If anything, outcomes in the just concluded Assembly elections in five states prove that Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister, has the strongest mandate from the people all over the country. Unlike his predecessors in recent decades, he has a support-base in all parts of the country, be it the remotest areas of the North East or the Western coast or the Northern plains and mountainous regions. In every sense of the term, the mandate has been more for Modi than his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Latest elections results have proved that in this country of great diversities, there are spaces for leaders who have the nationwide appeal. In fact, Modi’s has been one of the largest mass outreaches in India’s electoral history. Modi conducted his electioneering in a presidential style. Based on his record so far as the Prime Minister, which saw him taking some strong but anti-populist measures along with many pro-poor schemes, Modi promises to be the harbinger of real changes in the Indian polity and economy.
Modi’s support-base cannot be judged strictly in terms of regional or identity politics. This base, if at all, can be judged vertically in terms of class, not of caste or creed or region. And in this class divide, it is obvious that poor, who are in a much larger number, are with Modi. As a result, Modi has made defunct the much talked- about dictum that winning elections in a state like Uttar Pradesh depended on caste or religious calculations rather than on any administrative or development agenda. Modi has proved the limitations of the often lauded identity politics of caste, creed and region. As in the 2014 General Election, the results of this round of state-elections has proved beyond any shadow of doubt that people have not voted on caste or religious lines. In fact, it appears that many Muslims, particularly the Muslim women and youth, have voted for the Modi this time. And, it is a very healthy development.
If Modi has won, it is because of his promise of empowering or aspirational politics. He has appealed to the broad, a very broad spectrum of society. And those aspirations have nothing to do with religion, caste or any other identity. People wanted a change, a change for development and better future.
In fact, soon after the victory, Modi, while addressing his party-men at the national headquarters of the BJP, talked of building a “New India” where there will be no discriminations, where all the citizens will be parts of the nation’s development and progress irrespective of their views, caste and creed. In Modi’s “New India”, poor will be “empowered” ( Modi says, rightly of course, that the poor want opportunities to work, not meagre “entitlements” delivered by populist rulers) so that “increasing burdens on the middle class” ( after all, it is the middle class which pays the most towards the nation-building) come to a halt. Modi’s “New India” will witness bold economic reforms that will include ends of the red-tapes, the licensing raj, corruption and populist measures.
In all his recent speeches Modi has been only emphasising how his government was committed to the poor of the country and how he has brought out various welfare schemes. Of course, in a country of poor, no Prime Minister can afford to annoy the poor. But then Modi has promised that he would create a situation where people do not remain poor. Modi had talked about empowering the poor, rather than sticking to the Nehruvian framework that talks of distributing only freebies to the poor in the form of one subsidy or the other, thus not attacking the very base which makes people poor.
Of course, it is not easy to move things in a country that has been strongly moulded in what is called Nehruvian framework, a framework which no BJP leader of repute had ever challenged before Modi. So much so that it was said that after Jawaharlal Nehru himself, if any Prime Minister acted to further strengthen this framework then it was none other than Atal Behari Vajpayee of the BJP! In fact, it was under Vajpayee as the founding President of the modern-day BJP in 1980 that the party incorporated the word “socialism” in its charter. Vajpayee’s “Gandhian socialism” may be argued by its present-day leaders to be akin to Deendayal Upadhaya’s “integral humanism”, but that in my opinion is not the case. They are as different as chalk and cheese.
Nehru was the father of the concept of competitive populism among the politicians who view the purpose of the economy is to generate money which they can spend as they like. In political sphere, Nehru talked of equality in abstract terms because of which merit and competence were believed to be dirty words and the so-called affirmative actions through caste-based reservations became the order of the day. Nehru’s “science” led to the neglect and eventual loss of traditional knowledge, values, and ethics of behaviour that celebrate the intrinsic value and sacredness of the natural world. Nehru’s secularism meant reforms only in the Hinduism and promotion of minoritysm. Nehru’s world view was idealism devoid of realism that led to the utter neglect of defence forces.
This is not to suggest that one is belittling Nehru and his contributions to the country. But then, in democracy that we are, Nehru’s vision cannot be the only vision or panacea to end India’s myriad ills. All told, India that still continues with Nehruvian ideas is the country where still one third of the world’s poor live. And India under the Nehruvian mould is socially much more fragmented today than what it was in 1947. Violence, crime, rape, sodomy, drunkenness and incest in the ghettoes have been on ascent in a Nehruvian India. The Nehruvian mantra all these years has been – keep the poor if not poorer, further extend state interference into the private domain, and further divide an already-divided Indian society against itself.
Modi has promised to break India from this Nehruvian mould and present us a different model of governance. The voters responded to his call for trying a Modi-model. And here, people had reposed faith in Modi, not the BJP as such as the party suffers from every ill associated with Nehurvianism. So far one does not know how Modi will be able to overcome resistance from his own party, the BJP, and the larger Sangh Parivar, which deeply resent against globalisation and liberalisation. It seems that the RSS is not fully convinced about Modi’s “Make in India” programme. I am not sure whether the RSS will approve of Modi’s “new India”. All told, the BJP in India is not a Conservative Party, even though it talks of the importance of a strong military, robust nationalism and assertive Hindu culture (most of the BJP cadres and supporters are assertive political Hindus, though some of them are also, and that is highly unfortunate, flaming bigots). On the economic front, the BJP, unlike a genuine Conservative party, believes in socialism and populism (it talks of pursuing “Gandhian Socialism”). The party has top leaders who literally hate the liberalisation of the economy and globalisation. Like the Congress, the BJP believes in glorifying the notion of “Daridra Narayan” (poor is God) and giving the poor alms of few rupees or some kilograms of grains here and there. The BJP does not advocate for creating a system with all-round development so that nobody remains poor and beggar. The BJP, like others, does not focus on empowering the poor; it, like others, wants the poor to remain poor for all time to come.
In fact, two principal challenges confronting Modi today are his own Sangh Parivar and “the Delhi establishment”, which includes Delhi bureaucracy, Delhi intelligentsia and Delhi media. Many BJP or RSS members also belong to the Delhi establishment, which, deeply committed to Nehruvianism, is yet to reconcile with what it virtually thinks to be a hostile takeover by Modi, a rank outsider. Its hostility towards Modi is going to increase in the days to come, now that he is talking of a “New India”. But, Modi is fortunate to have a nation-wide mass base that will ultimately tame his opponents, both within and outside his BJP.
By Prakash Nanda