Why Modi may come to rue the fact that a thumping electoral triumph doesn’t necessarily translate into comfortable governance
KARAMATULLAH K GHORI
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]N the words of Wall Street Journal — analysis done on the heels of Narendra Modi’s BJP sweeping the polls — the Indians have made ‘a statement.’
No doubt 1.2 billion Indians have spoken at the end of a marathon, mind-boggling, exercise in electoral politics. It’s, though, quite another thing if one agrees with the vociferous ‘statement’ or not. The Indian electorates had the freedom of choice: between Modi and those arrayed against him, and they’ve cast the dye in Modi’s favor.
So as far as the huge and expensive—not to mention, time-consuming—elections were concerned, the job is done. It’s behind us. But what lies ahead is what should be engaging the attention of pundits and crystal-ball gazers in the times ahead.
Knowing Modi from his past—with his record as the long-time Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat speaking for itself—one wouldn’t be straying off course to say that what lies ahead may have more surprises in its womb than the election result.
Modi was controversial and enigmatic, to say the very least, in his stewardship of Gujarat and collected tons of baggage of controversy in his relentless march to the pinnacle of power in India. So, all those looking for fireworks ahead should remain glued to their seats. Don’t go anywhere, folks, there’s a lot to come; you haven’t seen much, yet.
For the moment, let’s focus on the ‘mandate’ given to Modi.
A heavy mandate it no doubt is. BJP had been expected—by all and sundry in the pundit-category—to be the lead horse in the run up to power. But I can’t recall any pundit sticking his neck out and claiming that BJP would end up with a clear majority of seats in the Lok Sabha of 543. So, Modi did astound all the poll watchers and pundits by netting 282 seats—10 more than the magical figure of 272 needed to make a government and command power in Delhi—in his bag.
But is this ‘heavy mandate’ a vote granted out of genuine appreciation for Modi’s proven leadership qualities? I doubt. It looks more like the Indians have given Modi the kind of mandate that the American voters had given Obama in 2008. It was more a vote against the madness of George W. Bush than the genius of a yet untried and tested Barack Obama.
Modi has got the benefit of Indian electors’ rage against the corrupt raj of Congress. One feels sorry for poor Manmohan Singh. He was, is, a gentle soul untainted by corruption. But he’d the misfortune of being the frontman of a corrupt cabal that looted India and made a mess of all that ‘healthy growth’ in the Indian economy for which Manmohan ought to be given due credit.
The Indians, of all stripes, were unhappy in the extreme with the corrupt and annoying antics of the Congress ruling elite. They were looking for change; they wanted to punish Congress for its culture of corruption in governance; they couldn’t care less what the alternative may bring in tow.
To put it all succinctly, the Indians have voted with their feet against the Congress rule. So annoyed and so frustrated they were with the ancient regime that they wouldn’t take a hard and critical look—which, to a Pakistani they should have—at Modi’s tainted track record as the leader of Gujarat. They just wanted to see the backs of corrupt cronies of Sonia Gandhi and did so with a palpable sense of vengeance.
Good riddance Congress, the Indians have proclaimed in heralding Modi to the top. What they have got in bargain and how their gamble is going to spin out is what should matter most in the months and years ahead.
But while Modi basks in the sunshine of his unexpectedly thumping victory, Congress sulks. It has been left out in the cold by an angry and furious Indian electorate to lick its wounds. One need not waste one’s intellect in surmising how long, if at all, would it be before Congress bounces back to the center stage from where it has been eclipsed for the moment.
What’s crystal clear in the election’s outcome is that Indians have matured to the level where it’s easy for them to jettison from their political landscape the vestiges of hereditary politics. How one wishes the Pakistanis could do the same. The mauling of the Nehru dynasty is evidence of Indians putting paid to their hangover with the legacy of succession to the British raj.
There’s, no doubt, even worse news for India’s largest minority, its 150 million Muslims. They make up nearly 15 % of the Indian population but have come up with the slimmest of representation in the new parliament. Still more worrying news is that there is not one Muslim among the 282 new MPs returned on BJP’s bandwagon.
That, come to think of it, isn’t surprising at all, given the communal DNA of BJP. In his post-victory, wounds-binding, speech Modi tried to sound magnanimous with his allusion to fusing of ranks with all losers of the exercise. But this was nothing more than a customary show of magnanimity-in-triumph.
However, Modi had no words of consolation for the Muslims of India who have every reason to feel uneasy (putting it very mildly), if not frightened, at the elevation to the pinnacle of power of a man who is suspected, not only by them but by liberal and non-communal Hindus, too, of a lot of innocent Muslim blood on his hands.
Modi may not have felt it necessary to extend the olive branch to his Muslim minority watching the spectacle of his rise to power on what they—and a lot many non-Muslim Indians, too—regard as the ashes of India’s so much touted secularism.
What many a non-Pakistani may also have noted—but may be shy of saying it—is the strange spectacle of ‘Secular India’ catapulting to power a leader with known and avowed religious and communal credentials. Pakistan, in contrast, has been the recipient of a lot of flak from the world over—from the West, in particular—for sliding into the morass and miasma of religious fanaticism. But Pakistan hasn’t, to date, given its mandate to a religion-based party, and is unlikely to in foreseeable future.
Modi may soon discover, to his horror and those of the Indians hoisting him to the top, that his honeymoon may be over even before he realizes it. A frustrated and angry people, booting out a long-entrenched party from power don’t, normally, have much by way of patience. Indians aren’t known for this facility in any case. They have chosen Modi for his perceived faculty of being a doer and go-getter; they wouldn’t be inclined to give him a long rope. They expect results and would want change o show its face before too long.
So, the test of Modi is going to begin sooner than he or anybody else might expect.
Congress hasn’t left behind a red-carpet-covered path for Modi to enter the citadel of power and rest for a while to catch his breath. The outgoing government has left for him to rummage through a huge mess of mismanaged economy. It’s going to be an enormous challenge for him to get all the debris out of his way before he gets to the point of putting his agenda of change and development in place.
India’s economy, once touted and effusively praised by those who aspired for it to become a tough rival and challenger to China, has been on a downward slide for the past five years. The growth rate is no better than 5 %, as compared to 9 % in the early years of the 21 st century.
The Manmohan government, in the past five years, had taken to the devious path of heavy subsidies for food essentials, diesel and electricity to stem the tide of rising frustrations of its people.
Government handouts were the crutches on which the Congress-led coalition wished to ride out the gathering storm of people’s unrest. Modi would be venturing onto a path with lots of trap doors if he were to cut down on these subsidies, which have led to massive budgetary deficits and rampant inflation.
Modi, as most Indians also know for a fact, has been bank-rolled into power by India’s increasingly powerful and patronage-peddling corporate barons, like the Ambanis for one. They would be as impatient of him to deliver on their agenda. Investors, in any case, don’t like the idea of their investment not returning early dividends.
There’s, therefore, every possibility of an early clash of expectations: those of India’s toiling hundreds of millions of people below the poverty line, and of its mega-rich and affluent moneyed barons. It would be akin to one caught in the jaws of a pincer.
Modi, to his dismay, and the consternation of those investing their dreams in him, may soon realize that governing a behemoth India is a totally different ball-game than running a Gujrat known for the entrepreneurial skills and acumen of its people.
Perhaps the most challenging—and daunting, too—task for Modi would be the legitimate demand of India’s youth to create jobs for them. According to Wall Street Journal, 10 million young Indians enter the work force of the country every year; their youthful impatience may turn out to be the tail wagging Modi most.
So while India deserves the accolades for having come through a long and cumbersome election with such cool and poise, and Modi for rising to the summit of power from very humble beginnings, both may not look back at this tryst with destiny with equanimity some years hence. Modi may come to rue that a thumping electoral triumph doesn’t necessarily translate into comfortable governance. Power, more often than not, exacts a very heavy toll.
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