Modi’s landslide victory and implications

By Asif Haroon Rajamoddi

Staunch Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi propelled his right-wing fascist party BJP to a stunning electoral triumph on May 16, 2014, with the biggest winning margin any government in India has enjoyed in the last three decades. BJP traces its roots to Bharatiya Jana Sangh, established in 1951, as a political wing of RSS. In 1967, BJP gained substantial foothold in Hindi speaking regions of northern India. BJP firmly established itself under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1980. In 1984, the BJP won only two seats and in 1991 with 117 seats it formed governments in four states. Demolition of Babri mosque and deaths of over 1000 Muslims by RSS fanatics in December 1992 undermined the popularity of BJP. To rebuild its image, BJP leaders undertook series of Rath Yatras, in which Hindu god Rama was invoked as a symbol of cultural renaissance. In 1996, BJP emerged as the single largest party but failing to muster required majority, it collapsed. In 1999, BJP won 182 seats and formed a government with its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) consisting of 20 parties. It lost to Congress led UPA in 2004 and could bag only 137 seats. BJP’s tally went down to 116 seats in 2009 elections.

Sudden meteoric rise of BJP in 2014 exceeded all forecasts made before and during the phased elections. In the backdrop of Modi’s blemished past, most predicted a narrow win for BJP but with 31% vote share, it bagged 282 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, allowing it to form a government on its own strength without crutches provided by any other party.  With its allies in NDA including Shev Sena, it has mustered 336 seats giving it an overwhelming majority. Surprisingly, the BJP secured more seats in communal prone States but didn’t fare that well in communal-free States.

The Congress which ruled the roost under Manmohan Singh for a decade from 2004 onwards could win only 44 seats with 19.3% vote share. The UPA as a whole could gather 58 seats. This is the worst defeat suffered by the Congress in its history. After Indira Gandhi, the Congress lost its élan and never regained balance. In 1999, Congress under Rajiv Gandhi could win only 114 seats, which at that time was the lowest tally. A socialist activist Anna Hazare, popularly known as ‘Second Gandhi’, launched anti-corruption movement in March 2012 when he failed to get anti-corruption bill of his liking passed by the parliament. His five-month movement shook the foundations of the Congress.

Arvind Kejriwal was the product of Anna’s movement.  He launched Aaam Admi Party (AAP) in 2012 and emerged as a third force. He created a stir in the Indian politics by carrying forward the drive against corruption and defeating chief minister of Delhi in legislative elections and taking over power in Delhi. He however resigned after 49 days when he failed to muster political support for getting anti-corruption bill passed. Anna and Kejriwal movements unnerved the Congress under unassertive and weak Manmohan Singh.

Besides the current leadership crisis, one of the reasons of right-leaning Congress decline is its dual policy of outwardly preaching secularism, and inwardly pursuing soft Hindutva. All the insurgencies and separatist movements cropped up in India during the Congress rule. It is responsible for unresolved Kashmir dispute and genocide of over one lakh Kashmiri Muslims and massacre of Sikhs. Congress leaders speak with a forked tongue and never fulfill their pledges. Once the chips were down, inexperienced and lackadaisical Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi couldn’t keep the people away from the charisma of Modi who played his cards shrewdly. Likewise, although AAP fielded 400 candidates, it could capture only four seats. While BSP score card was zero, Samajwadi Party won 3.4% votes with five seats. AIADMK got 37 seats, Mamta 32 seats, and CPIM secured nine seats.  Muslims political strength in Lok Sabha has also declined from 30 seats in 2009 to 24 only, which is 4.4% of total strength.

Soon after right-wing BJP’s thumping victory, the US took no time to change colors and extend an invitation to Modi to visit Washington despite the visa ban. Nawaz Sharif too hastened to congratulate Modi and invited him to visit Pakistan. Modi reciprocated by inviting him to attend his oath taking ceremony in New Delhi, which was accepted.

Modi’s victory has cast a spell of gloom among religious minorities in India, particularly the 165 million Indian Muslims accounting for one-sixth of India’s population, because of his anti-Muslim stance. As Chief Minister Gujarat, he had turned a blind eye to the massacre of over 2000 Muslims of Gujarat and rapes of hundreds of women in 2002. Despite international outcry and calls for remorse, and the US, Germany and UK refusing him visa, like L.K. Advani, he refused to apologise for not taking steps to control the rampaging Hindu zealots. He got elected as chief minster Gujarat three times in a row essentially because of his hatred against Muslims. Only 10% Muslims voted for him. Even a section of seculars and liberals in India are feeling uneasy because of BJP’s disdain for secularism and fascination for Hindutva.

Philosophy of Hindutva was first invented by Damodar Savarkar in 1923 and since then Sangh Parivar has been strenuously working on this ideology to establish Hindu rule in the entire Indian subcontinent. Myth of Akhand Bharat has also been woven by the Sanghis. Its founding members consider all invaders including the Muslims who ruled India as foreigners and impure. They argue that either non-Muslims residing in India should convert to Hinduism, or adopt Hindu culture/ language, respect Hindu religion and live as second rated citizens; or else migrate elsewhere. RSS was established by Baliram Hedgwar in 1925, which pursued Hindu nationalism. RSS in league with Sikh Jathas was responsible for the genocide of migrating Muslims in 1947. One of the RSS activists Nathuram Godse gunned down Gandhi in 1948 for his softness towards Pakistan and Indian Muslims. Modi joined RSS in 1971 and since then he has been a diehard RSS member and has remained steadfastly committed to the ideology of Hindutva.  RSS was banned in 1948 and again in 1992 but the ban was subsequently removed. BJP is the political face of RSS, which also preaches Hindu nationalism and criticizes secularism.

BJP swept the elections on the slogans of enforcing Hindutva in India and adopting a hard line approach towards Pakistan. The BJP leaders assailed Congress government’s policy of appeasement of minorities. Modi kept using communal and caste card and remained committed to philosophy of Hindutva. He was harsh on Bengali speaking Muslims in Assam and vowed to throw them out. Although Modi stressed that he will live for independence of India, but it was a sheer political stunt since it ran contrary to the track record of RSS which opposed freedom struggle waged by Mahatma Gandhi. Notwithstanding Modi’s pathological aversion for the Muslims, in his bid to win crucial Muslim votes, he expressed sympathy for the downtrodden Muslims, which was again out of political expediency.

The reasons that made tea-selling Modi popular were his humble roots, simple way of living, aggressive campaigning as opposed to lackluster campaign of Congress and successful economic model he applied in Gujarat during his stint as chief minister from 2001 onwards. As opposed to India’s economy which is in the grip of stagflation and growth rate has plunged from 9% in 2011 to 4.6%, Modi managed to keep the economic indicators of Gujarat in positive. Gujarat accounted for 15% of industrial output and 22% of exports despite having 5% population. The Corporate which was given a free hand by Modi played a key role in up swinging economic indicators in Gujarat. Media also played its part in glamorizing Modi and his development of Gujarat. His corporate driven economy undoubtedly made the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Following in the footsteps of former chief minister of Gujarat Kalian Singh who presided over the destruction of Babri mosque in 1992, former chief minister of UP Ram Parkash Gupta who terrorized the non-Muslims, and L.K. Advani who termed Indian Muslims as security risk and led the frenzied mobs to tear down the Babri Mosque, all promoting Hindutva agenda, Modi also gave a raw deal to non-Hindus, particularly Muslims and consigned them to second rated citizens deserving no privileges and rights. Old practices of Hinduising government schools and colleges by imposing the singing of Vande Mataram and forcing Muslim students to participate in Hindu worship continued. Practice of Hindu rituals was enforced in offices as well.

Modi’s sins were cleverly smoke-screened by his spin masters under the myth of development. Anti-Modi journalists, writers and media persons were coerced and gagged by RSS thugs. Besides the development myth, other reasons why the vast multitudes preferred BJP over the Congress was the unprecedented corruption and mal-administration of the Congress led UPA government. Notwithstanding these factors, liberal flow of money and backup support provided by the Corporate coupled with efficient electoral spadework done by committed RSS workers were major factors which gave such an amazing victory to BJP.

Modi and his cabinet members were sworn in on May 26, 2014. All the heads of neighboring States of SAARC members including Nawaz Sharif took part in the ceremony. In the 45-member cabinet, only one Muslim could find a birth. It was a healthy sign to see all the opposition members including Manmohan Singh accepting the electoral verdict and attending the ceremony. There was not a single complaint of rigging. Indians have attached high hopes in Modi and are confident that he will control corruption, ensure political stability, enforce good governance and once again make India shining.

The meeting between Modi and Nawaz was held on 27th May in a friendly atmosphere but Modi set the ball rolling by coming out with old complaints which was a retrogressive act. He asked his guest that Pakistan should proceed against culprits involved in Mumbai attacks speedily; provide voice samples of Mumbai attacks; disallow its soil for terrorism against India; promote regional cooperation in fighting against terrorism. In short, he held Pakistan responsible for Indo-Pak tension and terrorism. Nawaz docilely listened to the complaints, but didn’t deem it fit to put forward Pakistan’s complaints fearing that his host may not get offended. Indian spokesperson stated that India’s position on Kashmir is clear and needed no further elaboration. Nawaz during his press briefing said that all issues will be discussed but avoided stressing Kashmir which is the main bone of contention.

Modi is up for challenging times. India’s economy which boomed from 2004 to 2008 with GDP at 8.2% fizzled in 2011. Its current growth rate is 4.6% and inflation is 10.5%. India’s manufacturing industry remains stuck at 14% as against Thailand’s 30%, South Korea’s 31% and China’s 32%. While manufacturing jobs have stagnated, owing to red tapism and unfriendly business environment, foreign firms and factories are moving to Bangladesh, South East Asia and Africa and not to India. The Indian rupee slumped in 2013 and banks are sunk in bad debts. India’s ‘misery ‘index’ of the late 1980s has returned to haunt the Indian leadership. With such dismally low economic indicators and poverty and education levels having drooped, it will be an uphill task for the incoming government to upturn the economy. Modi’s quest for bringing Indian economy at par with China will remain illusory if he doesn’t bring a radical change in his xenophobic thinking and restrain his neo-fascist proclivities.

The stigma of Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar pogroms will haunt Modi. Not only Modi requires repairing his sullied reputation, he also needs to urgently break the destabilizing cycle of stagflation and also to refurbish putrid banks. The poverty stricken Indians who voted him to power with high hopes do not want him to blow trumpets of war, but expect him to alleviate their sufferings and lift them out of the whirlpool of poverty, create jobs for the impoverished jobless youth and better their lives. He must not overlook the fact that despite his impressive victory, 69% of Indian voters have voted against him. While India needs development, the Indians, particularly the minorities are more in need of security.

It is also to be seen whether he remains stuck to his jingoistic commitments he made during electioneering campaign. If he remains inflexible on the issue of Kashmir, asserting that it is Atoot Ang of India, he dithers on issues of Siachin, Sir Creek and dams on rivers, and he abrogates Article 370 of Indian Constitution depriving occupied Kashmir of its special autonomous status, composite dialogue even if it gets resumed will be of no consequence. Revision of Indian nuclear doctrine to ‘first strike’ option, further rise in defence budget, eagerness to consolidate Indian military presence in Afghanistan and to develop Chahbahar Port in Iran at the cost of Gawadar would underscore India’s future belligerent designs.

Notwithstanding Nawaz’s eagerness to promote friendly ties with India, Pakistan may be up for bumpy times because of Modi’s professed aggressive posture against Pakistan. Modi will remain in a friendly and cooperative mood as long as Pakistan agree to Indian terms and restrict its dealings to trade and development, people-to-people contact and control of terrorism emanating from Pakistan and not from India, and puts the core issues in a cold freezer. He will like a fawning and not an aggressive Nawaz Sharif. He will come in his true self and start breathing fire the moment Pakistan insists on simultaneously tackling the core issues and developing ties on equal terms.

Optimistic elements however tend to remain in sunlight arguing that India under a hardliner will prove more assertive and decisive in resolving disputes between the two archrivals and in removing socio-economic inequities in India. They forget that there is vast difference in the chemistry of Vajpayee and Modi. Coming months will bring to light whether Modi will relinquish his core agenda of Hindutva or fulfill the yearning desire of his mother party RSS which wants building of Ram Temple in Ayodhya and persecution of Indian Muslims and other religious minorities. Even if he desires to moderate his stance and tries to pursue Congress’s soft Hindutva pursued since 1947, the RSS hawks will make sure that he fulfills the hard Hindutva agenda. Modi will remain indebted to RSS which is the ideological fountainhead of BJP and enabled him to win the political race.

Sitting atop tattered economy and having seen the rout of Congress, Modi will have to choose between spewing ethnic/ communal fires to promote Hindutva and dreaming of becoming a world power at the cost of its neighbors, or improving his image and putting the frayed house in order. Choice of former course will for sure spell disaster and BJP will meet the fate of Congress in 2019 elections.

Pakistan faces tough challenges ahead. It must get out of the unproductive war on terror, which is the major drain on economy, reduce dependence upon USA and IMF, remove misgivings of Afghanistan and Iran, develop better understanding with USA and Russia and forge deeper relations with the Muslim world. Internal cohesion, political and economic stability backed by strong security deterrence will not only deter India under hawkish Modi from undertaking military adventurism, but also enable our leadership to talk with Indian leadership with courage. Composite dialogue within the framework of one-sided appeasement will never help in resolving chronic disputes. Likewise, brawny and effective long arm of ISI will prevent India from resorting to covert operations. Honest, efficient and upright leadership devoted to protect national interests and to uplift the living conditions of the downtrodden can achieve these milestones.

The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst, column writer, member of executive committee PESS and Director of Measac Research Centre.

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