Everyone realises that independent India has come to an historic moment. For the first time ever, a party that stands for Hindu nationalism has an absolute majority in Parliament. Where will the country go from here? Every possible analogy from recent history has been used by various commentators, from Hitler to Thatcher. Let us put these facile comparisons aside, and see how India got where it is now, and use that to predict the future.
Looking at the election, there are four factors that influenced the outcome. The first three were initial conditions, namely the characteristics of the leader, the record of governance and the affinities of the voters. The first of these was immensely important: Narendra Modi was the only one who came across to voters as a strong, competent leader of the nation as a whole (with some concerns about the interpretation of the meaning of that wholeness). The record of governance was also important, particularly with respect to economic performance, but also honesty and general competence. Finally, newer or broader affinities of class and religion (perhaps extending to the “god of GDP”) carried more weight than older, narrower ones of caste and region. Looking at how these three factors have changed in shaping the election outcome, one can easily see that this was India’s first “modern” election, and things will never be the same.
Much attention has also been paid to the campaign process. Here, too, there was some change, in terms of sophistication of methods to woo voters and create the brand and the message. Surely marketing played a role in the strength of the BJP’s performance. But this was possible only because of the nature of the three initial conditions. The successful campaign strategy was built on these fundamental factors. In a way, this was India Shining 2.0. The country did not quite get that message a decade ago. This time it was embraced, as a promise rather than an achievement (though “Gujarat Shining” was clearly used to establish the latter, though never put that way).
I am arguing that there is a fundamental change in the national ethos in terms of expectations of the governed with respect to those who govern. What does this imply for the future? Clearly, there is a long way to go. The failure of the Aam Aadmi Party across the nation (except in
Punjab) illustrates some limits of the change. So,