The BJP and the Congress are in shell shock. Their fans and baiters as well. One is astounded by the unexpected scale of its landslide victory and the other in shocking disbelief of its resounding loss.
Scores of editorials and op-ed articles are pouring out. They are still unable to come to grips with the reality, overwhelmed by the results.
Until the exit polls were announced just after the last vote was cast, on May 23, most analysts predicted a weaker BJP without a clear majority or expected a wafer thin majority, needing allies to form a government. Some forecast the remote possibility of the Congress-led opposition cobbling together a coalition and staking a claim to form the government. A few others foresaw the distinct possibility of a hung parliament.
Even the exit polls didn't get it completely right though many were sure of BJP's comfortable victory without allies. Not only are they taken by total surprise by the BJP’s thumping majority but astonished by the complete elimination of Congress from 17 states, including its rout in the Hindi heartland where it had just a few months ago clawed back to power — a factor which showed a diffident BJP going out of the way to stitch alliances with allies like Shiv Sena though it was a relentless abusive partner.
Was it the Balakot strategic attack deep inside Pakistan that turned the tide in BJP’s favour? Was the reason the open espousal of building a Hindu Nation and polarisation of Hindus against Muslims? Could it be Modi's tireless campaign with an indefatigable energy projecting himself as a self-made poor, backward caste boy who rose against overwhelming odds, now selfless and hardworking in the service of the country? Or was it whipping up the hatred by all Hindus and consolidating them against the Congress and all the regional parties who practised brazen appeasement politics of the Muslim community and conflating it with revenge against Pakistan and fervent nationalism while simultaneously portraying Rahul Gandhi and Congress and the leftist intellectuals as effete and anti-national? Or could it be that Modi successfully hypnotised the people with his raw wisdom coming across as a reincarnation of Shiva and Subhas Chandra Bose rolled into one — a monk, stoic and courageous and a living god among them born to slay demons who are destroying Hindus and Hindutva? Or finally in contrast was it more the negative images of a rudderless Congress party with a young leader who had no clear leadership style nor substance, a dynast tilting at the windmills, trying in vain to unite a disparate coalition of provincial leaders, looking more like one herding cats instead of leading a disciplined army?
It's always easy to analyse past events than foretell the future not only for psephologists but even astrologers. The many autopsies and theories gleaned out of the results don't all add up and throw light on the inscrutable mind of the Indian voter or throw clear answers to the pattern of the victory.
Where The Magic Did Not Work
Why did the Modi magic not work in Andhra or Kerala or Tamil Nadu where the BJP scored a zero? Kerala presented a great opportunity to consolidate Hindu votes after the Supreme Court verdict allowed younger menstruating women to enter the shrine to worship, a state with the largest Muslim population and also Christians by percentage.
The BJP did exploit this opportunity to the hilt, with audacity and impertinence defying the Supreme Court order, forgetting it was the party in power sworn to uphold the supremacy of the highest land of the court. It mobilised conservative priests and exhorted older women with the help of its strong RSS cadres to take to the streets and openly encouraged violent protests and blockades and physically prevented young women who wished to visit the shrine. But Kerala, though a deeply religious state and a land of dance, music and temples, steeped in hoary traditions, in the end made a fine distinction between religion and politics and did not allow BJP a foothold into its folds.
Tamil Nadu once again defied all logic and gives lie to the post election analysis of experts. Despite BJP president Amit Shah's swift and shrewd move to effect an early and successful tie-up with AIADMK, the party failed to make an impression on Tamil voters. And again in Andhra, Jagan Mohan Reddy who was hounded and imprisoned by his own Congress party and assets frozen and under investigation by various central agencies because he showed an independent streak against the High Command, and even after the investigations against him continued under BJP (using familiar tactics of unleashing the investigating agencies against political opponents which all parties resort to), made a clean sweep with no trace of either Telugu Desam, Congress or BJP in both the Parliament and state elections.
The Modi mystique or the Amit Shah strategy of consolidating all Hindus should have worked there because the BJP had a long association with Andhra and had prominent central ministers, including old warhorse Venkaiah Naidu (now vice-president) and Nirmala Seetharaman, representing the state for many years. What’s more baffling is Jagan Reddy is a Christian (who comprise just 2 to 3 per cent of the population ) in a state like many others deeply riven by many castes and has a history of rivalry between powerful Reddys and Khammas. So clearly what worked for BJP in West Bengal did not work in either the southern states or Odisha, where even Naveen Patnaik's long anti-incumbency factor or his suave, urbane upbringing, which is anathema to hardcore Hindutva BJP, did not sway the voters either in the Parliament or state elections.
Or Punjab, which being a border state with Pakistan and most vulnerable to terrorist attacks and suffers massive collateral damage owing to cross-border infiltration should have swung in favour of the BJP after the muscular show of Balakot surgical strike.
The Next Five Years
So now this should be about the future — the next five years. The focus must shift from the past to the present.
Jo jeetha wo hi sikander, as BJP gladiators would say. That must be acknowledged and accepted.
What should the people expect from Modi and his party and also what's desired of the opposition? That's all that matters now and is relevant.
The defeated must show grace and acceptance without bitterness. The victorious should show magnanimity in action and generosity of spirit.
For The Sake Of Development
Modi is now the prime minister of all Indians and all communities, castes, creeds and religions and not the prime minister of Hindus. Period.
His first speech after results were announced clearly reflected that sentiment. That must be welcomed.
He said unambiguously that he believed only in one credo. "The government is with all. And development is for all.
Sab ke Saath, Sab Ka Vikas." And once again he swore that the constitution is the holy book of the country. That must be appreciated and respected.
It will be uncharitable to doubt him and unjust to disbelieve citing the past. Not to do so would preempt the man from delivering on his pledge. He's the Prime Minister and the de facto 'First Man' of the country. We must take him at his word.
But he must be held to account to honour it. Every single day. No quarter whatsoever must be given on his promise. He should be reminded and shown the mirror if there's discrimination and departure from his sworn testimony before the people.
It should be obvious even to lay people that communal harmony is a condition precedent, a prerequisite to development. The converse is also true. Communal harmony cannot exist without development in the widest sense of the word. We would not have had Naxals and Maoists and separatists and terrorists if we had development and equitable growth across communities and regions after independence.
Every citizen can't fit into a blinkered vision of nationalism held by any one political party. Blind 'nationalism' is a perilous route to self-delusion and to war. It is possible and perfectly justified to love ones country and love mankind. It is not unpatriotic if we question and expect our nation to measure up to the highest ideals we have of Indian civilisation from time immemorial.
We must all be reminded of what Zulfikar Ali Bhutto said in his obsession over India and how he confused himself and his people with hatred for India to patriotism of Pakistan. He said, "Pakistan will have the bomb if its people have to eat grass."
We must persist and engage the prime minister in dialogue, without suspicion on his intent, without casting aspersions or attributing every action of his to forces in the shadow from the RSS influencing or dictating him. He has shown in Gujarat that he was his own man and had banished Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other obscurantist forces from the state.
Only through dialogue and debate with those who have a different vision for India a new ethos is evolved. Love for one’s country that great men like Gandhi, Vivekananda, Tagore, Tilak, Patel, Aurobindo and others (who are also now icons of Modi) preached to us and the whole world, is not incompatible with love of the Universal.
Without getting into the specifics of the details of economics, fiscal and monetary policies or merits and failings of demonetisation or GST or 'Make in India' and ways to creating a robust economy, the people must expect Modi to surround himself with great minds — economists, scientists, technocrats, social scientists , artists and men of letters — honest , accomplished and capable people, with allegiance to no particular ideology or bias but an overarching fidelity to the welfare of the nation and the poor masses, people who will speak their minds to him and are not afraid to tell him the truth or hide reality. That is the first step expected of a great leader.
Modi must get rid of all the sycophants and 'yes men' around him. They will be his biggest enemies and roadblocks to achieve the goals for the India of his dreams. That done, the details of policies will take care of themselves.
There's a caveat. In a vast diverse, complex country like ours, with immense poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, lack of sanitation, cleanliness, quality affordable primary health care and education, joblessness and other ills and evils still plaguing us, individual honesty, personal integrity, austerity and hard work and unremitting labour are not enough to deliver on the promises made as a leader of a nation.
These stellar qualities that Modi is believed to have are a great asset to any leader but Modi can only achieve limited success with that. Modi must have surely realised it in his first term. To be able to achieve success on a nation wide scale and reach, to be able to have an impact across regions and across various sections of society, one’s own good qualities are inadequate. The urgent need of the hour is to make our various institutions autonomous and strong. The prime minister and the team that he had built around himself in 2014 were not bold enough in making good on the promises he made on his election campaign of 2014 — good governance, minimum government, ease of doing business , red carpet instead of red tape etc — which electrified and galvanised the nation were not matched in implementation.
It's said if the newly elected head of the country does not make the sweeping changes he promised in the first six months of his office, when he enjoys the confidence and adulation of the people, he will not be able to do it later as the entrenched system will swallow him.
Modi now has a second chance. Modi must realise this and swiftly embark on administrative, judicial and police reforms for his economic and agrarian reforms to help him succeed in improving the living standards of the people and meet the expectations on various election promises that have now been made in 2019.
There are many reports by commissions headed by highly respected and eminent people over the last 40 years, which are gathering dust. It needs his iron will to bring those reports out of the closets and breathe life into them for implementation.
What The Congress Must Do
The opposition will do well to introspect and change their politics. Rahul Gandhi must step aside and allow new leaders to emerge. He must not make a mockery of his resignation and the mother should not allow filial bonds to blind her from a larger allegiance to the values of a great party by imposing him on her party.
Rahul should set a personal example and take responsibility and resign not because he is incompetent but it's the right thing to do. That's what he would expect from a state president after such dismal performance.
He should continue to work in Parliament and the party but allow other leaders to emerge and help rebuild it by rejuvenating the party through internal democracy. He can always stake a claim after earning his spurs and win a genuine election to be president of the party after a few years.
He and his colleagues must get inspired by the BJP itself which had only two MPs some 35 years ago after the party reinvented itself in its new avatar from the old Jan Sangh, when it broke away from its alliance with the Janata Party after it came to power in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi 's Emergency. And with just Advani and Vajpayee at the helm and other dedicated band of leaders, wedded to an ideology, with dogged persistence and zeal, with no money, travelling in buses and staying over in the homes of well wishers, they rebuilt the party brick by brick toiling over the years.
The Congress is a great part of Indian history with values that are perennial. Those values have not survived and while the party over the years abandoned those cherished ideals came to be embodied for its venal politics and appeasement vote bank politics without genuine concern for the uplift for the Muslims or other minorities and Dalits.
India needs those values of old Congress and India needs a strong and robust opposition. So the task is cut out for them and they should begin now to rebuild that Congress of yore again. If they set to it in right earnest and cleanse themselves , then five to ten years from now Congress can be revived to challenge BJP and worthy to rule again.
Regional Parties, Think Again
The regional parties rose like meteors in every stare and have been a remarkable bulwark against both the imperial, high handed and unscrupulous politics of the two national parties. They may point fingers at Modi and Shah as being authoritarian chauvinists and zealots but they are all actually ruled by megalomaniac tin-pot dictators resembling many African and South American countries. While they accused the BJP and the Congress of misusing CBI and other agencies against them, they have the worst record in their own states of using state power and unleashing both state police and party cadres against those who opposed them including the media. If they do not change their ways and strengthen democratic forces within their parties and stop ruling it like a family fiefdom they will sooner or later be swallowed by the BJP.
When Modi rode to power and showed pragmatism and grace by inviting neighbouring countries including Pakistan, and entered Parliament by bowing and kissing those hallowed steps and declared that as the first temple of the country and stood paying his mark of respect beside portraits of Nehru and other past prime ministers, and offered prayers for Mahatma Gandhi in Rajghat, and criss-crossed the world standing aside the tallest leaders of the world from Obama, Merkel to Abe, he was hailed as a new leader of Asia and a beacon of hope for India.
India and the world are now looking for the Modi of 2014 , who promised to take her to new heights of glory on a platform of equality and development for one and all. The country and the world hopes, Modi on the eve of his second term will reflect on the good and bad of his past five years , and dedicate himself to build a new India by uniting and healing old wounds inflicted.
A great builder of a nation, a leader who is aspiring to be a statesman of stature who can influence the course of events of the world for the progress of humanity, wishing to leave a legacy of his own while criticising the opposition party of today of dynastic politics, a justified charge, has no need to exorcise the ghosts and denigrate the prime ministers of the past — be it Nehru or Rajiv Gandhi, or any one else — neither does he have the necessity to invoke the spirits from heaven of Patel or Bose to bolster his own image and stature.
He is a leader in his own right and he must and can blaze his own legacy without looking over his shoulders behind. He too will be an ex prime minister one day. And future prime ministers, from whichever party they may come from, should not erase his legacy but must build on it.
He is now blessed by the people of India with not only votes to ride to Parliament but with overwhelming love and adoration and they have invested him not only with power but trust. Trusting him to do the good thing, the right thing for all Indians especially the poor and disadvantaged.
We must join hands and wish him the very best in his second innings.
GR Gopinath is the founder of Air Deccan.