Democratic nations go to polls to elect their lawmakers, but have you ever heard of enhancing nationalism through general elections? Come to Hindustan (also known as Bharat or India) and you will find a different kind of narrative that had emerged during the last national polls. By now debates have been aroused by international media outlets over the new found Hinduism inspired nationalism in the largest democracy on Earth.
In fact, amidst all criticisms for majority based politics, Hindu-centric propaganda dividing the country and one politician’s aggressive aspiration, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) triumphed in the recently concluded national polls of India. With an undercurrent of cautious nationalism, the NDA crossed the tally of winners up to 353 in the 543 member Lok Sabha.
BJP alone emerged victorious in 303 Parliamentary seats crossing the magic number (272) to form the federal government in New Delhi, where the prime opposition party Indian National Congress along with its allies remained restricted within hundred seats in House of the People. The rightist political party, led by hardliner Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi also succeeded in spreading its presence to almost all corners of the huge country.
States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the saffron party lost in State Legislative Assembly polls few months back, regained their vote shares. Gujarat, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh along with Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Jharkhand witnessed impressive victory for candidates belonged to BJP or its allies.
The billion-plus nation witnessed seven-phase polling exercise (11 April to 19 May 2019) through electronic voting machines (EVM) supported by the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) mechanism, where over 700 million voters participated in the process, conducted by the powerful Election Commission of India, to send their representatives for next five years to rule the south-Asian nation. As the counting of votes began on 23 May, which started reflecting the prediction of exit polls to indicate for a comfortable majority of NDA in the Parliament, various foreign media outlets began circulating articles to downplay PM Modi’s magnificent poll-victories. Those media contributors termed the achievement of Modi as one man’s harmful ambition of saffronising democracy with the anti-minority trepidations.
Modi thus elevated himself as one of the powerful politicians in the world alike American President Donald Trump, Chinese Communist government chief Xi Jinping, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe etc. He has picked up few committed colleagues as his cabinet members including Amit Shah (Home ministry), Rajnath Singh (Defence), Nirmala Sitharaman (Finance), Nitin Gadkari (Transport), S Jaishankar (External Affairs) etc.
Nothing to hide that Modi planned the electoral campaigns as Presidential style of polls where the prime slogan was Phir Ek Bar Modi Sarkar (Once Again Modi Government-not NDA or BJP government). Even though putting exclusive focus on one individual simply contradicts to the concept of India’s decades old Parliamentary democracy, but the entire opposition could not resist the tendency. Precisely, they had none who can match to Modi’s personality, oratory skill and the leadership quality.
Riding on a pro-incumbency wave, Modi echoed the national pride & patriotism in the line of his party’s ideologue Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The Pulwama terror attack on 14 February that killed over 40 security personnel in Kashmir was termed as an intelligence failure for the authority by oppositions, but Modi successfully turned the suicide attack in his favour with counter attacks in Balakote terror camp inside Pakistan.
At home Modi portrayed himself as the savior of civilization and nationalism, whereas he adopted an aggressive foreign policy to enhance India’s relationship with various super powers like USA, Russia, China, Japan, UK, Israel etc. He also projected as a capable leader to address terrorism that is homegrown or exported from outside successfully in front of India’s new generation of internet savvy voters.
While the opposition leaders repeatedly termed Modi as a liar and thief, millions of electorate including a large section of young & educated voters seemingly realized various achievements of Modi government referring to clean India movement, corruption free image, digitalization of financial exercises, skill development initiatives, medical benefits, new bank accounts to poor families irrespective of their religion, caste, creed etc.
At least 220 million Indians were directly benefited from various welfare schemes of Modi government ranging from new toilets to houses for poor families, cooking gas & electricity connection to health insurance schemes etc. The Congress denied to give any credit to Modi, but the electorate rejected the grand old party which got restricted to 52 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The party nominees could win only 44 seats in 2014 general elections. BJP, with the ability to raise a huge amount of money for polls, could penetrate its ideology to almost every corner of the country and thus mobilized the voters. The party workers cleverly spread the message of Modi and established him as a non-corrupt, decisive and committed for the Hindu religious nationalism. Most of them argued that the theory of secularism was imposed by Jawaharlal Nehru against the wish of common Indians.
One strong outcome of the national poll outcomes reveals that the new generation of electorate would no longer support the dynastic politics. Not only the (Indira-Rajiv) Gandhi dynasty that faced wraths from the voters, but also the political families of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ms Mayawati, Sharad Pawar, Bhupinder Hooda, Ashok Gehlot etc also encountered refusals in the poll-battles. Even in the restive northeastern region, where separatist militants once ran parallel administrations, the Lotus bloomed for the saffron party. The region with 25 Parliamentary seats was swept by the BJP and its allies to elect 18 members to the NDA tally. More importantly, voters of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim have opted for BJP and NDA constitute Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) for their province-governments in Itanagar and Gangtok. In fact, BJP recorded the best ever performance in the region, surrounded by Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet (China), Myanmar and Bangladesh, where diverse ethnic and religious communities live in harmony. Keeping alive the national trend, where many veteran Congress leaders lost the electoral battles, northeastern voters also rejected many influential Congress candidates. While the grand old party was losing its vote-shares, BJP nominees had won two LS seats of Tripura and one seat in Manipur for the first time.
Unlike many parts of the country (particularly West Bengal), where various phase of polling marred with violence, northeastern region witnessed very peaceful, participatory and smooth electoral process that might have helped the residents of various ethnic communities to nurture a new kind of nationalism where the patriotic electorate set aside their differences and came forward for a strong, safe and prosperous India.
During the elections, an invisible wave of nationalism simply defied the relentless campaigns generated by the various secular, tolerant and liberal sections from inside and outside the country. As Islamist-sponsored terrorism continues grabbing the international media headlines and also affecting various neighboring countries, most of mainstream Indians reposed faiths on the saffron party that has assured safety, security and pride for the nation that enjoys a legacy of thousands years of Hinduism.
[The author is a political commentator based in northeast India]