Modi's rise has shaken the foundations of Indian polity

Modi's rise has shaken the foundations of Indian polity

These are exhilarating times in India. An old political order underpinned by the supremacy of the Nehru-Gandhi family is crumbling before our eyes while a new order remains largely a matter of speculation.

For a democratic system to remain vibrant and dynamic, such transitions are essential. In fact, most mature democracies do see such transitions on a periodic basis. In India, for a whole host of reasons, while democracy has flourished, its vitality has been sapping, especially over the last decade. Today when questions are rising if even Rahul Gandhi will be able to win his parliamentary seat, a long-time bastion of Nehru-Gandhi family, one can safely conclude that Indian democracy has taken a turn for the better.

The rise of the BJP in the 1990s led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a milestone as for the first time a real national alternative to the Congress party emerged. But Vajpayee was a politician who had grown up under the shadow of Nehru. His ideology differed but he was part of the traditional Indian political establishment. He gave the
Gandhis due respect and was keen that the old political order remained undisturbed.

The last decade was the decade of the Gandhis once again. Sonia Gandhi ruled with an iron fist even as all the blame for inefficient governance was laid at the doorsteps of Manmohan Singh, a prime minister only in name. Gradually, as Sonia paved the way for her son, Rahul, Singh’s role shrank even further. The damage this has done to India’s institutional fabric is immense and the true costs will be fully known only in the future. Over the last five years, the Congress-led UPA lurched from crisis to crisis and the India story lost most of its sheen.

As the Indian political class failed to match up to the aspirations of a rapidly changing India, the vacuum was filled by Narendra Modi. One of the most talented politicians in India, Modi’s rise has been nothing short of extraordinary. He was consistently snubbed by the Indian media and liberal intelligentsia. Even as he was
single-mindedly focused on making Gujarat a BJP bastion, his critics only talked of communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. Modi has been termed a rabid Hindu nationalist, a Muslim hater, and even a fascist.

It is safe to say that no Indian politician has attracted as much animus as Modi has in recent years. But this only made him stronger. He continued to win election after election in Gujarat and cases filed against him in the courts also collapsed. From the state of Gujarat to the centre stage of Indian politics, Modi’s swift rise is befuddling for his critics who always questioned his ability to make a mark on the national stage.
In an unprecedented move in Indian polity, the party cadres of the BJP forced party president, Rajnath Singh’s hand who had to declareModi BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in September 2013.

This was a move fraught with risks as the old guard in the BJP were opposed to the move and there was a danger that the NDA led by the BJP might collapse. But in the end, despite some discontent in the old guard and a
major ally leaving the alliance, the decision to annoint Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate turned out to be a master stroke as it changed the character of India’s electoral campaign, perhaps forever.

Rahul vs Modi 

The Congress party refused to follow suit by naming Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate for fear that if it loses, Rahul would not be able to maintain his hold on the party. Where a focused Modi has led a decisive campaign, Congress has found itself in disarray. Rahul neither has the political sense nor the leadership ability of his main rival. Ironically, for Congress who had conjured up the image of Rahul Gandhi as nation’s youth icon, it is Modi who is attracting most of the youth voters. India’s young, increasingly aspirational, find the idea of a dynastic endowment anachronistic while the story of a backward caste, tea-seller working his way to the highest office in the land seems inspirational.

Modi’s rise has shaken the foundations of the Indian polity. You may not like his politics but you cannnot deny his impact. He has broken old norms, challenging the Gandhis openly, talking about them disparagingly, embellishing his record, sidelining the old guard within his own party, reaching out directly to the people, and making a strong pitch for national leadership without inhibitions. He wants to be India’s next Prime Minister, he is telling his countrymen and women, and he is not ashamed to ask for their support. His ambition is his greatest asset in an
increasingly ambitious India.

And it’s precisely because of this that Modi’s rise matters. The liberal
intelligentsia which continues to sound alarm bells, some even threatening to leave the country if Modi is elected, fails to comprehend adequately how radically India has changed. Modi is a product of contemporary India, where the secular versus communal binary, while important, is no longer the be all and end all of politics. An absence of leadership for thelast decade is leading to a craving for decisive leadership. Modi fills that vacuum.

Modi has many flaws, much like other leaders. But politics is not a contest among ideal types. For liberals, spooked by Modi’s rise, it is hard to make a case that at this critical juncture in India, electing a moribund, decadent and ideationally bankrupt Congress or a divided, rag-tag Third Front is a better alternative than electing Modi.  No wonder, liberals are crying in wilderness whereas Modi is winning hearts and minds.
It is quite possible that Modi might not end up becoming India’s next prime minister when election results come out on May 16. Yet, by shaking its foundations to the core, he has already transformed Indian politics. It will never be the same ever again.

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