Modi’s stunning landslide victory over a motley alliance of opportunistic regional parties and the former ruling power in India, the Congress Party, heralds a dramatic shift in India’s internal political dynamics. Given the sheer size of India it is certain that these changes will have a significant impact on the world as a whole. Below are my lessons or takeaways from this astonishing victory.
1. The era of dynasty is over
India, especially young India has decisively rejected the spectre of dynasty as a political trend. No longer can pampered and entitled dynasts lord it over less fortunate Indians because of an accident of birth. The new country whose rise Modi is spearheading is much more upwardly mobile and meritocratic. Dozens of dynasts in Congress lost. No longer will mediocrity in the name of a single family, no matter how wealthy or formerly influential be tolerated. The country has moved on. There is no better example of this than the humiliating loss of the Amethi seat formerly held by Rahul Gandhi to Smriti Irani of the BJP. This new India rewards performance, not entitlement.
2. The Congress Party needs new leadership
The Congress Party which had previously dominated Indian politics, ruling the country for much of its post -independence period has been shattered. Politically, recovery will take a long time. It is not implausible that the BJP can now win three or four consecutive elections, not unlike the British Conservatives in the 1980s. While there are many structural factors behind this disaster, the most obvious one to analyse is the lack of leadership. The Gandhi dynasty, steadily declining in talent and capability with each generation has finally hit the ultimate nadir. Already Rahul Gandhi’s offer to resign is being rejected by his mother, Sonia Gandhi. This is not a tenable situation. If the Congress truly wants to recover in the long run it needs new ideas and new leaders who have more credibility with aspiring young voters. Perhaps someone like Shashi Tharoor, MP for Thiruvananthapuram, with his erudite demeanour, statesmanship and knowledge of international relations would be ideal.
3. Denigrating Hinduism is spectacularly counterproductive
The debate over secularism in India will persist for some time to come, but the very grounds of that debate have now shifted. Whereas before it was the norm in liberal circles to dismiss the Hindu right and BJP as extremists, carrying on with that derogatory labelling is very unwise. The collapse of the Left in Kerala after interfering with the Sabarimala temple traditions is the best example of this. Liberals and others who choose to denigrate Hinduism as regressive, patriarchal and feudal while ignoring the violence of Communists in India, not to mention India’s recent traumatic experience with terrorism, have made themselves almost irrelevant. Hindus have consistently been one of the most peaceful communities in the world, and labelling Hindus as extremists for developing political awareness is now a non starter.
4. Nationalism and development is politically a very potent combination in modern India
Modi’s campaign hinged to an unprecedented degree on Indian nationalism. The stand-off with Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama suicide bombing in Kashmir raised nationalist feelings among ordinary Indians. Expanding on the third point, there is now a much greater awareness among Indians of the cost of terrorism. Nationalism has come to be seen as something of a dirty word in Europe because of the violent past of that continent, but this is not the case in India where nationalism has more historically anticolonial overtones. By trying to attack the credibility of India’s armed forces following the Balakot airstrikes in Pakistan, Congress and other opposition gave the BJP a huge helping hand.
This was supplemented by a ruthless focus on delivery by the Modi government. The poorest people got electricity, roads, and toilets alongside subsidised cooking gas. Middle class people got modern highways, metros and semi high speed trains. Every aspect of the Indian demographic got something that represented development. All of this has often been overlooked especially by liberal western commentators in their analyses, at least until now. The rapid development of much of India in combination with national security is a prime reason for the BJP landslide.
Narendra Modi has won the biggest electoral victory since Ronald Reagan. He now has a mandate to restore India as a Great Power, fulfilling the needs of India’s ambitious young people and eliminating poverty. The real hard work begins for him now.