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Home >Opinion >Narendra Modi’s win: false predictions of secularism

The month-long election to the 16th Lok Sabha is finally over. The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi has managed to shock everyone, even those who voted for him but didn’t think that millions of voters across the country will also place their faith in the same man. The numbers that the BJP has won by and the ones by which the Congress has lost have one lesson that no one seems to acknowledge: India is truly inexplicable. And with that lesson should follow the realization that there is much that the supposedly educated class, fed on the English-language press, should be humble about.

In the run-up to the elections much was written to demonize Modi, none of the candidates received as much critical international and domestic media attention as he was subjected to, much was said to make the Gujarat model of development a mere myth, his supposedly communal character was made the only truth, and his Hindu nationalist identity (which for some reason is a crime, while any other religion’s nationalist identity is a sign of secularism) his biggest failing, everything he said was criticized and analysed to reach a foregone conclusion: this man will be India’s ruin.

And what did the results show? That none of it mattered in the end. The Indian voter did not get swayed by any of that “analysis".

How does all the scaremongering that went into “protecting" the Indian voters from Modi explain any of this:

• Gujarat, the state whose supposedly abysmal condition that was at the centre of every Modi critic’s analysis, gave the BJP 26/26 seats.

• Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are states in which every voter was assumed to vote based only on caste. There was never a chance of any of the castes abandoning the likes of Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) or the Janata Dal (United), or JD (U). In these states the BJP won with numbers which threw all caste equations out of the window.

• How does the oldest national party of India, the Congress, which is supposed to represent the minorities and protect the secular fabric of the country, manage to win only 44 seats of 543? A number that is only seven seats more than a regional party, J.Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu.

If the Congress’ numbers weren’t so abysmal, if the BJP’s numbers were in the 200-230 range, if the SP, BSP and JD(U) had not seen the defeat they did, this would have been just another election: hyped and talked about in terms which always patronize Indian voters.

But none of the above happened.

A misleading elite ideology

One explanation of our inability to understand the mood of the country and what happened has to lie in the distorting effects of the ideology of secularism (which is different from the practice of secularism).

Consider a straightforward explanation of ideology as given by Wikipedia: a set of conscious and unconscious ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions.

Understood this way—while sitting in New Delhi—the ideology of secularism has the following parts:

• In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, people vote for parties that combine the defence of secularism and the delivery of social justice. These parties alternate in power in these states. BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh and RJD and JD(U) in Bihar.

• Nationally, the Congress—after toying with “communalism" and “neo-liberalism" -- returned to its roots of social justice and secularism. That explains its decade-long stint in power.

• Indian politics is truly local and some combination of secular + social justice regional parties always trumps national parties who have to form a coalition with these local parties to form a government in Delhi.

• The BJP is a party of upper-caste, urban Hindus and its reach has never been national. Even in urban areas, its divisive ideas (Hindutva, allegedly a strong bias against Muslims) puts off many Hindus who vote for the Congress.

There is one another, peculiar, part of secularism as an ideology:

• Gujarat 2002: what happened in that state in that year unmasked the BJP once and for all. The BJP will never learn and can never be forgiven for what it allegedly did there.

These beliefs were once useful to explain the churn in north Indian politics after the Mandal and Kamandal years (1989-1998). The trouble is they were never updated to correspond with changes in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and much of India. It is one thing for the Congress—a party that ceased to have active political cadres—to believe and peddle these ideas for votes but something entirely different for persons involved in explaining what is happening in elections and society in general. Once these misleading assumptions become part of the mental make-up of journalists and social scientists, there is no wonder that repeated trips to Uttar Pradesh they couldn’t see the political storm brewing there. The BJP’s unprecedented tally there can’t be explained by the above five assumptions.

Denial

Those who are now calling out that democracy is an evil because it has, after decades, brought back the will of the majority to the forefront with clarity (even though that is the usually acceptable definition of a democracy), may want to think some more.

Those who are saying that Modi’s win is purely the result of marketing and a campaign fuelled by corporate India, don’t ignore the fact that he didn’t take those aids as a guarantee of a win. Even if those helped him, don’t forget that he “addressed 437 rallies, took part in 5,827 public interface events and travelled over 300,000km across 25 states" to tell voters what he stood for. (The legend of Narendra Damodardas Modi, Open, 16 May). He never took the Indian voter for granted as they did.

Those who worry about the rule of the majority should now dwell on what exactly they think is a decent alternative. Never-ending coalition politics which serves no one except those politicians who want to grab the biggest share of the prize?

What exactly are they apologetic about when they say they are “disgusted" that a man won a free and fair election with a thumping majority in a country whose democratic traditions they used to take pride in before Modi won?

When they fear and dismiss Modi’s idea of India as “exclusionist", are they not doing the same thing when they reject any idea of India which is not what they thought should have been the result of this election?

In their hurry to dismiss Modi’s win as the sum of all evil, they are closing themselves to any chance of trying to understand the remarkably complex country India is. In their arrogance, they are forgetting that India is bigger than their blind faith in beliefs which lack rational understanding.

For too long we have assumed that we have this country figured, this election has proved that we are nowhere close to it.

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