The Indian people have, once again, given a resounding mandate to Narendra Modi. He has led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a greater Lok Sabha victory than that in the 2014 elections, a possibility which very few political observers expected. The party’s strong and well-organised election machine which was astutely handled by its President, Amit Shah, helped in translating Modi’s charisma and popularity into votes. But this victory is his and his alone.
The results show that Modi has held on to his success in the ten Hindi speaking states where he had achieved a success rate of over eighty-four percent in 2014. In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s politically most significant state, he was able to meet the formidable caste based challenge of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party alliance. Significantly, in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh he pushed aside the Vidhan Sabha defeats of six months ago and repeated/bettered his 2014 performance. In the west the party has retained its old performance. More importantly, the BJP has made significant gains in West Bengal and Orissa. This will have a bearing on India’s polity.
Modi campaigned indefatigably from the front, defining the party’s election themes, strategies and tactics. He wove the election around national security which resonated in large parts of the country, especially in the north and the west. The Balakot action contributed to raising the priority of the national security theme. He also focussed on the numerous schemes, that he introduced and identified with, to help in improving the lives of the poor and marginalised. Many schemes have been imperfectly implemented but large sections have obviously given Modi credit for trying to do something for them. During the campaign Modi raised controversial issues which helped to divert attention from the deficiencies in his government’s economic performance.
Above all, Modi kept the focus on himself. He projected the persona of a strong leader who would continue to provide a stable and progressive government. He asserted that the opposition could not simply do so for it did not have a leader to match him and was also a collection of opportunistic parties. The results show that the people have accepted his contentions and hence, have given him this huge success.
These elections confirm that Indian polity and society are changing. BJP spokespeople assert that India is a country of the aspirational young who are eager for change and are full of confidence and desire for an improvement in their living standards; that it is this young aspirational India that has once again reposed faith in Narendra Modi to take the country to a better and more fulfilling future. There is no doubt that the young people of India have a burning wish for a better future and are impatient and confident. It is also true, as these results show, that they continue to have great faith in Modi.
Thus, as the nation proceeds to the 75th anniversary of independence and beyond, Modi will play a pivotal role to define its direction and texture. The Mahabharata records that Bhishmapitamah was once asked: Does a ruler make the times or do the times make a ruler? After long deliberation he replied: A ruler fashions the times. This is especially true for dominant rulers. It is now for Modi who is the unquestioned leader of India to take it purposefully forward under the basic and enduring compact of the Indian people—the constitution.
Soon after the results indicated that Modi was winning he tweeted, “Together we will build a strong and inclusive India”. The foundation of true national strength lies in all sections of people being convinced that their rights, interests, culture and faith are secure and protected. The public culture of a country changes with the times. It has been so in India, as in the rest of the world, through history. However, public culture should never lead to alienation of any person or group; it should seek to embrace all in within its fold.
As he will begin his second term Modi faces great challenges on the domestic and external fronts. The economy needs special attention. Many significant sectors—aviation, telecom, construction to name just three—are in grave difficulty. Agriculture too needs an uplift. Banking also requires special focus. Modi will have to urgently attend to these issues. The external environment is problematic and western neighbourhood is particularly unsettled. That too will need skilled application of diplomatic skills.
What is the post-election condition of the opposition? That Rahul Gandhi has matured as a politician is demonstrated in the stark difference between the way he appeared before the media with his mother, Sonia Gandhi, after the 2014 defeat and the way he briefly interacted with the press after the present great setback. The Amethi defeat will sap the Congress party of a degree of confidence and make Rahul’s task more difficult. But if he can hang in and soldier on he will earn the people’s respect. The Congress party needs to be re-invented and Rahul will have to show imagination and guts to do so.
In his victory speech Modi reiterated his commitment to the constitution and to carry the country through consensus and take even his adversaries along. This will require that he controls those elements who want to practice divisiveness. The balm of sulah-e-kul will have to be applied. That will be the vision that is required of Modi in his hour of great victory.