By Kusal Perera –
An attempt made by me over two weeks ago to predict the outcome of Indian elections 2014 as seen from Colombo, went awry. My tinkering with past election results and Indian media polls, only allowed for a hung parliament, dependent on a substantial gain by AIADMK in Tamil Nadu (TN) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Seemandhra. Mamata Banerjee was not ticked off as a likely ally of Modi on what was there on media. I was somewhat close to Jeyalalithaa’s expectations of AIADMK being able to dictate terms in a coalition government, although my calculations did not allow Jeyalalitha a landslide, historical victory in TN. In just one day’s counting, Modi more than BJP, sent all calculations haywire.
Called a “carnival of democracy” this 2014 Indian elections on it’s very outcome, is politically incredible to the extent, it makes representative democracy a practical farce. Going by numbers, BJP won 282 seats on its own and technically has more than the 273 needed to form a stable majority government. BJP is the major and dominant partner in the the NDA, an alliance since 1998 that then had 14 affiliates and formed a government that lasted 01 year. It had 16 affiliates including DMK when it won in 1999 again and stayed in power till 2004. The DMK then moved out and coalesced with the Indian National Congress (INC) led UPA to be in government. Now in 2014 May, the NDA has 29 political parties that won 336 seats. Out of this list of 29 alliance parties, only 11 parties have won the extra 54 seats that top up BJP’s landslide victory. Shiv Sena (18) and TDP (16) being the larger of the small contributors.
Previous such historic victory was in 1984 December when Rajiv Gandhi leading the INC won an unbelievable 414 seats in the Lok Sabha. He then had the fortune of riding the sympathy wave of his mother’s assassination by Sikh security personnel. Added was the fact that the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty remained a living factor in Indian national politics during that time.
This Modi phenomenon, completely outclassed dynastic politics that dominated Indian life. Sonia – Rahul Gandhi led INC, that in every aspect is the remaining legacy of Gandhi – Nehru nexus in the history of Indian national struggle, was not accepted as such by the “New India” in a neo liberal consumer economy. Restructured Indian economy in 1991 under PM Narasimha Rao, who brought in Dr. Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister exclusively for that purpose, helped create a wholly new Indian urban middle class and a tech savvy new generation who are faithful Citizens of the global future than the colonial past. While in 1984 Rajiv’s victory left the Lok Sabha without an Opposition leader with the regional TDP then led by Rama Rao voted the largest opposition with just 30 seats, the 2014 INC election campaign led by his son Rahul G is now reduced to just 44 seats as the largest single opposition party in the Lok Sabha. In a democracy that constitutionally requires a minimum of 55 seats for a single party to sit with the official position of “Leader of the Opposition”, Modi has denied even that position to Rahul and his INC.
How will Modi who rode on a “Hindutva” platform take up this unwieldy mandate in governing a carefully federated country that is a massive collage of 22 Constitutionally recognised languages, 06 major and recognised religions and 52 major ethnicities (that includes over 2,000 ethnic groups) as a single free market economy ?
A closer and a deeper look into election results that brought Modi riding high, does not give such a flabbergasting view as that created by numbers for the Lok Sabha seats. In a country that records over 80% Hindu, over 41% speaking Hindi, with Shiv Sena as an ally, leading the political front of the RSS called BJP and projecting a “Har har Modi” image, he could only muster 31% as BJP and only 38.4% with all the NDA allies. Meanwhile Rahul led INC has retained a reasonable 19% and with its allies in the UPA a good 23.4%, despite its humiliating defeat in Lok Sabha representation.
An important reading from elections results that should not get buried under media hype on Modi’s victory is the fact, he had no serious impact where other ethno linguistic cultural identities differed with that of his blessed “Hindutva” Identity. It was so in both TN where the Dravidian identity holds a pan Tamil authority over South Indian society and in West Bengal, where the overall Bengali identity cuts across politics. In TN Jeyalalithaa rammed through, winning 37 out of 39 seats. Her AIADMK running alone, polled almost 44% of the TN votes. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (AITC) won 34 out of 42 seats polling over 39% of the votes as a single party sans any ally.
Taking such ethno linguistic identities away from Modi’s victory, what gets him into Lok Sabha with an unprecedented majority as PM, leaves two distinct factors to be reckoned with. One is his very obvious “Hindutva” politics and two the ability he had in wooing the “anti incumbency vote”. His binding responsibility now will be to placate both voter blocs. One an economic responsibility and the other an identity bond, with blurred margins between the two. Where will he start and what would be his priority ?
Though identity politics in India is not as simplistic as that in Sri Lanka, Modi is saddled with almost the same dual role that President Rajapaksa is still compelled to handle, 05 years into post war politics. Post war politics in the South was not only about a Sinhala identity issue in urban and semi urban middle class life. It was also about “economics” in identity politics. The need to live a serenely comfortable urban life with stability in a flourishing and expanding market understood as “the priority” of the Sinhala middle class. In rural society it is stagnant income and rising cost of living, linked to the aspiration of a better or less competitive opportunities in life.
Rajapaksa’s first “address to the nation” proudly announcing the defeat of the LTTE, that said his government would hereafter treat all as equals in Sri Lanka without minorities, was meant to project a Sri Lanka that would economically move forward creating a vibrant market, large enough for all to share in. Yet with the R/regime into wheeler dealing with a haphazardly managed economy, that could not be the ground reality. With the R/regime failing in its responsibility to deliver economically, it chose to shift into popular and easily marketable option of playing with identity politics. Of playing into the Sinhala bias that reaches into anti terrorist, anti separatist and therefore into anti LTTE, popular Sinhala politics.
The issue is, will that be the path and the plank, Modi will also tread and use ? The anti incumbency vote was very substantial, going by the anti corruption campaigns that took root in Indian urban society, long before Modi wriggled himself into the position of BJP’s Prime Ministerial nominee. The second term of the INC led government started off with the social observation that PM Singh is no leader and the government is run through proxy. The second term brought out massive corruption charges like the CW Games, the Coal scam and the 2G Scam that saw ministers and political allies being driven into remand prisons. Essentials like fuel being left at the receiving end of financial planning made the lower middle class and the poor badly treated. Worst was the inability of the INC to answer any of them with convincing leadership projection in their election campaign. Rahul was both a “Yes” and “No” PM nominee that saw the campaign more or less rudderless. This gave a huge mileage to Modi who drove home his “success story” in Gujarat, increasing the “anti incumbency” vote. For any Indian government, 10 years continuous rule would create such anti incumbency trend.
This high voter percentage, though they may also wish to be part of the “Hindu Parivar”, would first want their “anti incumbency” answered. Therefore Modi will have to give priority to the economy, and that was where MR also thought he could contain the Opposition outside his Sinhala Buddhist loyalist vote. But, Modi’s “Gujarat magic” will not be the answer for issues at a macro level. In Gujarat, his style of governance was part arrogance and part micro management. This was acceptable to big businesses like the Tata Group (They are in Colombo now with a 400 mn US dollar project on a 08 acre land given free by UDA) that shifted from West Bengal after AITC mobilised farmer protests, and for the likes of Gujarati owned Reliance Industries. Such investors preferred Modi there, to take decisions backed by an absolute BJP majority in Gujarat State, wholly controlled by him.
Yet, what is not said, or what is carefully left aside in Modi media hype is the fact that, there were States not run by BJP that did economically better than Gujarat within the same 2002 to 2013 period. While Modi’s Gujarat is claimed a new development phenomenon with 10.04% growth, Tamil Nadu during the years 2005 to 2010 recorded a stable growth of 10.06%. During that period its service sector annual growth was 11.11%. Now this does not mean, Karunanidhi or Jeyalalithaa could do the same wonder in a highly complex and a heavily layered country that has different State planning approaches on diverse political perceptions. So is it for Modi. India is not Gujarat.
He would also be held responsible for a cleaner economy. “Corruption” factor designed the core anti incumbency campaign, AAP also adding its “Two Paisas” worth of criticism. His dilemma would be to clean up the economy as demanded, maintaining a neo liberal economy run on Hindutva nationalism. That task is beyond an individual’s human ability. A serious Indian critic of neo liberal economies, Prabhat Patnaik asks, “Why do established political parties allow this to happen? Why do they allow such interlopers to enter their parties, occupy powerful positions, and pursue policies which are palpably unpopular and risk losing their electoral support? ” and then answers himself;
“The simple answer is that they have little choice in the matter once the economic affairs of a country are opened up to the vortex of global financial flows. After this initial breach has been made, they find themselves incapable on their own of managing affairs on the basis of the traditional “expertise” they have; and, besides, in a country that is so opened up, retaining the “confidence of the investors” becomes crucial for avoiding capital flight, and globalised finance capital naturally has greater “confidence” in a country whose economy is run by ex-employees or trusted friends of the Fund and the Bank than in one where traditional politicians hold exclusive sway.” (Neo-liberalism and “Corruption”)
That’s where Modi will find himself in. He was backed by big businesses, projected as his ability to gain investor confidence and run the economy better than the lacklustre INC and Manmohan Singh. But that individualism is no panacea in free market economies. Corruption, in no lesser scale, will remain even if the media and “Hindutva” nationalism would not want to discuss that in public. The advantage Modi would have and the irony of it is, INC and its leadership held responsible for massive scams being investigated in judicial forums, will not have the moral right to challenge Modi’s government on “corruption”.
Can AAP and the vociferous Indian urbanites take up that left out challenge, once again ? In SL, MR has to a great extent pacified such critics with his Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. “Well yes. There is corruption. There is growing crime and break down in law and order. BUT then, MR cleared the country of Tamil terrorism. Of 30 years of terrorist war.” goes their pacifying lament. Especially among the urban middle class and with most professionals. How will Modi create a parallel to MR’s victory over LTTE separatism ?
Modi certainly is aware of the gap between his “Hindutva” rhetoric and his capacity as a financial manager. He plays both ways, but would keep his Hindutva base for future security, is my guess. Modi is no Atal Bihar Vajpayee to travel to Lahore. He is clearly no BJP politician like Advani. He runs with the RSS and hunts with the “Swayam sevaks”. He is said to be in discussions with the RSS leadership in forming his Cabinet of Ministers. He would not have the same South Bloc bureaucracy to take advice on Pakistan and Sri Lanka. These are two key neighbours. Pakistan, a direct Islamic State, implicated in many ways on Muslim terrorist attacks within India. There is a public outcry in India given much space in mainstream media, to go hard line against Pakistan after the 26/11 Lakshar-e-Taiba attack in Mumbai. “National Security” has become the key word and that drags with it, “Hindutva” extremism.
Across the Palk Strait lies a decade long festering wound, TN politics keep playing with, between elections. How much would Jeyalalithaa use that Tamil pressure now that elections are over, with her 37 Lok Sabha seats having no utility value in N/Delhi? In such context, can BJP backed defeated allies in TN like Vaiko have personal influence over Modi ? R/regime is too close to Pakistan for personal politics to overcome Modi’s Hindutva demands. All that will be decided on how much leverage he would keep for his Hindutva nationalism. Colombo – Chennai link is now looked at as the Pakistani landing site for Islamic extremism. That will keep Modi’s foreign relations taut, on a firm “Hindutva” agenda, where SL and Pakistan is concerned. It seems for now, Hindutva nationalism has made an unavoidable, ugly dent in secular Indian politics.
As Patnaik in his essay on “Neo Liberalism and Democracy” talks of a shift from class politics to “identity politics” in neo liberal economies, one major consequence is, “identity fascist politics (of which communal-fascism is the obvious example), which, though based on particular “identity groups” and campaigning virulently against certain other target “identity groups,” is supported and nurtured by the corporate-financial elite, and has the effect of actually promoting corporate interests rather than of the identity group in whose name it is organised.
The bottom line therefore is, India will have to live with a pro businesses, “Hindutva” Modi who in a diversely complex India, would not go the whole hog that MR would not hesitate to go, but will not be the panacea the 38.4% Indians thought he would be.