The 2019 Lok Sabha election will be a battle between not only two political coalitions but will also pitch personalities against each other. Second, the discourse will veer around India’s development story. So, the elections will be about polemics versus empirical evidence. The third important thing at stake will be the social and cultural philosophy of governance.
Ahead of the 2014 polls, Narendra Modi emerged as a ‘man with a mission’. There was a popular upsurge as people wanted a prime minister who could not only lead India by liberating the country from poverty, unemployment, under-development, but also catapult India to pre-eminence on the world stage.
Therefore, 2019 election will also be an examination and comparison between the socio-economic policies pursued by Modi and the previous Congress regimes. The consciousness of the people now transcends conventional political gimmicks and polemics.
Though the UPA regime did not use the term ‘socialism’ during its 10-year tenure, it perpetuated the old Nehruvian regime. Modi has demolished this pessimism through his actions – economic policy based on creating wealth.
Another important aspect is the birth of a new welfare state. Earlier, welfare state meant populism. Modi’s welfarism connected economics with social concern and ethics.
He has rationalised subsidies. For the first time in independent India, his appeal as prime minister – which I consider only second after that of Lal Bahadur Shastri during the food crisis – to give up subsidies on LPG has resulted in more than two crore people giving up the subsidy.
His policy is focused on creating cheaper housing in urban areas as well as rural. For the first time, 18,000 villages were electrified; similarly, LPG connections reached the common masses, particularly those on the margins of economic development; fifty crore people will benefit with the free health insurance scheme; farmers have also benefited as Modi has provided MSP at 1.5 times the production cost. This new welfare state has given Modi the image of a man connected with the masses.
The cleanliness drive (Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan) and building toilets (har ghar mein shauchalay) set him apart from other prime ministers. Today, there are more than nine crore toilets in the country.
That is the narrative Modi has set off: not only ease for big business but also reaching out to the masses. That is why, in 2019 elections, people will not question Modi’s commitment to the cause.
Another facet of his governance is that he has deconstructed pseudo-secularism that had dominated the State. India is a country where people have very intimate and emotional links with religion. By exhibiting his commitment towards religious places such as Kedarnath and Varanasi, he has redefined secularism as a philosophy that does not deny the rulers the connect with their cultural and religious roots. This has given a positive message to the masses. During his foreign visits, his undiminished zeal to assert India’s cultural legacy by presenting copies of Bhagavad Gita and by visiting temples or Buddhist monasteries distinguishes him from his predecessors who remained largely inexpressive on cultural issues. It is an exhibition of conviction that is lacking in pseudo-secular leaders such as Rahul Gandhi and others.
There is a marked shift from orthodox approach in dealing with the business community. Till 2014, business and corporate community lacked confidence and faced crisis of legitimacy as the State shied away from acknowledging their role. Modi has changed the scenario by legitimising them as inherent agents of economic transformation and partners in development.
Modi’s vision for a new India has added value to parliamentary democracy. He has been using social media to connect the government with the common people. This has made the government more answerable to people even in remotest parts of the country. This has changed the nature of institutions in India. Earlier, institutions were under elitist control. Now, the fulcrum has shifted from the elites to common masses and brought it under popular control. The PMO and the PM himself have been responding to the concerns of, say, Anganwadi workers, which was unthinkable in the past.
The BJP is committed to the dignity, equality and justice to women, including those from the largest religious minority in India. A major criterion for gauging his success is the confidence that Modi has instilled in them. Thousands of Muslim women took to the streets and knocked on the doors of the judiciary and parliament demanding their rights. The government gave them confidence to use democratic tools to fight religious and social conservatism.
Ram Janmabhoomi is not a political issue. The Allahabad high court judgement has established one fact: the land belongs to Ram Lalla. But this issue has become significant in the light of the emerging opinion across the country that this issue cannot be left to linger on anymore as it is affecting social harmony and institutionalising the Hindu-Muslim binary.
Modi’s opponents are in delusion that the propaganda to project his government as a majoritarian government would mislead the people. However, it has been proving counter-productive. There has not been a single instance where any community has been left out from receiving the fruits of development. LPG cylinder has reached equally the Hindu poor, the Muslim poor and the Christian poor.
Therefore, the 2019 election campaign will bank on Modi’s personality, BJP’s strong cadre and support base, and will transcend the limits of class, community, religion.
The opposition parties have united on a single agenda – hate Modi. This will not be accepted by the people. Modi as a politician has earned the trust of the people and when this trust becomes institutionalised, it becomes faith. Trust can be broken easily but not faith. The nation cannot prefer a coalition without an acceptable and strong leadership. This gives Modi a big edge and his popularity a big leap. In Elections 2019, you will witness Modi Wave–II.
(The writer is a Rajya Sabha member of the BJP and honorary director, India Policy Foundation)