After years of struggle against a systematic and dishonest vilification campaign against him, Narendra Modi has finally had the proverbial last laugh in Indian politics. Under his leadership, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has recorded its highest tally of Lok Sabha seats, significantly up from its previous best of 183 seats in 1999. He has set the stage for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to form the government at the Centre. Concomitantly, the charismatic BJP leader has reduced the Congress to its worst ever electoral score in all the general elections held since 1951.
How has Modi managed to get this decisive mandate for his party? For one, Modi has been able to convince most Indians that a powerful Bharat is possible and that India has in it the potential to become a world power if all of us work together with a sense of mission and honesty. In other words, Modi has successfully communicated a grand idea and appealed to a grand emotion where every Indian is a part of this great story.
Two, under Modi’s leadership, the BJP has been able to blend its ‘ideology’ with ‘good governance’ and ‘development’ thereby appealing to the party’s core or traditional constituency and also to a very large section of an aspirational India. In other words, Modi has reinvented the BJP as a progressive and nationalist political force of the country.
Three, the BJP has re-established its connection with the youth through Modi. With the youth entering the electoral rolls in large numbers, Modi has successfully captured their imagination by offering them hopes of jobs and development. The resultant fire in their bellies have also catapulted the BJP to its present tally.
Four, being an OBC himself, Modi has been successful to a large extent in reducing the social cleavages in a caste-divided Hindu society and in the process he has also helped the party garner votes of the lower castes in the social pecking order. By enlarging the social base of the party, Modi has probably marked the beginning of building a more harmonious Hindu social structure in future where an environment of tolerance, equality and cultural content of Hindutva would prosper.
Five, given Modi’s successful track record of governance in Gujarat, the BJP has convincingly placed before the people viable policy enunciations on issues such as infrastructure, agricultural growth and manufacturing sector development.
Six, Modi has also been able to communicate his party’s ideology and programmes to hitherto untouched (largely) regions of the country. While Atal Bihari Vajpayee had better oratorical skills than Modi, the latter has effectively appealed to not only the Hindi speaking population but also people in the southern, eastern and northeastern India such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam.
Seven, given the current corruption ridden polity in the country, Modi’s honesty and integrity in financial matters has also appealed to the Indian voter. Despite the attempts of the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to malign Modi by linking him with business tycoons such as Ambani and Adani, the people of the country have soundly rejected such attempts and reposed faith in Modi’s ability to provide a corruption-free India.
Eight, the pracharak-activist hands on leader Modi also appears to have struck an emotional bond with the cadre-based party’s average karyakarta and revived faith among party workers. The consequent loyalty, enthusiasm and hard work put in by the party needs to be underscored in this huge victory of the BJP. Nine, by presenting evidence of the Gujarat government’s economic and administrative record vis-a-vis Muslims in the last 12 years post-2002 Gujarat riots, Modi has also been able to reassure Muslims, albeit to a limited extent, about their security, job and business prospects. A preliminary look at the election results does suggest that Muslims in the Hindi heartland have not voted overwhelmingly for options like Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) etc which substantiates the aforesaid hypothesis.
Finally, while looking at such an astonishing and mind boggling victory, the spiritual connotations and background of this great nation cannot be ignored. Narendra Modi may be an instrument of the larger cosmic plan of regeneration of Bharat after more than 1,000 years of moribund, slavish existence and restoration of civilisational greatness in this millennium as envisioned by spiritual and cultural masters like Swami Vivekanand and Sri Aurobindo in the past. While Modi has successfully met the challenge of bringing the BJP to power this time, overcoming obstacles have not been new in the life of the future prime minister of India. If one were to look back at the early life and career of Modi, a chronicle of struggle, grit and hard work would emerge. Born on 17 September 1950 to Damodardas Mulchand Modi and his wife, Heeraben, a family belonging to the Ghanchi caste in Vadnagar, Modi led a life of considerable privation and struggle in his formative years. Alongwith selling vegetable oil, Damodardas also ran a teashop at the Vadnagar railway station where his son Narendra used to assist him. Joining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Shakha at the age of eight, Modi went to a Gujarati medium co-ed school for his education. Keeping in with the traditions of their caste, his parents performed Modi’s shaadi at the tender age of 13. In response to a spiritual urge, Modi left his unconsummated marriage and walked away to the Himalayas at the age of 18. Back after two years, Modi left for Ahmedabad where he set up his roadside tea shop for a livelihood. In Ahmedabad, he revived his ties with the RSS and started Sangh work at the Hedgewar Bhawan in Gujarat. From making tea and breakfast for pracharaks and sweeping rooms in the RSS office, Modi completed his first year Officers Training Camp (OTC) course in the RSS when he was 22. Subsequently, he was appointed as RSS pracharak in-charge of Gujarat for the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the RSS; a position he held through the emergency days. His reputation for hard work, efficiency and organisational skills within the Sangh were built during these trying times. Meanwhile, amidst all these struggles, Modi managed to continue with his studies and completed his post-graduation in political science.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that Modi has faced is the systematic campaign of calumny and demonisation that has been carried out against him by political parties and large sections of the media, civil society and intellectuals after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Since then and till date, Modi has been depicted by many as the biggest threat to India’s Muslims and its ‘secular’ fabric. This completely dishonest anti-Modi propaganda continued even after the Special Investigative Team (SIT), appointed and monitored by the Supreme Court, had given Modi a clean chit which was also endorsed by lower courts. In her masterly work Modi, Muslims and Media (2014), Madhu Kishwar presents a huge volume of evidence to show that the systematic and widespread misinformation campaign against Modi by leading intellectuals, academics, media persons and NGOs after the 2002 Gujarat riots is altogether unjustified and completely malicious. Quoting an interview by noted film writer Salim Khan in 2013, she writes, ‘Does anyone remember who the chief minister of Maharashtra was during Mumbai riots, which were no less deadly than the Gujarat riots of 2002? Does anyone recall the name of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh during the Malliana and Meerut riots or who the Bihar chief minister was when the Bhagalpur or Jamshedpur riots under Congress regimes took place? Do we hear the names of earlier chief ministers of Gujarat under whose charge hundreds of riots took place in post-Independence India? Some of these riots were far more deadly than the 2002 outburst. The state used to explode into violence every second month. How come Modi has been singled out as the devil incarnate, as if he personally carried out all the killings during the riots of 2002?’ Madhu Kishwar further writes, ‘I found it disturbing that almost all of those who have led the ‘Hate Modi’ campaign are neither Muslims nor residents of Gujarat. Teesta Setavad, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akthar are from Mumbai while Shabnam Hashmi, Prashant Bhushan and Harsh Mander are based in Delhi. Four of the most prominent figures of anti-Modi brigade from within Gujarat – Mallika Sarabhai, Aakar Patel, Am Yagnik and Achyut
Yagnik – are not Muslims.’
The intellectual terror created by the anti-Modi brigade is further highlighted by Kishwar. She writes, ‘The eminent Muslim scholar, Maulana Vastnavi was forced to resign as vice-chancellor of Deoband University simply because he shared the thought that Gujarati Muslims had benefited from the inclusive development policies of Modi’s government. Shahid Siddiqui, the editor of Urdu daily, Nai Duniya, faced a severe attack and abuse for simply doing an interview with Modi in which Modi defended himself against various charges leveled against his government. It may be pointed out that this so-called ‘secular’ brigade has deliberately hidden the fact that the erstwhile endemically riot prone state has witnessed a completely riot-free 10 years since 2002 under Modi’s rule. Besides, facts like the increasing percentage of Muslims voting for Modi in state elections and hundreds of Muslims winning panchayat, zila parishad and municipal polls on BJP tickets have been purposely concealed by this ‘Hate Modi’ group. Meanwhile, what are the principal challenges that Modi faces as the prime minister of India? One, he will have to virtually start afresh the process of stepping up a stable and consistent annual economic growth of around 8- 10 per cent. For this he would have to kickstart both public and private investment in the economy. Given the bleak investor confidence in the country now, this would be indeed a tall order for Modi.
Two, about 25 per cent of the young population in the country is unemployed. The Modi government would have to devise appropriate economic policies that would facilitate labour-intensive growth in the economy and also foster skill development in the country so as to make the educated youth employable.
Three, reining in corruption and price rise would have to occupy importance in Modi’s scheme of things. An appropriate institutional, policy and delivery mechanism would have to put in place to tackle the aforesaid problems.
Four, the policy logjam under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule has led to sluggishness in infrastructure development in the country. The last 10 years has seen very little public investment in highways, roads, airports, ports and railways. The Modi government would have to revive its own and private investment into the said sectors. Five, the government would also have to retrieve the billions of dollars that have illegally fled India during the UPA rule. To get back this illicit capital, the government would have to use laws and the intelligence machinery effectively. Six, the Modi government would have to restore the morale of the internal and external security forces that have been thoroughly demoralised in the 10 year UPA rule and strengthen the security establishment in the country so that the nation can effectively fight home-grown terror, Maoist violence and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
Finally, Modi would also have to restore the prestige of the office of the prime minister in particular and the political leadership in general that has been severely eroded under the decade long Manmohan Singh rule.
The author is professor at National Law University, Bhopal