The long drawn out Indian Parliament elections finally got over last week. The right-wing Hindutva party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP, was voted back to power with more votes and seats than last time.
Though it was certain that BJP will be leading the seat tally, many thought they may not get the majority on their own. But when the results came in, it became clear that BJP is stronger than ever before, bettering the Modi ‘wave’ of 2014. Out of the 542 seats that went to polls, BJP lead National Democratic Alliance won 353 with BJP alone winning 303. This was an improvement by 6.5% of vote share and 17 seats for the NDA.
The result has stunned the liberal intelligentsia not only in India but also among India watchers all over the world.
How can a government with a questionable track record and nothing to boast off as performance win the elections with more votes and seats ?
Several commentators have come with different explanations. The explanations offered I feel can be consolidated into three streams.
One set of commentators felt that the stunning BJP victory is due to the good work of the Modi government. They opined that even though the macro economic indicators did not augur well for the government, the voters were satisfied enough to give Modi a second chance. Moreover they felt that Modi and BJP was seen to be less corrupt, more efficient in governance and more effective in tackling issues like terrorism and national security. According to them BJP successfully made the election a presidential one and the aura of Modi prevailed over other things.
On the other hand another set of commentators lamented that the election results showed the effect of rigging of the Hindu mind. As per their view average Hindu voter has become intolerant of the concept of secularism and has voted for a majoritarian India where minorities are second class citizens who should live only at the mercy of the Hindu majority. They claimed that the high decibel propaganda of umpteen number of cash rich Hindutva organisations using mainstream media and social media using falsehoods and half-truths rigged minds of a large section of voters to such an extend that non-performance of the Modi government did not stop them from voting for BJP.
A third view was that the victory of BJP was mainly because of propaganda. There was a huge mismatch in money spend by BJP and the rest. The huge amount BJP got from anonymous donors using the recently introduced Electoral bonds made BJP propaganda very powerful. Also BJP had a stranglehold on mass media, both in government and private sector which they used effectively to create an aura of invincibility to Modi. Use of big Data to tailor-made their appeal to different sections of voters and use of fake news through social media powered BJP victory.
My take is there may be truth is some points in all the three streams of opinion.
Pre and post poll surveys showed that Modi lead BJP was considered to be less corrupt and fairly large number of electorate was reasonably happy with the Government’s performance. Even though Modi government was seen to be giving away huge incentives to big Industrialists at the expense of the State, the opposition were not able to convey that message to large section of electorate.
The bombing inside Pakistan at Balakot in retaliation to terror attack on Indian security personal in Kashmir boosted the popularity of Modi. Even though there was no strong evidence to show that India attained anything by that attack the hyper nationalist fervour that it generated helped BJP a lot.
The Hindutva propaganda for a Hindu State to replace secular India has been going on ever since the origin of the semi fascist Hindu voluntary organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1925. BJP, which is the political wing of RSS, used its time in the government in the Centre and States to further this agenda.
Hinduism do not have a church or a Pope and is a very diverse and decentralised way of belief. With umpteen number of castes and fairly rigid caste hierarchy it was difficult for a person or an organisation to control it. This was a major stumbling block for the BJP to create a unified Hindu vote bank. To overcome it the RSS has been systematically infiltrating Hindu organisations all over India. Even though the leadership of the RSS is firmly in the hands of upper caste Maharashtra Brahmins, they were successful in infiltrating different caste organisations and temple trusts so as to control them. Almost all Hindu pilgrimages are now controlled by RSS. Each pilgrim is indoctrinated with myths and falsehoods which demonize minorities while fuelling the insecurities of Hindus and deride secularism. Such a relentless cash rich campaign must have had some effect in voting pattern of this election.
This election also showed that not only Muslim candidates were shunned , but in seats where there is a sizeable presence of Muslim voters, there was a huge Hindu consolidation against political parties which were actively seeking votes from Muslims. Thus the Congress, Samajvadi Party , BSP, RJD and TMC lost many of their traditional Hindu voters to BJP. Even the TRS in Telangana paid the price for allying with Owaisi’s party. Such trends indicate that othering of Muslims in Indian society is now at a dangerous level. The easy victory of Hindutva terror accused who is facing the charge of killing innocent Muslims also show that large section of Indian society has been sold to the idea that minorities are second class citizens living at the mercy and whims and fancies of majority community.
So is secularism dead in India ? Will majoritarianism always rule in the future ?
Indian society was always a deeply religious society. It was also a society divided by strict hierarchy of caste. As caste based jobs disappear with industrialisation and urbanisation, and as villagers shift to city slums in search of jobs, caste based voting is on the decline. At the same time superstitious religious beliefs deepened. The RSS and it’s affiliates has now a monopoly control on most of the Hindu temples. Thus they were successful in creating a Hindu identity among the people. Even among backward castes and Dalits they could succeed because instead of the Liberals who constantly remind them of past and present caste oppression, the Sangh Parivar was able to appropriate them as “proud” foot soldiers of Hindutva movement.
This time the Hindutva alliance of NDA got around 45% of votes and 65% seats. Hindus constitute around 80% of Indian population. That means a sizeable section of Hindus has voted against NDA. Moreover many who has voted for BJP might have voted because they fell for the propaganda. If Modi government continues to perform in a lacklustre way, if the day-to-day issues of the people at large are not addressed satisfactorily, many of these voters will shun the BJP in future elections. If they have a credible Opposition to vote for they will unseat BJP in more states and even in the Centre. So to conclude that secularism is dead and buried in India will be premature.