A New Idea of India: Congress simply paled before Narendra Modi's vividly saffron new nation

It wasn't so much the Congress' weaknesses as the strength of Narendra Modi's imagined new India, rich, powerful, globally confident and stridently Hindu, that won Lok Sabha 2019.

 |  5-minute read |   26-05-2019
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Narendra Modi has scripted the second term of a glorious victory.

It is also the first time a non-Congress party has safely returned to the shores of power pushed by a huge pro-incumbency wave. A win despite the fact that the economy is not looking up, that demonetisation did lead to unemployment and that GST did throw small businesses out of gear.

Despite all this, the largest election in the world has been won by one man — Narendra Modi. And Modi won because India identifies with him.

One may or may not identify with this new India but it’s a reality.

Rahul Gandhi or the Gandhi dynasty itself may be one of the reasons why the Congress fared so badly in the elections — but it certainly is not the main factor. There is no other leader in the Congress at this juncture who could have withstood the Modi wave in 2014 or 2019. And this swelling Modi wave was built on Modi’s refined idea of the RSS’s concept of Indian nationhood — a strong Hindu India with a singular identity.

To my mind, this notion of Indian nationhood has won the battle over the Congress’s supposed idea of India, whose core principle was a pluralism of identities.

modi-4_052519123407.jpegRahul Gandhi's notion of India lost to Modi's new India — a strong Hindu India, with a singular identity. (Image: DailyO)

This mammoth political victory is not a vote on Modi’s economic achievement or social security schemes. Though, as the BJP President Amit Shah claimed, the schemes have touched 21 crores lives, it remains one of the many side factors for this staggering dominance. People did not vote for Modi’s Ujjwala Yojana, Swachh Bharat mission, toilets or LPG schemes. It is a victory of majoritarianism and of macho nationalism.

The Congress’s idea of India simply had no takers. In contrast, Modi’s idea of India was riding high on a wave of religious and cultural pride, along with adrenalin-infused macho nationalism that was propelled by Balakot.

Muslim votes in favour of Modi remains at a constant of 7%-8%, just like in 2014 as per a CSDS survey. This is a huge thumbs-up vote for Modi’s Hindutva laced with the politics of ‘Vikas’. So, Modi has successfully overcome the veto of the Muslim votes with his saffron consolidation. The 2014  elections were fought on ‘Vikas’ — however, this time, that term was nowhere in sight because the government had fared miserably on the economy and the job front.

In radio jingles and on billboards, the slogans of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas were conspicuously absent. The 2019 campaign was mainly riding high on national security and anti-Pakistan sentiments, and had replaced ‘Vikas’ with Modi Hai Toh Mumkin Hai, promising innumerous possibilities should Modi come to power again. 

The idea of India, which was supposedly followed by the Congress was more pragmatic, accommodating multiple identities and contradictions that constitute Indian society. It also led to policies of preferential treatment, which is now fiercely fought over as the policy of 'appeasement' which should be done away with. This issue is a separate debate in itself because the preferential treatment has ironically kept India’s largest minority backward and uneducated, reducing them to just a vote bank.

As opposed to this, BJP propagated Indian nationhood as a unitary civilization — which is essentially Hindu.

In order to make its mark on the world stage as a strong nation, it must wear this identity with pride. Along with this, Modi promises Acche Din with upward economic mobility. A strong, rich and predominantly Hindu India is the dominant theme in national politics today, which compelled the other political parties to follow this narrative driven by the BJP.

Hence, in these elections, as rightly pointed out by the PM himself, no political party dared to hide behind the veils of secularism. Time and again, we saw a race to show off who was more ‘Hindu’. The victory of Pragya Thakur against Digvijay Singh is a clear example of the ideology that has captured India’s mind. A BJP leader told me that Pragya Thakur’s candidature was an experiment to burst the myth of 'Hindu terror' which was being accepted as the truth.

The experiment succeeded.

The question now is, will this experiment embolden the BJP's philosophy of aggressive Hinduism?

And will this be repeated elsewhere? 

pragya-singh-thakur_052519124411.jpgA political experiment? The victory of Pragya Thakur is a clear example of the 'Hindu nation' ideology that's captured India’s mind. (Photo: PTI)

The self-proclaimed fakir, PM Modi, clearly made an emotional connect with India. Many of his critics took to Twitter to express their 'gratification' at apparently being out of sync with this India — their behaviour reeked of a condescending attitude towards a democratic victory not palatable to a certain section. One can surely criticize Modi and his brazen Hindutva brand or macho nationalism — but it’s imperative to look into the phenomenon that is sweeping India off its feet and casting a spell, especially over young voters.

A very recent example of this new macho nationalism was on display in Aligarh, when the newly elected BJP MP stated his first priority was to send Jinnah’s portrait, locked in a room in Aligarh Muslim University, to Pakistan. The BJP's increased vote share and a staggering 303 seats without the allies shows that the Congress would have lost this election even if it forged a couple of alliances in UP, Delhi, Haryana, Bengal and elsewhere. Now, they have lost out on the leader of the opposition berth due to the dismal 52 seats.

It has been said that the issue of Rafale backfired, that Rahul Gandhi’s Chowkidar Chor Hai did not ring with the people, that Priyanka Gandhi’s much talked about charisma could not withstand the Modi magic. While all of this may be true, the Congress lost this election because their idea of India has paled in comparison to Modi’s notion of the Indian nation.

This staggering concentration of power in one man (remember, the election was fought and won on only Modi’s name) is something to beware of in a democracy like India.

Also read: Bye-Bye Dynasty: The Modi tsunami and the end of an age of privileged entitlement

Writer

Naghma Sahar Naghma Sahar @naghmasahar

Author is a senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation.

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