India gave a clear mandate to Modi’s BJP. I say, Modi’s BJP and not just BJP because it’s abundantly clear that this is his achievement, whether you agree with him or not. BJP is the first non-Congress party to gain an absolute majority in the Indian parliament (282 seats). The enormity of this result can only be felt after two and half decades of coalition governments.
My experience of witnessing Indian politics, as far as I remember, has always been that of coalition governments. Witnessing the frequent fall of governments especially of the Vajpayee government in 1998 by a single vote after Jayalalitha’s AIADMK pulled support, was a particular low point. In that respect, I’m glad some party has won a clear mandate and doesn’t have to indulge in horse trading with minor regional parties just to govern. Better still, it’s not Congress. It also puts the onus and responsibility on the BJP to govern and own responsibility followed by credit or blame depending on the outcome. Coalitions sometimes act like an effective checks and balances within the government although progress on legislation is slower. But this time around, BJP doesn’t even need to rely on its pre-poll partners like Shiv Sena and TDP which received the second-highest and third-highest seats within the NDA. Basically, it has the mandate to do whatever it believes in; Rajya Sabha dissent notwithstanding.
However, more than the joy about BJP winning an absolute majority, I think almost everyone is overjoyed that the Congress has been dealt such a humiliating blow. It won only 44 seats, the lowest it has ever since India won independence. Personally, more than Modi or the BJP winning, I am more glad about Rahul Gandhi and his sycophantic ilk been booted out. Congress has been responsible for untold economic damage for India. Seven times, it won more seats than BJP did this time, including Rajiv Gandhi’s thumping 404-seat majority in 1984 but India’s economic growth was perennially stagnant. Imagine having that mandate seven times and doing almost nothing to grow India’s economy!
So is it all joy and happiness? Unfortunately nope. This was how I felt after hearing the result:
What problem do I have with Modi? Well, of course, there is that whole post-Godra thing but that’s not the only thing. If it was, then I would have a problem with almost every politician/party in India. My fears are generally more about the tolerance for dissent and respect for democratic values. More on that later. But first on the most obvious and talked-about criticism. His lack of respect for India’s largest minority i.e. the Muslims seems to derive from the few extremist and violent representatives/incidents. Most Muslims I know or even the ones you know have been extremely distrustful of any government because of institutional discrimination. So for any politician to openly neglect them, makes them even more fearful.
It’s akin to Republicans in the U.S. exhorting African Americans to work harder when in fact the things that are holding them back are systemic poverty and institutional discrimination that needs to be addressed first. Modi may not have been directly responsible for the post-Godra riots but his stubborn refusal to even address much less apologize for the horrific incidents that occurred on his watch speaks volumes. You may argue that the Gandhis never apologized for the 1984 riots. Well, that’s one of the reason why we and most of all, Sikhs still hate them. Do we really want to excuse Modi’s behavior by comparing him with the Gandhis when in fact, his stature is based on being everything that the Gandhis are not? Moreover, Modi’s control over Gujarat is considered complete. Almost nothing happens without his consent or rather nothing happens if he doesn’t permit it to happen. This has worked great when it comes to ensuring good governance and strict adherence to rules. But on the flip side, to keep the base happy, he may have let them run amok for a few days just so that “Muslims could be taught a lesson”.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke.
It’s a very primal power move. Bal Thackeray used it adroitly in Mumbai so that’s why he is either revered or passionately hated in Mumbai (I’m belong to the latter, if you had any doubts). Anyway, I remain suspicious but I will not brand him guilty because the courts haven’t found him as such. It’s just like, I wouldn’t trust a black teenage male to be around George Zimmerman.
For the long term, all I ask is for a honest and open debate on addressing the numerous inequalities in Indian society and making opportunity equal across all strata of society. But of course, for that to happen, the deep-rooted bigotry and distrust for Muslims among most Hindus must be addressed. Otherwise they’ll continue voting in people who send out religion-based dog whistles. Dissent is something that’s not easily tolerated in India and even more so among right-wing groups like the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
In Maharashtra, we’ve had more experience with the Shiv Sena. If you agree with all their views, you’re their best friend and they’ll pull all stops to ensure you get your way. But express dissent or even disagree a little, they’ll make your life hell. That’s why even Shekhar Suman during the height of his ‘Movers and Shakers’ popularity never dared mock Bal Thackeray. Nikhil Wagle got his offices burnt for publishing dissent in his newspaper. So you can imagine the state of the common citizen. After all can we blame people if they value their life and property over political opinion.
Similarly for people who hold views similar to Modi, he’s the perfect solution for India. But a little criticism and you can see him bristle and his online hordes, most of them who ironically live in the U.S. are more than willing to rip you a new one. For me, more than him, it’s his impassioned supporters who see him do no wrong that scare me.
But that may be the worst case scenario and Modi may simply choose to act in his self-interest, like most politicians do, and focus on development and rein in his supporters on the religion aspect. For India’s sake, let’s hope he focuses on fixing the various economic problems that plague India and hopefully work with the U.S. on raising India’s profile on the world stage.