Monday, 14 October 2019

The Modi-Juggernaut

Updated: May 31, 2019 12:45 pm

It is always a nice feeling when one’s thesis gets vindicated.  In my last column in these pages, I had argued how based on my interactions with people from different  strata of the society in different parts of the country, the undercurrent was for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) would get 300 seats on its own, let alone the National Democratic Alliance(NDA). The BJP has, indeed,  gone beyond expectations by bagging three more seats; it has got 303 seats in what is going to be the 17th Lok Sabha. The NDA’s overall tally is 353.

Modi now has become second Prime Minister of India after Jawaharlal Nehru to retain power at the Centre, with a single party winning full majority for both the terms. But, what is more notable is the fact that it is first time in the history of democracy or democratic rule in the world, repeat in the world, that a leader has been elected  through the biggest democratic exercise(elections) ever. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which spanned over six weeks, registered the highest ever voter turnout in the history of parliamentary elections. 67.11 per cent of more than 900 million eligible voters exercised their franchise in India.

Viewed dispassionately, the just concluded elections were not fought on the bases of ideologies, policies and programmes. Well, the BJP and Congress issued their respective manifestoes.  The opposition pointed out that the Modi government did not do anything over the last 5 years. On its part, the BJP pointed out how people were benefitted by its social and economic policies. However, all this paled before one theme – Modi’s leadership. The entire electioneering centered around  “Modi-hatao vs Modi- phir ekbar” ( Remove Modi vs Another term for Modi) theme. It was a virtual referendum on Modi. And the Prime Minister won emphatically and decisively.

Though we have a parliamentary form of government, Modi, as in 2014, literally led a “Presidential -style campaign” all over the country. In between March 28 and may 17, Modi addressed 130 odd public rallies all over the country. On an average, the  68-year old Prime Minister  managed to address two rallies this time; in fact, there were  days when he has addressed three rallies in more than one state. Arguably, his was one of the largest mass outreach in India’s electoral history. Seen that way, the fact that he received a massive mandate made it imperative that Modi was the people’s choice to lead the country. He is the people’s choice as the Prime Minister in a country whose parliamentary democratic system otherwise envisages that he or she who is elected by the majority of the elected Members of the 545-member of the Lok Sabha(Lower House of the Indian Parliament) is invited by the President to take oath as the Prime Minister. In fact, it will not be wrong to say that broadly the Indians voted directly for Modi, not necessarily for his Bharatiya Janata Party. 

It is simply outlandish  to say that the Electronic Voting Systems(EVM) benefitted Modi. The  21 opposition parties ,led by Congress, who during and after the elections had made EVM and VVPAT a big issue, did not explain how the Congress had won the three last Assembly elections in  Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan through the same EVMs.  They insisted that all the EVM votes should be tally with VVPAT. But the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission of India to count votes on VVPAT in each assembly segment of the Lok Sabha constituency by randomly  selecting five machines. The Election Commission now says that  it put over 20000 VVPAT for matching the EVM votes but not a single case of mismatching of vote counting was found.  So the doubts and allegation of tempering of EVM or VVPAT of opposition parties have proved wrong. India’s electoral process is transparent as ever.

It is under Modi that the BJP has rewritten the political theory in India as far as the country’s party system is concerned. He has successfully proved now twice that though one may lead a coalition government, it is stronger and more stable when the coalition’s  lead-constituent has the majority on its own. Similarly, Modi has made the political scientists the world over to review the existing theories that explain Indian politics. Modi has proved the limitations of the often lauded identity politics of caste, creed and region. The results of this election have proved beyond any shadow of doubt that people have not necessarily voted on caste  or religion lines. That explains the dismal performances of the likes of Mayawati,  Akhilesh  Yadav and  Lalu Yadav.  

Indian democracy will be much stronger if one votes as an Indian, not as a member of a particular caste or religion. Unfortunately the dominant sections within the Indian polity, and this includes its intelligentsia, glorify the identity politics. For instance, if Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits vote as a block, they laud the phenomenon as consolidation for their respective rights. If somebody opposes this trend, he or she is branded as communal. In my considered view, in the last two general elections, people at large have rejected this phenomenon and its champions. And for this, Modi deserves plaudits since he is the only politician who talks of “Sabka Saath and Sabka Vikas”(after his victory, he has now added to earn “Sabka Viswas”).  

In 2014, the habitual Modi-critics said  that nearly 70 percent of Indians did not have faith in India’s new Prime Minister. They argued  that the BJP got 31 percent votes in the 2014 elections. But in so doing, they  badly exposed their moral bankruptcy.  For one, it was misleading because they were  not taking into account the vote share of the NDA as a whole that fought under Modi. The NDA got more than 39 percent of popular votes.  For another, the Modi-bashers were not saying which government of India had majority support of the voters in the past.  In fact, no government in India has ever got 50 percent votes of the electorate; not even the one under Rajiv Gandhi, despite the extraordinary sympathy vote for his mother’s assassination in 1984.Rajiv had got about 49 percent of votes of the 65 percent of the electorate who exercised their voting rights. In the 2009 elections, the Congress had got only 29 percent of the total votes polled, with the UPA getting 31.5 percent votes overall.

However, this time, these Modi-critics will have not much to further their cause. BJP alone has got nearly 40 percent votes, and if that of the allies are added then the NDA got more than 44 percent of the polled votes. One of the striking features of the victory, which highlights the scale of the mandate for the BJP-led NDA, is that there are 16 states and Union territories where the party alone has got nearly 50% or more vote share. In states such as Maharashtra and Bihar, NDA got more than 50% of the votes polled. In Uttar Pradesh , the party got 49.7 percent votes over all, but in more than 40 constituencies it got more than 52 percent votes, thus demolishing the caste arithmetic of the Samajwadi-BSP alliance. The number of seats that BJP has won with margins of more than 20 percentage points in key battleground states such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh has also risen, data shows.  The date also shows the same trend nationally. While in 2014 BJP won 120 seats with a margin of above 20 percentage points, this figure shot up to 151 in this election.

This writer is personally opposed to the existing first-post-system, which has immensely benefitted all those believing in identity politics. Its advocates have justified all these years that the system is the best safeguard against majoritarianism. As a result, leaders and parties have done spectacularly well by mobilizing their respective vote banks of Muslims, Yadavas and Dalits etc. Because, under this system, even if you get 20 percent of votes, you can have a huge majority in the legislatures, something the likes of Mayawati and Mulayam have done a number of times. If you build your vote-bank, you can safely discard the voices of the rest of the polity. Such a system will not make him or her accountable as long as he or she has the support of a particular community intact. He or she will simply not bother about what the overwhelming majority of his or her constituency demands. In fact, he or she simply does not need to care about their sensitivity. That is why one sees how Mayawati , who despite being widely perceived to be the queen of corruption, dreams of becoming the Prime Minister of coalition-government.  She  openly said that that she was  not bothered about anybody as long as Muslims, Yadavs and Dalits were with her.

Therefore, this writer is in favour of a systemic change of having two rounds of elections as in France, if the winner does not get more than 50 percent votes – the second round is between the top two candidates of the first round – so that the victor will be having more than 50 percent of the votes. That is true democracy for me, because here a victor has to talk of taking everybody or every community along; he or she cannot afford to shed his or her crocodile tears of one or two communities. And if this change is made in India’s electoral system, then one can bet that the likes of Modi will do much better electorally and those like Lalu, Mamata, Mayawati and Akhilesh will close their shops.  The same will be the case of other parties that are critically dependent on Muslim votes as a block. The Indian Democracy will be stronger and more vibrant in the process.

By Prakash Nanda (prakash.nanda@hotmail.com)

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