Questions Left Unanswered After the 2019 Lok Sabha Results
Political scientist Ajay Gudavarthy says that the surprise victory of the Modi government, despite nothing to write about in terms of governance, poses more questions than it answers
In analysing the stupendous success of the BJP and Narendra Modi, we need to unpack many issues that have no clarity. Analysts have steadfastly avoided these issues and, therefore, the reasons for Modi`s success are not yet very clear. It is even claimed by some that Modi is perhaps the most popular leader, surpassing even Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. But why is Modi so popular and why does the electorate trust him so deeply?
In reality, there is nothing unprecedented that he has done which can justify this kind of trust. Is it possible that the trust emerged and then sustained for his alleged role in the anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002? Do people feel he does what he says and does not hesitate? Is this the same narrative that was repeated during the Balakot airstrikes, where he again said `Ghus kar marenge’ (we will hit them in their homes)? Or did the trust grow much stronger after he became the Prime Minister and is not directly linked to Gujarat 2002?
It is widely believed that the core constituency of the BJP is about 15-20%. Even when the BJP is not doing well, it is this core that does not desert it. Can we now argue that the core has expanded beyond 20% and has actually grown much wider? The core is ideologically committed to the project of Hindutva. Does it now mean a much wider section of the population has become committed to the project of Hindu Rashtra or does it suggest that outside the 20% core, people are committed more to Modi`s style of leadership than to the project of Hindutva?
It is also not clear how development and Hindutva are going together. Will lack of development lead to a large section deserting the party, which was what many believed till recently? But looking at the success of the party in Lok Sabha polls 2019, has the equation between development and Hindutva changed substantially? If so, how far can we stretch this logic? When people do not vote for reasons of lack of development what happens to their commitment to Hindutva and the idea of Hinduism-under-threat? Are these momentary fears or in fact projected for reasons of convenience?
It is also not clear why a leader aspiring to become immortal in history has not matched his performance with the kind of support he enjoys. Modi had near-total control over the administration and he could have easily doled out a policy that he could be remembered for, like V.P.Singh is known for OBC reservations, Advani for his Rath Yatra, or Vajpayee for his bus tour to Lahore. There is nothing that we can actually remember Modi for, except for this euphoric support and, if we stretch our memory a bit, for 2002. Imagine if without the economy doing well this is the kind of support he has, what would it have looked like had it actually done well? Or is it possible that a serious policy frame and developmental activities are not possible, given the ideological moorings of the BJP? Also, does the project of Hindutva go with empowerment of the people or does it have to necessarily keep them disempowered socially and also economically? Is this the reason that there was a sustained attack on institutions of higher education under Modi? Can economic mobility and the kind of street mobilization that Hindutva requires go together? Is it not true that Hindi heartland remained socially and economically backward because of Hindutva and therefore also its central site of mobilisation? Is this the reason that its expansion is slower in the South? This however does not explain its popularity in states like Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Finally, it is also not very clear how the BJP under Amit Shah is able to spread its base in such a clinical fashion. Wherever the BJP wishes to expand its footprint it is almost a foregone conclusion that it will begin and end with street violence. They did that in Tripura between the tribals and the non-locals, and then in Bengal between the Hindus and Muslims in Asansol, and with TMC workers in the rest of Bengal. Yet much of this violence is often described as spontaneous, followed by endless debates as to what triggered it and who is responsible for it. When it looks premeditated, how does it become spontaneous in media coverage? If it is indeed not spontaneous how does it invariably yield electoral results for the BJP? Why is it that nowhere have people come together to reject this model of politics? Is there a tacit consent for violence? Are the insecurities and mistrust between the communities real and the violence manufactured or is it the other way round?
Modi looks almost like a work of fiction: surreal and unreal. He had predicted in 2014 that nobody can remove him from power till 2024. Did this confidence mar the way he governed the nation for the last five years? Have we just witnessed poor governance because of stability? We do not as yet have the privilege of hindsight. It is important for individuals and events to become part of history to be properly asserted. Modi too knows this but will he be able to also fix history?
(Ajay Gudavarthy is Associate Professor at Centre for Political Studies, JNU. He recently authored the book ‘India after Modi: Populism and the Right (Bloomsbury, 2018)’)