Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What Led to Narendra Modi's Electoral Victory in the National Elections in 2014?

To consider Modi’s electoral victory nationally as being a reward for the anti-Muslim violence in 2002 would be naïve. It is noteworthy that Modi’s current electoral victory was owing to the ‘first past the post’ system, given that Narendra Modi’s party, the BJP and its allies got only about 38.5% of the vote-share (the votes in very many constituencies got divided in favour of political parties in opposition to the BJP – to explain this in simplified terms, imagine a hypothetical scenario with only ten voters in which three votes go to one candidate and the seven others go to seven different candidates, leading the candidate with just three out of ten votes to win), but even that vote-share should not be seen only from a religious rightist eye-lens.

In the last two national elections in 2004 and 2009, the BJP could not come to power, in spite of seemingly standing very good chances, not in the least because of its hardline Hindu rightist image.

In 2004, the horrific riots against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 were fresh in Indian public memory and definitely contributed to preventing the BJP from coming back to power in the centre, in spite of its excellent performance in terms of economic growth and road connectivity. In fact, what happened best exemplifies Indian pluralism – in Hindu-majority India, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, a Christian lady, gave the prime ministerial seat to Dr. Manmohan Singh, a Sikh gentleman, who swore his oath of allegiance in the presence of the then president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, a Muslim gentleman, who is much loved in India as the architect of India’s nuclear missile programme.

Likewise, in 2009, the Indian populace was very disgruntled with the party then in power, the Congress, over its inability to check terrorism, given a series of terrorist attacks in 2008 by the Indian Mujahidin, an Indian Muslim terror outfit backed by nefarious elements in Pakistan, in the cities of Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi, which was followed by the ghastly 26/11 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani terrorists (in which some Indian Muslims gave logistic support), which could have evoked a strong Hindu rightist sentiment; nonetheless, very many Hindus felt disgusted by BJP member Varun Gandhi’s alleged anti-Muslim hate speech, which, by all means, was horribly vitriolic, and the BJP lost the elections yet again, with the Congress party coming back to power. If antipathy to Muslims was an important priority of the Hindu electorate nationally, which constitutes the majority, then it was the most opportune moment for the BJP to come to power, but that did not happen. 

This time around, the BJP did seem to have read the writing on the wall that anti-Muslim hate-mongering does not augur well for national politics, for even a sizable number of Hindus find the same highly objectionable, which is why Modi vocally adopted a tolerant approach to Muslims, leading to his gaining more acceptability at a time when many Indians, including those strongly committed to religious tolerance, were very disgruntled with the Congress party for a variety of reasons, including a slowdown in economic growth (spare a thought for the unemployed university graduate or even the industrialist facing unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks sensing better prospects under Modi and voting for him), inflation (spare a thought for the common man finding it difficult to continue buying even the same quantity of foodstuffs), corruption, rising rapes (an extremely brutal, fatal gang-rape took place in a bus in Delhi), acting in a very authoritarian fashion with anti-corruption crusaders (for example, arresting activist Anna Hazare and literally baiting peaceful protesters led by one Baba Ramdev at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi) and anti-rape protesters (some of them were subjected to water cannons) and not being seen as tough against viewed-as-aggressive neighbours like Pakistan and China, and to make matters worse for the Congress party, the man regarded as their undeclared prime ministerial candidate, Rahul Gandhi, gave an interview on the reputed Indian television channel Times Now [1], which, to put it mildly, was rather unimpressive. To be fair, it has to be accepted that Modi’s track record at industrial growth has actually been quite remarkable, and while his economic development model in Gujarat may not have catered to the economically weaker sections as much as it should, as many of his critics point out, the government led by the Congress party too failed to protect the poor from food inflation (Modi is also facing flak over this issue after having come to power, but that has no bearing on people voting for him before he became prime minister). Modi’s adopting a tolerant tenor in the context of religion, coupled with his excellent oratory showcasing a seemingly tough and assertive personality, understandably won him a huge fan following, also including some Muslims, even those from Gujarat.

Speaking of other alternatives, many Indians saw a coalition of regional parties as potentially very unstable given the past record, and a newly emerged political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), as unlikely to get a requisite number of seats to form a national government, other than being perceived as not being experienced enough (especially to handle defence and foreign policy), and the AAP resigning from office from the provincial government of Delhi in a short span of 49 days led it to be rejected by many of its erstwhile supporters. The average Indian voter cannot be expected to only keep in mind what happened twelve years ago, in 2002, and simply turn a blind eye to all ongoing events in the tenure of the then ruling government (2009-2014). In an article fiercely critical of Modi and the BJP, Indian academic Professor Aditya Nigam nonetheless had this to say about the Congress party–

‘The Congress, ably supported by a large section of secular, leftist intellectuals, has made secularism into a joke. We are supposed to deposit ourselves, bound hand and foot, at the feet of the Congress, never oppose their loot of the public exchequer, stay silent at the plunder of the commons sanctioned by them, and simply sing bhajans [devotional songs] to them for “protecting us from fascism”. … This cynical game of secularism is what has now come to an end.’ (Nigam, 2014)

Fareed Zakaria, an American Muslim intellectual of Indian origin, has broadly captured the essence of these elections, referring to them as “encouraging” and amounting to making “remarkable progress” in the following words-

‘The country has been mired in deadlock and paralysis for years because of a weak coalition government, ineffectual leadership and an obstructionist opposition. So people voted for a single party to take power (the first time in 30 years) and gave the new prime minister, Narendra Modi, a mandate. Modi campaigned brilliantly and effectively, and his message was unrelenting — development, development, development. Despite his party’s roots in Hindu fundamentalism, he chose to appeal to  the country’s hunger for economic growth.’ (Zakaria, 2014)

And for all the talk of the BJP being a fascist party (indeed, that some of its members have, from time to time, been involved in hate-mongering is undeniable and ought to be condemned in the strongest terms), the fact is that it has Muslims and Christians at senior positions, and Muslims and Christians in BJP-ruled provinces, on the whole, lead normal lives just like their counterparts in provinces governed by supposedly secular parties. In fact, in some provinces like Madhya Pradesh and Goa, the BJP has a strong mass base even among Muslims and Christians, for its good track record at economic development in those particular provinces. The BJP has even been a part of a coalition government governing the Christian-majority province of Nagaland, where there is a strong secessionist movement against India, partly fuelled by a Christian rightist sentiment [2]! On the other hand, the supposedly non-fascist Congress party sometimes did act quite ruthlessly (in a somewhat fascist or at least undemocratic fashion) against those peacefully protesting against corruption and rapes.

So, what are the steps Modi took to demonstrate his commitment to religious pluralism? Other than raising the slogan of 'sabka sath, sabka vikas' roughly translating into 'unity and development for all', he, in a speech in Delhi on 19th January 2014, concluded by saying that his “idea of India” entails the upholding of non-violence as the highest virtue and the peaceful coexistence of all religions. [3] In an election rally in the province of Uttar Pradesh, he asserted that secularism is an article of faith for him. [4] In a televised interview, Modi clearly stated that he did not want to talk in terms of Hindus or Muslims but only wished to talk in terms of Indians. [5] In an election rally in the city of Patna, he appealed to Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty together rather than fight against each other. [6] Modi even asserted that according to him, building toilets was actually a more important priority for India than building Hindu temples. During the campaign for the national elections in 2014, he touched the feet of a 104-year-old Muslim veteran of the Indian National Army (INA), a revolutionary army that fought to liberate India from British colonialism. Back in 2010, advertisements were published in newspapers about how Muslims were prospering in the province of Gujarat with Modi as chief minister, and even for these national elections, bearded, skull-capped Muslims were showcased as supporting the BJP in their advertisements. He sat on a fast for harmony between religious groupings in 2011. There has been no major riot in Gujarat after 2002, and Modi visited in hospital Muslim victims of a relatively minor one in Vadodara in 2006, even warning rioters of legal punishment. That Modi had to take such steps to fulfill his prime ministerial ambitions bears testimony to the importance of religious tolerance in India. Modi’s refusal to wear a skull cap on one occasion, though much hyped, does not necessarily amount to religious intolerance; it is a personal choice and most Muslims would also not be comfortable sporting symbols of other religions.

Also, though the Congress party has appeased religious minorities, it doesn’t have a fully clean record when it comes to anti-minority riots either, the most significant example being the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 (sparked off by the murder of the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, who had joined a theofascist and secessionist insurgency), in which some of its then prominent leaders are believed to have actually participated (BJP workers actively protected Sikhs during those riots [7]). In fact, when supporters of the Congress party cite the riots in Gujarat in 2002 to discredit the BJP, supporters of the BJP retort by pointing to the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, though it is unfortunate that often, “(i)n this scenario, 1984 and 2002 are no longer signs of human brutality and loss, they have become useful weapons in one’s political arsenal” (Kaur, 2013). On a different note, fortunately, hundreds of people have been convicted in connection with the riots in 1984 [8] as well, though some prominent Congress leaders have yet to be convicted. Even other than that, the Congress party is blamed for deliberately not effectively checking the dreadful Hindu-Muslim riots in Bhagalpur in 1989 and even in Gujarat back in 1969, in which most of the casualties were Muslims.

Certainly, a Hindu rightist agenda is not the primary plank on which the Modi-led BJP fought these elections in 2014. Yes, there were a few inappropriate remarks against Muslims by BJP leaders like Amit Shah and Giriraj Singh during the course of this campaign, but while the former apologized for his remarks (while some would point out that he did so only after being barred from campaigning by the Election Commission of India, even that tells us that India’s constitutional bodies won’t allow the country to slip into fascism easily) [9] , Modi condemned the remarks of the latter in no uncertain terms [10].

In fact, interestingly, an ultra-rightist Hindu leader, Pramod Muthalik, was expelled from the BJP owing to his hardline image. Some excerpts from an editorial in one of India’s leading national dailies is worth quoting in this context -

‘(S)uch divide-and-rule politics, with cycles of resentment, bans and hate, are approaching the beginning of the end. Given secular education and post-reforms opportunities, a huge number of young Indians — over 65% under 35 years — have outgrown caste, creed and gender prejudices.’

‘This change made BJP cancel its deal with Muthalik.’

‘Young Indians are rejecting majoritarian bullying, ultra-conservatism and a narrow-minded view of the world.’ (The Times of India, 2014)

A sensitive issue like constructing a Hindu temple on a site disputed by Hindus and Muslims in the city of Ayodhya was put on the back-burner by the BJP, and it stated that it sought to resolve the issue by constitutional methods, which means having to accept the verdict of the judiciary.

Yes, Modi did talk of a uniform civil code (uniform family law) cutting across religious lines, but that is a secular demand. Secularism is about separating religion and state, and suggesting that just as India has a uniform criminal law, tort law and contract law, it ought to also have a uniform family law cutting across religious lines in conformity with a modern understanding of human rights, does not amount to being a Hindu rightist. India’s secular constitution mentions having a uniform civil code as a directive under Article 44, and most developed countries of the West have a uniform civil code, while allowing everyone to practise his/her religion in the personal sphere. Some argue that the demand for a uniform civil code is not borne out of genuine human rights concerns, but rather, as a metaphorical stick to beat the Muslim minority with, given reservations over this legislative proposal from a sizable section of that community, but whatever the motivations, the demand is perfectly legitimate.

Likewise, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gives special privileges to the Muslim-majority province of Jammu and Kashmir, though a contentious issue advanced by Modi, cannot be said to basically be a Hindu rightist demand, given that Article 370 was initially meant as a temporary measure, being titled ‘Temporary provisions with respect to the State of Jammu and Kashmir’ with ‘temporary’ in its name.

Nor did Modi talking of putting a stop to the illegal immigration of Muslims from Bangladesh, but allowing the entry of Bangladeshi Hindus, many of whom are genuine refugees suffering from Muslim extremism, amount to being intolerant.

Scams involving Modi’s ministers in Gujarat (two of them have been convicted in connection with a fake passport racket and illegal limestone mining respectively, while another is being tried for a fisheries scam running into millions of Indian rupees), a rise of rapes in the province and several flaws in his development model in Gujarat were seldom properly highlighted by the Congress party or most other parties opposing the BJP, nor his hypocrisy in supporting a mass agitation for a strong anti-corruption ombudsman at the centre but providing for the corresponding office in his province to be rather weak in terms of legal powers (though corruption, rapes and a slowdown in economic growth, as mentioned earlier in this article, were among the main reasons for resentment against the Congress party among many Indians) and most of his political opponents primarily only harped on the carnage in 2002, and Modi rebutted the charge just by pointing to his acquittal. On the important issue of national security, the Congress and other such parties failed to highlight two major instances of terrorist attacks in Gujarat, one in the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar in 2003, and the other in Ahmedabad, even in hospitals, in 2008, or that India’s Comptroller and Auditor General had slammed Modi for not taking enough steps with regard to coastal security in Gujarat, even though the most dreaded terrorist attacks in Indian memory happen to be the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, in which the Pakistani terrorists had come by sea. Even in connection with the riots in Gujarat in 2002, Modi’s supporters, to suggest Modi’s innocence, erroneously made it seem that Modi had been acquitted by the Supreme Court of India though the acquittal came from a district court based on the report of a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team, with the matter still pending in appeal with the High Court of Gujarat, but Modi’s political opponents hardly even seemed to seriously attempt to dispel this highly incorrect notion. Nor did they highlight the undoubtedly divisive remarks passed by Modi in the immediate aftermath of the riots in 2002, for which Modi was, on at least one occasion, rapped by the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. [11]

[1] That interview of Rahul Gandhi’s (it is in the English language) can be accessed here-<>.

[2] See, for reference, <>.

[3] That speech  of               Modi’s                 (it      is      in      Hindi,       an      Indian       language)        can      be      accessed        here-<>.

[4] That     speech      (in                  Hindi,     an               Indian     language)     can                     be            accessed                         here-<>.

[5] That interview (in Hindi, an Indian language) can be accessed here-<>.

[6] See, for reference, <>.

[7] This fact was acknowledged and appreciated by the highly renowned late Sikh journalist Khushwant Singh, who was otherwise extremely critical of the Hindu right. To quote him (it may be noted that Vajpayee was a senior leader of the BJP, and the RSS is a Hindu rightist organization)-

‘It was the Congress leaders who instigated mobs in 1984 and got more than 3000 people killed. I must give due credit to the RSS and the BJP for showing courage and protecting helpless Sikhs during those difficult days. No less a person than Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself intervened at a couple of places to help poor taxi drivers.’ (Singh, 2005)
 [8]See, for reference, <>.

[9] See, for reference, <>.

[10] See, for reference, <>.

[11] See, for reference, <>

[12] This fact was acknowledged and appreciated by the highly renowned late Sikh journalist Khushwant Singh, who was otherwise extremely critical of the Hindu right. To quote him (it may be noted that Vajpayee was a senior leader of the BJP, and the RSS is a Hindu rightist organization)-

‘It was the Congress leaders who instigated mobs in 1984 and got more than 3000 people killed. I must give due credit to the RSS and the BJP for showing courage and protecting helpless Sikhs during those difficult days. No less a person than Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself intervened at a couple of places to help poor taxi drivers.’ (Singh, 2005)

No comments:

Post a Comment