Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Narendra Modi-led BJP's Landslide Victory in Indian Elections 2014

Indian Elections 2014
Narendra Modi-led BJP’s Landslide Victory
And the Herculean Task Ahead

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The month-long election to the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) is finally over. The results were announced on Friday, the 16th of May, 2014. 815 million voters cast their votes at 900,000 polling stations. The majority of India’s 800 million voters handed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the electoral victory in national polls. Preliminary figures from the Election Commission showed the BJP won more than the 272 seats required for a majority on its own in the 543-seat Parliament. The 63-year-old Narendra Modi propelled to a stunning victory with the strongest mandate any Indian government has enjoyed for 30 years. Sunil Khilnani, Director of King’s College London’s India Institute, likened the impact to “a democratic asteroid that wiped out many old habits”. Political analyst Paranjoy Guha Thakurta described the result as an “all-India tsunami in favour of the BJP” signifying the most people voted for a change at the centre.

BJP’s Stunning Victory
The BJP captured 339 parliamentary seats out of 543-seats Parliament, far ahead of the 272 majority required to rule. For the first time after 1984, the BJP has made a mark on its own by crossing the magic figure of 272 by getting 282 votes. The biggest contributor in the BJP’s historical victory is the Hindi heartland – Uttar Pradesh, the state with the highest number of parliamentary constituencies at 80 seats. Out of 80 seats, the BJP successfully bagged 71 seats, more than the Congress’s overall tally.

Modi stormed to victory at the polls, throwing the let-leaning secular Congress from office and handing his BJP a powerful mandate for promised sweeping reforms. Modi Modi secured the strongest mandate of any Indian leader for 30 years, after the BJP won 282 seats, dominating even in states with large Muslim populations such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Congress, India's national secular force that has ruled for all but 13 years since independence was obliterated, winning just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament.

Some relevant questions
Both in the Indian and international press, analysts and scholars raised the following questions on the stunning victory of the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party: Will Modi’s India remain faithful to the idea of India as enshrined in the constitution — a  constitution which still uses the words secular to define Indian democracy? Or does his ascent mark the official supersession of constitutional secularism by a Hindu rashtra? The answer to this lies in what answer we give to the question of what the 21% that voted for him want.

London-based New Statesman’s India correspondent, William Dalrymple, whose most recent book is “Return of a King: the Battle for Afghanistan” (Bloomsbury), raised the question: Is he a dangerous neo-fascist, as some say, or the strongman reformer that this country of 1.2 billion people craves?

Similarly, the Gulf-based writer, Aijaz Zaka Syed, enquired: “Given this ideological baggage, what would Prime Minister Modi do? Would he like the true and loyal soldier of Hindutva that he is carries out its long cherished mission, dismantling the diverse and secular fabric and character of this great nation to paint it in one, overpowering saffron hue? Or would he rather respect the sanctity of the awesome, historic mandate gifted to him in good faith with such enthusiasm by a trusting nation. This is something that was denied to even Vajpayee, the BJP’s tallest leader. No government since 1984 has enjoyed such decisive mandate.”

Kolkata-based journalist, Seema Sengupta, asked the question: Can Modi ensure that the Muslims, who have suffered a lot at the hands of Hindutva brigade, are not disempowered and they continue to have a stake in Indian politics? And  John Lloyd from Reuters asked: If Modi runs into trouble, the question is: Will he be the prime minister for all Indians, as he has promised, or will he revert to his divisive roots?

Before I deal with these queries, I would like to analyse the results of India’s 2014 parliamentary elections and the pros and cons of Modi government. In dealing with that, I will try to answer the following questions: a) What happened? b) How it happened? c) Why it happened? d) What will happen? e) What to do? And f) finally, the future of the secular, inclusive, pluralistic democracy of India.

a) What happened? Historic results
The results of the 2014 Indian parliamentary elections were described by some as surprise, others as a nasty shock and others historic. The results are historic not just on account of the absolute majority won by one party but also because of the sharp rise in the median victory margin. The median victory margin, which hovered in the 7-9% range over the past four parliamentary elections, went up to 13% this time. The elections have also delivered to Parliament a higher proportion of crorepati MPs as well as those with criminal charges against them.

Even the profile of some of the elected members of the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) are historic: The 16th Lok Sabha will have the most number of women members of Parliament (MPs), the highest number of MPs with doctoral degrees, and the highest number of MPs aged above 70 years in the history of the Indian Parliament, according to data compiled by PRS Legislative Research. Although the proportion of MPs with doctoral degrees is at an all-time high, the 16th Lok Sabha actually marks a fall in educational attainments of lawmakers. The proportion of MPs who have not cleared their matriculation exams has risen to double digits for the first time since 1980.

The proportion of MPs below 40 has fallen steadily over the past six decades despite the rising proportion of young people in the country. The number of Muslim MPs fell by 6 to 29 this time, after witnessing a similar fall in the 15th Lok Sabha. The proportion of women MPs has been rising since the first Lok Sabha, albeit at a glacial pace.

Besides the above, the result was historic for many reasons, as mentioned by Chandrahas Choudhury from Bloomberg: “It was the first time in India’s history that (i) any party other than the Congress had won an absolute majority in Parliament, as well as the BJP could lay claim to being a truly national party. (ii) It was also the first time that the Congress — which ran a ragged campaign behind fourth-generation dynast Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate — had taken fewer than 100 seats in Parliament. (iii) It was also the end of a three-decade-long era of fractured verdicts from the Indian voter and coalition governments in New Delhi, which gives Modi a freer hand to shape policy than any recent prime minister. (iv)) Amid many firsts in this Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) election, not one single Muslim has been elected from Uttar Pradesh despite the sprawling state’s 19 per cent Muslim population. The BJP did not give ticket to any Muslim.

b) How it happened?
It happened because of the hard work and complete dedication of the RSS/BJP cadre. The BJP ran a campaign completely devoid of the Hindutva agenda of its previous incarnation. It spoke of good governance, justice, economic empowerment, and inclusiveness. Secondly, the ineffectiveness of Muslim vote bank because of the divisiveness and fragmentation of the Muslim electorate. Thirdly, the allegation of corruption within the Congress Party.

c) Why it happened?  Divisions
Using UP as a good example of what happened across the country – on one side was the committed BJP voter who would come out in 48°C temperatures to cast his vote for his party. On the other side was the Congress/Secular party voter who had to choose between BSP, Samajwadi, AAP, Congress and many smaller parties – and he did – all to the benefit of the BJP. So in a manner of speaking the BJP is beholden to all those who voted for Congress, BSP, Samajwadi, AAP and others for its spectacular victory. No matter how unsavory and unidealistic this sounds, this appears to be the reality of the Indian voter across all divides.

What also contributed is the quality of the Muslim leader. The Ulama engrossed as they have been in their internal conflicts for the past several years, completely unconnected with their constituents, were rendered completely ineffective including those who entered politics.

d) What will  happen? Fear
About the future, there is fear among the Indian Muslims. The fear is expressed by both national and international press. So far as the international press is concerned International newspapers, including those in the US and the UK, gave extensive front-page media coverage and expressed their viewpoints in their editorials and opinion piece about the ascension of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India.

i) UK and US Newspapers: The New York Times, in an opinion piece by its editorial board, wondered “whether Mr. Modi will be the pragmatic pro-business leader who has argued for putting a priority on economic reforms and creating jobs, or whether he will be the strident Hindu nationalist who might impose a sectarian agenda on a largely secular state.”

The newspaper also published an article written by Gardiner Harris that talked about Muslim sentiment in India following the saffron party’s victory. “After a landslide electoral triumph Friday by the Bharatiya Janata Party of Hindu nationalists, some Muslims here said they were worried that their place in India could become even more tenuous,” Harris wrote.

The Washington Post wrote an opinion piece that carried this headline – “Will Narendra Modi’s era be marked by an economic boom or derailed by nationalism?” It asked “whether Mr. Modi will be the Deng Xiaopeng of India or its Vladimir Putin—a leader whose economic ambitions are derailed by nationalism and authoritarian temptations.”

In the UK, the Guardian’s Jason Burke defined Modi as “the controversial embodiment of a changing India”. Burke deemed Modi’s journey to the Prime Minister’s office “long and unlikely”.

The Financial Times wrote: “Doubts persist about his (Modi) attitude towards the country’s 175 million Muslims. Tragic memories linger from 2002 when, as chief minister, he failed to prevent a pogrom in Gujarat in which 1,000 people, many of them Muslims, were murdered.” It offered some advice to the would-be Indian Prime Minister. “Mr Modi’s duty is to govern in the interests of all Indians, in word as well as in deed. There is still time to express remorse for the events in Gujarat. He should brook no hint of Hindu triumphalism nor veer from the country’s secular principles,” it added in an editorial.

ii) Indian Newspapers: Similar fear was expressed and advice was offered in the editorial and opinion piece in the Indian newspapers. Indian newspapers urged Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi to reach out to Muslims and avoid the temptation of triumphalism after the Hindu nationalist leader’s crushing election victory. After winning the first outright majority by anyone for 30 years, Modi will not have to seek out coalition allies who might otherwise act as a moderating influence on his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

The India’s main newspapers said it was vital for Modi to allay the fears of minorities who did not jump on his electoral bandwagon, particularly Muslims who remember how around 1,000 people died in communal riots in 2002 soon after he took over as chief minister of Gujarat state.

The Hindu wrote in its editorial: “The reality remains that there is a huge trust deficit with the minorities, especially the Muslim community, which must be addressed.” “He is still regarded as a deeply polarizing figure not really reaching out to minorities. “In order to close the credibility gap that persists as regards his acceptability to govern all Indians, Mr. Modi must ensure that the idea of India as a pluralist and inclusive landscape in which all citizens have equality before the law as constitutionally decreed, is upheld consistently and transparently, while he is in office as Prime Minister.”

A Modi government “needs to, first and foremost, reach out to those that did not vote for it. It needs to talk to the Muslim community,” said an editorial in The Indian Express. “Ever since the violence in Gujarat in 2002 on the Modi government’s watch, and because of his refusal to directly address questions of his own political and moral accountability, a Modi prime ministership stokes insecurities in India’s largest minority that Prime Minister Modi cannot afford to relegate or ignore.”

The Hindustan Times said it was vital that what it called the “bad eggs in the party do not make overtly triumphal remarks about any community.”

Bharatiya Janata Party and Muslims
The abovementioned phobia is not completely baseless which can be seen and explained through BJP’s relationship with Muslims and Modi’s, background, association  and past performances . “Millions of India’s Muslims fear Narendra Modi's landslide election will fuel religious discrimination, intolerance and even bring bloodshed, but some are also prepared to give him a chance,” said Annie Banerji.

No Muslims: first of all, none of the 282 members of Parliament in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) elected on 16 May are Muslim and the percentage of them in the incoming parliament is one of the lowest in the country’s history. The BJP won 71 of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state that has more Muslims than any other. The BJP did not give ticket to any Muslim.

That Modi is a polarizing figure is a truism. It is a fact that Modi has led the BJP to a majority of 282 votes without there being a single parliamentarian from the country’s largest minority, Muslim. It is no accident that every one of the seven Muslim candidates fielded by the BJP lost. Even the so-called Modi tsunami could not save them — not even in Uttar Pradesh. Simply put, it was voter polarization, and a consolidation of Hindu.

Another factor is the BJP’s plans and party manifesto. There is a clear cultural element contained within Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist party’s plans. i) School text books: Under the last BJP government, school text books were changed to reflect a certain view of history and that is likely to happen again. ii) plan to build temple: The BJP’s manifesto promises to build a temple in dedication to Hindu deity Lord Ram at a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh, that was once the location of a mosque. The mosque was pulled down in 1992 leading to widespread clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

iii) Introduce Uniform Civil Code:  The BJP has also vowed to introduce a “Uniform Civil Code” that would end the use of traditional laws by religious communities. (iv) Plan to scrap so-called Article 370 of the Constitution: It also plans to scrap so-called Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gives special status to Kashmir.

Besides the BJP’s cultural plan and manifestoes, it is essential to look into Modi’s background, his association with and membership of RSS and his past deeds. That too, along with What to do and the future of the secular inclusive pluralistic democracy of India will be dealt with in the forthcoming issue.

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