India: The Next Five Years Or More
By Mukul Dube
19 May, 2014
Narendra Damodardas Modi's supporters cannot be blamed for using words like "historic" for their hero's (or their party's) victory in the 2014 general election. The superlatives used by the media -- the most common being "tsunami" -- are of course a business necessity and may be dismissed as marketing bilge.
Is the election result a big deal? One view was expressed succinctly by Nirmalangshu Mukherji on FaceBook:
With just 31% of actual votes (21% of electorates, 14% of population), Modi is repeatedly comparing his performance with that of Congress in 1984. In 1984, Congress won 404 seats with 49.1% vote share. Even NDA vote share will be just about 35% in 2014. This BJP government is the most unpopular and unrepresentative in republican India.
That is, the BJP won its mandate without the help of nearly 70 per cent of the votes cast in the election. This is scant consolation for the fact that 31 per cent of the votes meant 52 per cent of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the right to form a government and rule over India for half a decade.
We must not overlook the fact that in a five-year term a rogue government can do much damage. Prabhat Patnaik has pointed out that there was "not a word of apprehension about the consequences of his being in power"
(http://communalism.blogspot.in/2014/05/liberal-and-conservative-have-to-be.html). He was referring to those who said that the strength of India's democratic institutions will not permit Modi much leeway. Against this it has been argued that the institutions in questions have in the past not shown themselves to be strong at all.
An editorial in EPW (http://communalism.blogspot.in/2014/05/india-anger-aspiration-apprehension.html) describes the election as "the biggest corporate heist in history" and goes on to say, "Perhaps of greatest concern is that we now have the Sangh Parivar being presented with a clear opportunity to reshape the Indian polity in line with its decades-old Hindutva project."
More than anything else, the recent history of democratic institutions in Modi's state, Gujarat, tells us what we might expect. The bureaucracy there has been rendered powerless to do anything other than carry out the wishes of the Sahib. Ministers and legislators in Gujarat are rendered irrelevant as Modi keeps a grip on all key portfolios and makes sure that the Vidhan Sabha remains in a state of hibernation, assembling as few times as the rules allow.
In particular, we should look at the law and order machinery. The police ignores its duty (and shatters its pledges) so as not to touch the Sahib's goons when they break every law in the book -- and so as to carry out the blatantly illegal and inhuman orders of the Chhota Saheb (or Cat's Paw or Chief Chamcha). The judiciary, that last resort of the citizen in search of justice, has been made to crawl. In the "sting" by Tehelka, many spoke on camera of how inconvenient judges were shifted out when needed.
So much for democratic institutions: but there shall be other "consequences of his being in power". In the years up to its rout in 2004, the NDA packed institutions with its own people, it turned cowards like Savarkar into national heroes, it sought to perform major destructive surgery on books and on education generally. Might we expect less of a man who makes A.B. Vajpayee look like an anaemic wimp? No, we cannot ignore the 56 inches -- or it may be 5.6 inches -- with which he swaggers around.
The new prime minister will act to protect himself. The noose was tightening, and it shall continue to do that unless he can stop it. Many of his vile foot soldiers gave evidence on camera to the effect that he allowed them free rein for some days. Zakia Jafri's appeal against the "clean chit" judgment of a Metropolitan Magistrate is being heard and may well sully that chit, already tattered from being waved about so much.
There is D.G. Vanzara's resignation letter, in which the renegade policeman speak of how "Shri Narendrabhai Modi, Hon'ble Chief Minister of Gujarat, whom I used to adore like a God", came under the "evil influence" of the "ace strategist Shri Amitbhai Shah", who "usurped his eyes and ears and has been successfully misguiding him by converting goats into dogs and dogs into goats since [sic] last 12 years".
If we accept this account, it is clear that Modi did not have his wits about him. There is a parallel from the violence of 2002. If we allow that Modi did not actively order or permit the butchery, we are left with the fact of a chief minister of surpassing incompetence. This is India's new prime minister.
I shall not be surprised if legislation is brought in to protect the several mass murderers who roam free despite their actions in Gujarat in 2002 and later. In what amounts to a kind of presidential form of government, there is also the option of ruling through ordinances as Smt. I. Gandhi once did. We shall see, in the coming days, the real worth of the "checks and balances" system that is often spoken about.
Given the recent record of Gujarat, we must wonder also about the degree to which the country's higher judiciary will be suborned outright, or suppressed with threats. On more than one occasion the Supreme Court has acted to bring justice to the victims of Gujarat 2002. As that has gone directly against the chief minister of the state, who is known to be vindictive apart from wanting to ensure his survival, we must worry about what he does as prime minister.
We see, in all this, the power of a mere 31 per cent of the votes cast in the election. What of the 69 per cent votes that did not go to Modi? That figure tells us that there are many in the country who did not want Modi to rule. The size of the opposition counted for little because it was badly fragmented; and in the face of an installed government it can count for nothing.
We must look ahead. If we who make up seven tenths of India are to stand up to the Hindu Right in five years' time, we need to find ways to ensure that we do not remain so divided that less than a third of the voters in the country can make us irrelevant. I am aware that five years from now the country itself may have been damaged beyond repair.
Mukul Dube is a writer, photographer and editor who lives in Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com
[I thank Ghazala Jamil for advice and suggestions.]
This article is likely to appear in Mainstream weekly