This battle of the ballot is also one for fresh values

By concretely implementing welfare policies, Modi has created a new class of beneficiaries. He has made considerable gains among women and young voters. (ANI)
By concretely implementing welfare policies, Modi has created a new class of beneficiaries. He has made considerable gains among women and young voters. (ANI)

Summary

  • If the Bharatiya Janata Party gets a majority in this election, it will be apparent that the new colour on ancient values has been extensively adopted by the decisive voters.

The coming general election will not only determine the victory or defeat of political titans but will also serve as a referendum on the introduction of new values into Indian politics. One can draw parallels between the upcoming election and India’s first general election of 1952. It had been just five years since Independence. The wounds of Partition were still fresh. Kings, princely states, landlords, and landowners held enormous power in rural areas. Also, four years had passed since Gandhiji’s death. And, except for a few territories, such as Goa, the country’s unification had proceeded smoothly under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s leadership.

Against such a backdrop, Jawaharlal Nehru was attempting to create a shining example of idealistic socialism. The first general election would determine how much trust we had in democracy and how long we could maintain our democratic character. Winston Churchill, who served as prime minister of United Kingdom twice, had predicted: “The Indian political parties and political classes do not represent the Indian masses. It is a delusion to believe that they do…In handing over the Government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain."

How could he have been so wrong?

Following the election, it was decided that kings and emperors would be consigned to history. Dalits and other disadvantaged groups will gradually overcome their historical disadvantages, while minorities will be accorded equal rights. Despite major barriers, our country has followed Nehru’s path for nearly 70 years, but it has faced logical challenges in the last 10 years.

Yesterday’s alluring coexistence is now referred to as appeasement. Some may call it majoritarianism, but they should remember that the entire world has already taken this route. If the Bharatiya Janata Party gets a majority in this election, it will be apparent that the new colour on ancient values has been extensively adopted by the decisive voters.

What are these new values?

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once declined to attend the inauguration of the Somnath temple. He argued that the prime minister of a secular country should be cautious about displaying his religious beliefs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi treads a different path. He takes care to pause his speech as soon as he hears an azan (Islamic call to prayer), but also has no hesitation about becoming the main jajman (the person who institutes the performance of a ritual) at the Ram Temple’s consecration. When the Opposition objects to this, BJP spokespersons ask: “How can following one’s own faith harm the faith of others?"

Further, by concretely implementing welfare policies, Modi has created a new class of beneficiaries. He has made considerable gains among women and young voters. According to a CSDS survey, three out of every 10 Bharatiya Janata Party voters vote entirely for Prime Minister Modi. If he wins again this time, he will be the second prime minister to win three consecutive terms. If Gujarat’s stint in power is included, it will serve as a benchmark for other politicians in any democratic country to aspire for.

The questions now are: Why is this shift in values happening? And, why has the Opposition failed to create a counter-narrative?

The fundamental reason is that regional parties have consistently betrayed voters’ trust. After coming to power, leaders of these parties founded in the name of socialism, regionalism, and opposition to class discrimination became casteist and dynasts. As a result, those who joined these parties for noble reasons were alienated. These parties also often split when their leader’s family split either after the retirement of the leader from politics or her or his death. Examples include the Thackeray and Pawar families of Maharashtra, the Paswan family of Bihar, and the Patel family of Uttar Pradesh. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu is an exception as the party remains true to its values.

When S. Siddaramaiah’s popularity in Karnataka dwindled in the face of the BJP’s fervent nationalism, he whipped up Kannadiga pride. His decision that Kannada should be the dominant language of signboards in Bengaluru has sparked a big debate. It harks back to the cultural transition that began with the renaming of Faizabad, Allahabad, Ahmed Nagar, etc.

The hints are clear: The 2024 general election will deliver a mandate to elevate the country as the third superpower, while introducing fresh values that will shape policy directions for Indian politics and society in the foreseeable future.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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