Modi’s Politics Of Demystification
Years ago, when I was working for a leading newspaper of the country, the proprietor, in one of his interactions with senior editorial staffers, had highlighted the importance of “demystification”. The proprietor, who is arguably a rare genius among the media moguls of the world, was of the view that as a country becomes more and more democratic and if the country’s demography is increasingly in favour of the below 30-age group, the readers will invariably question the commonly held beliefs and hero-worshiping. They will love to demystify the aura built around a person or institution. Applying this theory to understand the Indian polity today, I think Prime Minister Narendra Modi, if the results of the just concluded elections in Haryana and Maharashtra are yet another indication, is the best practitioner of “demystification politics”.
Take the case of Haryana, where Modi led the campaign. Its politics had been totally dominated by Jats as a caste or community. In fact, except under Bhajan Lal, who was the chief minister for 11 years under three different terms, Haryana, which was created as a separate state in 1967, has had Jats as chief ministers (save brief rules of Banarasi Das Gupta here and there). Haryana politics was under the serious influence of the families of Bansi Lal, Devi Lal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda, all Jats. Viewed thus, the BJP under Modi has done something remarkable. From being an also-run party in the previous assembly elections, and that too in alliance with either the party of Devi Lal or of Bhajan Lal, the BJP this time fought alone and attained a majority on its own. Going by the Indian Express newspaper, the BJP received the smallest share of the Jat vote: only 17 per cent as compared to the 42 per cent that went to the Lok Dal of Om Prakash Chautala (son of late Devi Lal), 24 per cent to the Congress, and 27 per cent to others. In a four-cornered contest, the BJP, with 47 seats in 90-member assembly, secured altogether 33.2 percent of votes.
Now let us come to Maharashtra whose capital Mumbai, India’s most cosmopolitan city, also happens to be the financial capital of the country. The state has thrown a hung assembly, with no single party crossing the half way mark in a House of 288. But then the Modi-led BJP has emerged as the single largest party with 123 seats, falling short by 22 seats to form a government on its own. But what is important to note is that the BJP is the only non-Congress party which has crossed the 100- mark in the history of Maharashtra as a separate state since 1960. In fact, since 1995, no party, including the Congress, had exceeded the 100-mark, thereby making a coalition government the norm in the state. Secondly, the BJP was always the fourth player in the state—the first three being the Congress, Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The alliances were between the Congress and NCP (in power since 1999) on the one hand and Shiv Sena and the BJP on the other. In other words, from being the fourth-ranked player in Maharashtra politics, the BJP under Modi is now the number one in the state. The BJP received 29.1 per cent votes, followed by the Shiv Sena with 19.4 per cent votes. This vote-share is all the more impressive, given the fact that all the four major parties in the state contested alone in most of the assembly segments. In that sense, the votes garnered by a party should be evaluated in terms of support it got; it should not be explained by the percentage of the people not voting for it. For instance, a person voting for the Congress should not be seen necessarily as voting against the BJP; that, to me, is a simplistic way of looking at things, particularly when all the major players are contesting individually.
In my considered opinion, Modi’s demystification-politics has hurt the Shiv Sena and its supreme leader Uddhav Thakrey the most. In a sense, it was the repeat of the general elections in May. That time, the demystification politics had completely destroyed the former Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal, which was the senior partner of the BJP in Bihar for long years. The alliance between the Shiv Sena and BJP was 25 year-old. In this alliance, the BJP, as in Bihar, was the junior partner. The alliance had done spectacularly well in May national elections. But on the eve of the assembly elections, the alliance broke down.
In Bihar, the alliance between the Janata Dal and BJP had broken down over Modi’s candidature as the Prime Minister. Nitish, the senior partner of the alliance in Bihar, virtually dictated to the BJP that it should project any leader other than Modi as the Prime Minister of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in India’s 16th general elections. Nitish’s was a competent and relatively lesser corrupt government in Bihar, one of India’s most important states politically. His threat to leave the NDA was ominous in the sense that the BJP would lose not only a long lasting partner led by a very “popular” chief minister but would also discourage other potential allies in joining the NDA to fight a well entrenched United Progressive Alliance(UPA) led by the Congress party that was ruling India since 2004. But Modi dared to demystify the Nitish phenomenon. The alliance broke down. Had it been alive, the BJP would have been given at the most by Nitish’s Janata Dal 15 parliamentary seats, leaving for itself the rest 25 (Bihar sends 40 members to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament). But BJP now contested majority of the seats, leaving few to some new allies. The results were spectacular. Nitish, the strongman, fell by the way side, notwithstanding all his bravado. Predictably, Nitish tendered his resignation and now his party-led government is critically dependent on the support of another party led by his erstwhile principal political opponent Lalu Yadav. But that is a different story.
Similarly, in this round of Assembly elections, Uddhav Thackrey has been demystified. He overestimated himself, when he refused to give the BJP even 127 seats to contest as a junior partner. Udhav wanted the chief ministership too. But that would have been possible if the coalition with the BJP was intact. But now, the BJP, contesting alone, has got nearly double the seats that the Sena has got. Of course, this alliance, unlike the one between Janata Dal and BJP in Bihar, is not fully dead, and it is a matter of time before the Sena mends its fences with the BJP to rule Maharashtra in coalition. After all, the Sena’s representative is still in Modi’s cabinet at Delhi, and the two parties remain partners at municipal levels throughout the state and rule many of them, including the Mumbai municipality, whose annual budget, incidentally, is higher than the annual budgets of many Indian states. But the important point here is that by demystifying Uddhav Thackrey, Modi has ensured a change of roles: now the BJP is the senior partner in Maharashtra and that at least for a decade or so Uddhav has to forget about becoming Maharashtra’s chief minister.
By the way, Modi’s politics of demystification is not limited to personalities such as Nitish, Uddhav or for that matter his own party seniors like L K Advani and M M Joshi. Modi has demystified also some standard theories that were hitherto explaining Indian politics. Modi has proved once again the limitations of the often lauded (but perverse in reality) identity politics of caste, religion and region. The results of the elections in Haryana and Maharashtra have proved beyond any shadow of doubt that people have not voted necessarily on caste and regional lines. People, as in the national elections in May, continue to repose faith in Modi who talks about the safety, security and development for all Indians. They find Modi aspirational. They have rejected the sop politics—distributing largesse in cash and kind in the name of helping the poor. On the other hand, the poor, both in the urban and rural areas, seem to have reposed faith in Modi by discarding the politics of glorification of poverty. Modi has made them to realise that they need to be empowered so that they can overcome poverty, not remain perennially poor to receive the government’s alms and act as vote-bank of the ruling parties.
In sum, Modi is winning elections because of his promise of empowering or aspirational politics. In the process, he is demystifying Indian politics and politicians.
By Prakash Nanda