Colombo Telegraph

Modi Tells Neighbouring Countries India Means Business

By Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

Like the adage from rags to riches Narendra Modi, a sutra by birth, has been anointed as the 14th Prime Minister of India on May 26th in a lavish ceremony that became a public relations coup for the new leader.  It was attended by over 4,000 dignitaries  including SAARC leaders.  Modi Mania griped India ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.

Those who thought that the inaugural ceremony will be kept at a low key were proved wrong. Probably Modi wanted to convey the message right from day one that his style of governance will be different from the corruption riddled and dysfunctional Congress led government of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

If the swearing-in ceremony was fat and pomp, Modi’s cabinet looked slim and trim. Some states like Thamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bengal and Northeast got short shrift and there is just one Muslim. But there are plenty of women at the top. A general rule was followed, a Ministership for every ten members of parliament from a particular state.

As widely predicted Modi has settled for a cabinet of 46 ministers with only 24 holding cabinet rank. This was a historic change in the formation of Ministries. The fact BJP is dominated by Brahmin – Bania castes is no secret. This is reflected in the composition of the cabinet. Obviously Modi did not break with tradition when it came to caste. Various upper castes, like Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasthas and Vaishyas in the north or socially dominant communities like Lingayats, Vokkaligas and Marathas account for 20 of the 46 ministerial berths. OBCs have 13, tribals 6 and dalits three.

Only three of the 46 ministers can clearly be identified as non-Hindus – Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a Sikh, and Najma Heptulla, a Muslim. Two others – Smriti Irani and Maneka Gandhi – are difficult to define by caste/community. What is interesting is how the caste mix changes across different levels of responsibility. Among the 24 Cabinet members (including Modi), 12 are upper caste, five OBC, two Dalit and one a tribal.

Interestingly enough of the 47 ST-reserved seats in the Lok Sabha, BJP won 26 and its allies another two. Compared to the tribals Dalits fared badly with just 3 berths compared to a share of about 15% -16 % in the country’s population.  Of the 87 such Lok Sabha constituencies, BJP alone won 40 and its allies like Shiva Sena, LJP and TDP won another nine. To put it differently, the Dalits voted for the BJP/NDA combine knowing well the in-built domination by the upper caste.

Writing in his face book Modi laid down the guiding principle of his government. The guiding principle is “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance” and also rationalization with a commitment to bring a change in the work culture and style of governance.

The historical success at the polls at the BJP and its ally the NDA is solely due to Modi the 3 times chief minister of Gujarat. He led the election campaign travelling over 10,000 kms by plane/ helicopter and addressing over 5827 public meetings. He stuck to his work schedule of sleeping only for 4 hours with 1 hour for Yoga. It was a spic and span campaign without any hiccups. BJP spent between Rs.5, 000 – 10,000 crores on its campaign, but it is well worth as the election results showed.  The following table shows the 2014 Lok Sabha results at a glance.

At the national level, the story of votes (not seats) obtained by various parties and alliances is fairly straightforward. The BJP got 31.0 % votes an increase of 12.2 % compared to 2009.  The Indian Congress got 19.3 % of votes a decrease of 9.3 % of votes.  But in terms of seats the BJP secured 282 seats an increase of 166 seats over 2009.  The Congress secured only 44 seats a decrease of 162 seats.  Likewise BJP and its allies secured 42.04 % of the votes and 336 seats (61.88%) while the Indian Congress and its allies with 23.10 % of the votes managed to secure only 55 seats (10.13%). Some regional parties like the Bahujan Samaj party polled   22,946,182 votes (4.1%) but failed to secure a single seat. The DMK which polled 9.636,430 (1.7%) also came a cropper not winning any seat.

The distortion between votes polled and seats secured is due to the principle of first-past-the-post (FPTP or FPP) by which   the candidate receiving more votes than any other(s) is declared the winner.  It is a common, but not universal, feature of electoral systems with single-member legislative districts and generally results in winner taking all.

The voting   reveals the huge strength of nearly a dozen parties at the regional level. While the two major BJP and Congress secured just about 50 percent votes nationally – the balance is distributed amongst parties with regional bases.

The vote shares show the great advantage of the right kind of alliances, and the burden of dead wood. For instance, the BJP benefited from key alliances with Aswan’s Lok Ashanti Party (LJP) in Bihar and the Telugu Desam (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh, while the Congress managed to stay afloat in Bihar due to its tie-up with Lulu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

As mentioned above one of the biggest surprises of this election was that no candidate of the Mayawati led BSP won. In the outgoing Lok Sabha they had 21 members. But, in Uttar Pradesh, which is BSP’s stronghold, it managed a creditable 20 percent share of votes.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) may not have performed well considering that it was much hyped in the media and had put up over 400 candidates across the country. But its performance in two states, Delhi and Punjab, is creditable. In Delhi it got 33% votes, improving upon its vote share from last December’s state assembly elections when it had got about 28% share of votes.  It lost out decisively to the BJP this time around because BJP itself improved its vote share to over 46% from 33 % in December. BJP took all 7 seats!

In Punjab, the AAP got nearly 25 percent votes, and managed to get four members in the Lok Sabha. This, despite the fact, that the BJP-Akali alliance got about 35% votes and the resurgent Congress 33%. In this triangular contest, everybody walked away with a few seats.

This is the biggest victory for the BJP since the 1984 election that Rajiv Gandhi won with 414 seats. It is also the first time ever in the 67-year history of independent India that a non-Congress party has won a simple majority on its own.

Readers will be interested to know the voting pattern in Thamil Nadu which returns 39 members to parliament. The table below shows the polling results for 2014.

The AIADMK contesting alone won a spectacular victory scoring 37 out of 39 seats (94.87) with only 44.3 vote share. It increased its share almost double from 22.9  in 2009 to 44.3 in 2014 and the number of seats from 9 to 37 a net gain of 28. On the other hand DMK vote share dropped slightly from 25.1  to 23.6  between 2009 – 2014 and the number of seats from 18 to zero. It was a five cornered contest and the first past the poll winners took it all.   The voters appeared to have punished the DMK along with the Indian Congress since both were considered culpable for the defeat of the LTTE and the death of tens of thousands of people during the last phase of the war at Mullivaaikkal. Congress lost all the 39 seats it contested and worse losing deposits in 38 out of 39 electorates. Its share of vote dropped from 15.0 to 4.3 the lowest in any previous polls.

The fact that NDA was able to form a government on its own has taken the shine off AIADMK bagging 37 seats in Thamil Nadu. Ms Jayalalithaa was hoping to play the role of “kingmaker” in case the NDA falling short of an absolute majority. Yet having emerged as the third largest party in parliament her voice cannot be ignored by the NDA and certainly by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India’s foreign policy under the UPA government, notably during UPA 2 was a dismal failure. Manmohan Singh was reduced to the status of a puppet Prime Minister while Sonia Gandhi pulled the strings behind the curtain. The Prime Minister found himself helpless with corrupt Ministers and Officials. After the defeat of the UPA he blamed the rampant corruption and cost of living as the twin factors responsible for the debacle.

Although India’s creeping economy was the dominant issue during the campaign, Modi’s victory is bound to make a significant change in India’s foreign policy as well.  There must be an end to an era of timidity and indecisiveness bordering on paralysis under the Congress-led government.

Modi by inviting SAARC leaders demonstrated his eagerness to establish peace in neighbouring countries, including Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The BJP with its overwhelming parliamentary majority in parliament has the mandate to pursue a bold and creative foreign-policy agenda. Whether Modi will use his decisive mandate to advance India’s interests remains to be seen.

It is early to speculate whether the NDA government under Prime Minister Modi will be different from the Congress government in dealing with a recalcitrant and haughty president Mahinda Rajapaksa.When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Prime Minister (first 13 days in 1996 and then from 1998 to 2004) Thamils were eutectic. Added, George Fernandez became the all powerful Minister of Defence. Unfortunately, nothing changed. India gifted the war ship Sukanya to Sri Lanka a fact unknown to the Defence Minister.

This time around there is euphoria after the no-nonsense Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi was sworn in as the Prime Minister. Modi in his very first encounter with Mahinda Rajapaksa asked him “to expedite the process of national reconciliation in a manner that meets the aspirations of the Thamil community for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka.”

But, Mahinda Rajapaksa has heard this sing-song from former Indian Prime Minister and Foreign Ministers many times before. On returning to Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa has climbed the murunga (drumstick) tree like the demon in the Vickramathithan fable. He has said that the select committee process is the only way to solve the ethnic problem.

The new Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is an unknown angel, except the fact she has a soft corner for Buddhism. She invited Mahinda Rajapaksa as soon as she returned from Sri Lanka after a fact finding mission in 2012 to lay the foundation stone for building a Buddhist University at Sanchi. Hindu Nationalism as represented by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal are favourably inclined towards Buddhism.

In Hinduism, Buddha is regarded as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, following Ram and Krishna. BJP being an off shoot of RSS holds the same view. It is likely the Sri Lankan government will now play the Buddhist  card more aggressively to tame the BJP. One has to wait and see how things play out under Prime Minister Modi’s dispensation. However, India under Modi will not be business as usual.

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