Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So, He’s Popular, But is He Democratic?

Victor’s autobiography is usually the desk guide on how not to write history. Narendra Modi’s victory speech is, therefore, the best way to make sense of how not to understand the Gujarat verdict. One thing must be conceded straightaway though. He was right to complain about “political pundits’” inability to acknowledge his victory. The fact remains that he has won. He has won the election square and fair. He may not have secured 117 seats or lived up to the hype created by his supporters and the media but he has won a clear mandate. It may not be a historic win but winning third consecutive election with a comfortable margin is no joke. His performance may have been somewhat uneven across the regions and the rural-urban divide. But that’s almost always the case with any winner. To say, as Union fi nance minister P Chidambaram did that Modi has been “contained”, is simply ridiculous. It is also ridiculous to think that the voters voted for him out of ignorance or fear. If there is any measure of popular support in a free and fair election, Narendra Modi fits the bill. No doubt this election was about the one thing he didn’t mention in his lecture, about his ascent to national leadership. Clearly, this victory catapults him as the principal leader of the BJP in the next Lok Sabha election, not only because of his own strength, but principally because of the disarray in the BJP’s national leadership. It’s not clear though if his model can be replicated at the national level. All this, however, does not demonstrate what Modi have us believe. His speech, even if you take out the inevitable rhetoric and fl amboyance, argued that it was a vote for good governance and development, sans politics of caste and community. No doubt the voters on balance preferred continuation of his rule over the alternative offered by Shankarsinh Vaghela’s Congress and Keshubhai Patel’s GPP. It is not clear though if it was more of an approval of his government or a disapproval of his rivals. It is no doubt an endorsement of the record of economic growth in the last decade. But we cannot conclude from this verdict that growth has trickled down to the last person. As always BJP’s vote share among the poor and the poorest was substantially lower than its average. The Congress led among these classes. The verdict cannot be seen as a verdict on the government’s record on education and health that left much to be desired. Modi may not have targeted any caste or community overtly but as in the case of Nitish Kumar, the developmental appeal was meticulously tied to caste arithmetic. He knew he’d lose among Patidars and indeed he did, though not as much as was hyped by the media. But he managed to make up for that loss by gains among Kshatriyas and Kolis the two big OBC communities. Gujarat
has been a class-andcaste divided state ever since the 1980s. And this election was no exception. Finally, 2002 riots may not have fi gured during these elections. This was certainly not a verdict based on communal hatred. BJP did secure about 1/5th of the Muslim vote as it did in 2007. Yet, Narendra Modi’s campaign and his refusal to nominate even a single Muslim candidate left no one in doubt on where he stands on this issue. In his victory speech, he offered apology but not for the one thing he should have apologised for. Modi’s inevitable and now unstoppable rise to national leadership of his party invites us to think if what is popular is always democratic. Is Moditva compatible with the idea of a democratic and diverse India? No doubt this would put me in the category of “political pundits” Modi targeted and taunted throughout his speech but pundits have their own dharma.
Yogendra Yadav