If one combines the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Modi’s landslide victory in the Indian elections it becomes clear that the situation and luck favoured him despite issues which could have eroded his popularity
The debate about BJP’s landslide victory in the Indian general elections raises two major questions: how Narendra Modi, known for his communal and Hindu nationalistic rhetoric, was able to get a second term and why the majority of Indian voters elected the ultra-right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally, Shiv Sena? One needs to contemplate the reasons behind Modi’s return to power.
In an article, The Modi Mystery by Sumit Ganguly, Hamanshu Jha and Rahul Mukerjee published in Foreign Policy magazine of May 25 issue the authors argued that, "by many measures, Narendra Modi shouldn’t have won another term as prime minister. Yet citizens nevertheless voted in droves to give Modi another term -- victory made all the more remarkable by the fact that, in India, incumbent governments typically lose."
The question how Modi swept the Indian general elections needs to be responded in two ways. First, the election campaign of BJP and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) outmatched the Congress Party and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The excessive use of social and electronic media to influence 900 million Indian voters, particularly those belonging to the youths worked.
The images of Modi’s campaign and the slogans which were used by BJP and NDA leaders were able to reach out to the majority of Indian voters. Modi turned out to be a better option than meek, docile and submissive Rahul. Second, the support from the corporate sector, which BJP got in the form of huge financial contributions also made a difference in tilting Indian voters in favour of Modi. His effective use of Hindu nationalism card; patriotism following Pulwama and Balakot episodes and manipulating national security syndrome also made things favourable for BJP.
The fact that BJP got more seats in 2019 than in 2014 elections proved the theory wrong that the silent majority of Indian voters will not give Modi another chance because of dismal economic performance; surge of communal violence, particularly against Muslims; currency demonetisation in 2016 causing enormous hardships for people, tax on goods and services in 2017 and the rise in unemployment didn’t negatively impact on the result of Indian elections.
It means, regardless of economic hardships and unrest among farmers because of the failure of Modi regime to ameliorate their socio-economic conditions, the majority of Indian voters sided with the BJP. In 2019 elections, the voter’s turnout was more than 60 percent out of which BJP secured 37.4 percent and Congress 19.5 percent of votes. The BJP has got sufficient seats to form government on its own and can easily implement its election manifesto regardless of implications.
Why BJP secured landslide victory despite the assumption that it may either lose or will get a fragile majority needs to be analysed in some detail. One can contemplate three reasons about the ‘why’ factor. First, the transformation of secular Indian nationalism to Hindu Indian nationalism propagated during the last tenure of BJP. That 80 percent of Hindu population were given by Narendra Modi and other BJP/Shiv Sena diehards an identity, pride and a sense of direction. Equating nationalism with Hindutva was the age-old dream of those ultra-right groups in India who called secularism a failed ideology.
An Indian voter was not concerned with economic hardships or communal violence against religious minorities, particularly Muslims by fanatic Hindus but was more interested in finding a solace in BJP’s slogan of Hinduisation of India. Modi clearly stated that India needs to emancipate itself from 1,000 years of foreign rule: 900 years of Muslim and 100 years of British rule. The rise of Hindu nationalism advocated not inclusiveness but exclusiveness of those who followed a different religion and culture.
Second, unlike Congress which followed a dynastic approach, BJP advocated a strong leadership not based on family fiefdom. Rahul’s lack of charisma and leadership qualities to transform India as a world power and protect the country from illegal immigration and the so-called terrorist threats, provided enormous space to BJP which followed a clear vision about the country despite criticism that it divides, instead of uniting the people of India.
The mystery of Modi’s landslide victory is, however, not difficult to gauge. It can be found in the changed culture of India today which considers Hindu religion as a uniting force despite its deep-rooted caste system. The argument that Hindus of India were under a foreign rule for 1,000 years was able to mesmerise the mind of an ordinary Hindu Indian.
Third, a BJP voter belonging to a moderate segment of party may have hoped that if elected for a second term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may behave in a different way by abandoning the hawkish and chauvinistic tactic vis-à-vis religious minorities; may be more reasonable by dealing with his Western neighbour Pakistan and transforming his approach on Jammu & Kashmir by preferring to use soft power in order to deal with popular uprising, particularly by the Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley.
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Such hopes may be a wishful thinking given the track record of Modi since he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat till be became Prime Minister of India as a hardline Hindu nationalist making the lives of religious minorities miserable.
If one combines ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Modi’s landslide victory in the Indian elections it becomes clear that the situation and luck favoured him despite issues which could have eroded his popularity. But, if Modi behaves in the same manner as he was during his first term as Prime Minister, India will be destabilised and eventually disintegrate because India as a country with strong traditions of political pluralism and democracy cannot afford to be transformed into a Hindu state.
Imposing an ideology by propagating hate and violence against religious minorities, including Sikhs; permanent confrontation with Pakistan and keeping J&K by force will definitely make things difficult for Modi. His speech which he delivered on May 25 in which he called to dispel insecurity prevailing among religious minorities may be a positive sign but his 100 days in power will prove whether he will go for inclusive or exclusive India.