Indian Electorates are now matured

Manchester-based Dr Kailash Chand OBE is the Vice-Chair of Indo-UK Forum, Chair of Health-watch, Tameside. Dr Chand is the first Asian Deputy chair of British Medical Association (BMA).

 modiNarendra Modi, the current poster boy of the Indian polity, has cast to the winds all prognoses about the outcome of the recently concluded general elections. Instead of a projected fractured mandate, 830 million voters spoke unequivocally to give a definitive message in favour of good times.

Various astute psephologists and political pundits, who forcefully argued in support of their diverse conclusions about the possible scores of different parties, were widely off the mark. It is a tribute to Indian democracy, that an inconsequential tea-vending lad of the yester years, who subsequently ran away from home to become an ascetic, should have arrived on the scene like a colossus, to invigorate a supine Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and staked claim to head the government of the country.

Travelling through several hundred thousand kilometers, Modi addressed about 450 rallies, over a period extending more than a month. Supported by a dedicated team of back-room boys, he employed technology to simultaneously forge personal bonds with the masses in far flung places, during his interactive sessions over a cup of tea, popularly called: ’chaay par charchaa’.

He forced his opponents to discuss the Gujarat model of development, instead of their favourite refrain of harping on the ghost of 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. The rise of this former RSS cadet is peppered with controversies and conquests. Narendra Modi has undoubtedly been the most demonised Indian political leader in the living memory, for all kinds of imagined wrongs, none of which has stood any scrutiny, judicial or otherwise. Rightly or wrongly, he has come to acquire an image and persona that thrills many but also deters certain others. As Prime Minister now, it is to be expected that he puts the politician behind and lets the statesman rise

His sartorial tastes, impeccable turn-out, combined with a distinctive sing-song style of delivery, laced with barbs aimed at his opponents, won him a huge fan-following, particularly among the youth of all shades. If personal scores are any indicators, Modi contested from two constituencies – Vadodara, in his home state Gujarat and from Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh – defeating both rivals by huge margins without addressing even a single election rally in both constituencies. He created a new record of trouncing his Congress rival in Vadodara by a margin of 570 thousand votes. Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party was simply inundated by the Modi avalanche and the voters did not have to think twice.

The heads of state around the world, including President Obama, have hailed the arrival of Narendra Modi and have invited him to visit their respective countries. Modi’s election has been hailed in the US as an epochal democratic experiment. Only Pakistan sounds apprehensive. The euphoria over the massive win has its dangers. The challenge before Modi now is to live up to the expectations he has aroused at home and abroad.

The BJP leadership was guarded when expressing their fond hopes of kissing the halfway mark of 272, on their own. So, when their final tally reached 282 and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) notched up 336, all were pleasantly surprised. Moreover, none of the worthies had anticipated that all parties in opposition, including the Congress, would fail miserably and be denied even the consolation of being designated as the opposition party. The Congress party, the single largest party on the losing side, with 44 MPs (19.4 per cent votes), is woefully short of the required number, one tenth of 543 members of parliament. After this unprecedented drubbing, the Congress party went through the motions of self- introspection, without really turning the mirror inwards. It is high time the party moved away from the dynastic politics and groomed its many bright younger leaders to remain in picture.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) of Mayawati is out for a duck, the Samajwadi Party (SP) of Mulayam Singh Yadav, currently ruling UP, won only 5 seats for 4 members of his family. In Bihar, the Janta Dal United (JDU) of Nitish Kumar, with 2 MPs and RJD of Lalu Yadav, with 4 MPs, are smarting under the pain of losing several prestigious contests.  All these parties had been thriving on identity politics; playing one community/ caste against another. That for a change, the Indian electorate voted for development and good governance, is evident from the convincing victories of the regional satraps like J. Jayalalithaa, in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee, in West Bengal and Naveen Patnayak, in Odisha, who have administered well in their respective states. The Modi phenomenon made no perceivable dent in these three states. However, the BJP can now claim to be a pan India party, having created niches for themselves in the southern and north-eastern parts.

It is worry some that in the 16th Indian parliament Muslim members of parliament constitute the lowest percentage ever; even Shahnawaz Hussain of the BJP lost in his home borough. However, the silver lining in this glum-looking scenario of the one-sided victory of the NDA in Uttar Pradesh (73 of 80) and in Bihar (31 of 40), is that more Muslims voted for development instead of the usual narrow communal considerations. Several exit polls showed that 1 in 10 Muslim voters nationwide favoured the NDA; which is an all time high. Similarly, the Hindu voters, who were traditionally truncated into castes, ethnic groups, social categories, etc, were consolidated by the movement for corruption- free governance, spear headed by the yoga guru Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, et al.  Thus both major religious groups shall expect Modi government to deliver inclusive growth of all segments of the society, as promised by the slogan: ‘good times are ahead’. This marks a tectonic shift in the Indian political firmament. As such, the over whelming mandate in favor of the BJP should not be misinterpreted as the restoration of the old narrow creed of ‘Hindutva’, although some jarring noises would be heard occasionally.

The unambiguous mandate in this election does not leave any elbow room for Modi to take cover behind the excuse of coalition compulsions, which crippled Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. In Gujarat, he used motivation and functional autonomy to hold the bureaucracy accountable. That he intends to use the same formula as the Prime Minister, is evident from the fact that even before formally taking over charge, he has asked the top bureaucrats in Delhi to identify 4 or 5 objectives that could be achieved by them in the coming years. Besides, Modi is likely to devise ways to enlist the active support of the common man in the task of national development. He frequently exhorted people to march together, step by step, for self-improvement and contribute their mite for building a strong nation which will be treated on equal footing by the international community. His recent public utterances make it amply clear that his sights are set for the coming ten years and not just the 60 months he asked for in his election rallies. Modi has to either perform or perish. To succeed, he  has to devise new equations to develop camaraderie between the centre and the states to strengthen the federal structure. His acumen for catering to diverse interests of the Chief Ministers, shall be thoroughly tested in the coming months.

I see Modi as an extraordinarily ambitious man, quite ruthless in the pursuit of his ambition. However, he would do well to remember that with power comes not only authority but enormous responsibility. The so-called “Gujarat model” of development means a focus on infrastructure, urbanization and eradicating red tape. To attract participation of the developed world – a much needed tonic, for a country ranked 179th in the world by the World Bank in terms of ease of starting a business – India needs to pull up its socks. We are waiting to see Modi do the trick!!