Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Audacity of Change

The 2014 General Elections have been unique in several ways. With the highest number of first time voters, campaigns that focussed on personalities, with elections being fought for the first time on the plank of an economic slowdown, there is little doubt that these general elections have been the most interesting and analysed general elections of recent times. In more ways than one, democracy has triumphed again, though this time with a new accent. In the massive victory of Narendra Modi in 2014, we see the triumphant emergence of a single party rule for the first time after 1984.

The past five years were marked with corruption, inflation, policy paralysis, bad governance and supreme arrogance which were seen as the hallmarks of the UPA-2 regime. In what was clearly a mandate for hope and change, the voice of India's democracy spoke again in a new accent. The BJP-led NDA became the first government to cross the majority mark of 272 seats in the Parliament since 1984. Thus, it brought back stable and empowered governance with a single party rule.

The early days of democracy in India represented the views of the liberal, educated elite marked by ideals like inclusiveness and pluralism. The 1990s brought us to a new trend in Indian politics: coalition politics which saw the rise of an under-represented class. So, 2014 brings in the decisive victory helmed by the man of the moment: Narendra Modi. His astounding rise and victory is a result of the triumphant emergence of a class that lay unnoticed craving for a change and development. The clear dilution of traditional electoral segments which generally rally around the lines of class and caste, the mass support that Narendra Modi got was from an aspirational section of society that is impatient to move on in life beyond the obvious narratives of secularism.

In the age of social media, the victory of Narendra Modi sees expectations rising in the form of a under-represented middle-class. While his appeal has clearly transcended traditional electoral segments that are generally arrayed along the lines of caste and class, his core support base comes from a class that has been described urban that defines everything and causes hope and dread of equal intensity. At this time, without question it is hope that dominates for that is the sentiment of the majority. Of course, the majority never sees itself as merely that, it always equates itself with the whole and accords to itself an air of engaging reasonableness. 

For the first time in three decades, the country has a stable government marked with a decisive mandate that one could rarely envisage. Armed with a decent amount of self-belief, the mature Indian electorate usually has little interest in carping voices of dissent or of issues of those at the margin. Perhaps better days do lie ahead, as the Modi campaign promises, but whether that includes everyone is something that time will tell. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Pluralism vs Prejudice

The past few months have witnessed several "intellectuals" writing petitions on how India's next government is likely to be. With exit polls predicting a victory for the BJP-led NDA, the discourse has largely revolved around protection of India's "secular" ethos and the projection of Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat and his administration's alleged role in failing to control the distressing communal riots of 2002. Since then, there have been many manufactured debates on the road ahead and the supposed polarisation of India's electorate.

Editorials and columns that routinely warn about the manufactured dangers of having Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister have grown even as the general populace eagerly awaits relief from a scam ridden government which presided over unbridled inflation, ensured policy paralysis and a list of unending factors which contributed to an economic morass. There is little doubt that India's intellectual narrative has largely been constructed by individuals who are well-known for having left-centre leanings. The monopoly over India's academics and institutions has led to words like welfare, secularism, inclusiveness being used as virtues of a modern society. The rise of Narendra Modi, therefore in principle, demolishes the pretense that left-leaning academics are the sole defenders of intellectuals and artistic freedom especially against the Hindu right-wing who have been demonised as the ravagers of this space. 

The general tone in many columns and editorials harp on how Narendra Modi undermines his party and sidelining of senior leaders, how personality politics is dangerous for the idea called India etc. The amount of newsprint and airtime wasted discussing this almost makes one believe fears about doomsday which was busted in December 2012 was actually scheduled for May 16, 2014. The op-ed pages inform us how institutions will be undermined, there will be communal riots across the nation, how democracy would be buried and women safety in India will see a new low. Sadly, these are the writers whom many call as "intellectuals".

Surely, everyone has a right to opinion. As a number of intellectuals and academics issue statements, appeal to various individuals and political formations to defend India's secular credentials or illustrate it through editorials and columns, it makes one believe that intellectuals are the sole conscience-keepers of this nation. Launching constant attacks on a man who has done far more for his state than any other leader in contemporary India, reeks of conspiracy and needless paranoia. Thankfully, intellectuals in India are not a force to reckon with in the demographic sphere.

The people of India are recipients of common sense and have more wisdom than self appointed guardians of Indian secularism and pluralism. The people of India may or may not vote for Narendra Modi, the results of which will be clear by Friday, but they surely know what is good for them than these intellectuals. The real test about the idea of India lies in the fact if India can elect Narendra Modi and still hold on to its plural and secular spirit. Of course, if only our intellectuals had some faith in India or Indians.