Samanth Subramanian writes: On Friday, as the results were announced, it became clear that almost all of the prognosticators, amateur and professional, had got it wrong. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) had assessed its chances confidently, and it was commonly expected to amass enough seats to lead a coalition of allies into government. But few expected Narendra Modi, its candidate for Prime Minister, to romp home in such a blistering manner. No single party had won an outright majority in the Lok Sabha, Parliament’s lower house, since 1984. Of the five hundred and forty-three seats, the B.J.P. won a stunning two hundred and eighty-two; with its coalition allies, it controls a dominating three hundred and thirty-four seats. The Congress, India’s oldest party, has led the governing coalition for the past decade. Although its members acknowledged in private that they were likely to be voted out, they suspected that they would secure roughly ninety seats—which would have been a record low. Instead, they took a miserable forty-four seats. What looked a few weeks ago like a mere dramatic change of government now appears to be a seismic shift, arguably the most significant in India since 1977, when the Congress was voted out after three decades in power. Even in that election, held after the Congress government, under Indira Gandhi, declared an emergency and suspended constitutional rights for two full years, the party managed to win a hundred and fifty-three seats.
Any election can be spun as a tussle to define the very soul of a country, but that has truly felt like the case for the past year in India. Both the Congress and the B.J.P. framed their campaigns as plebiscites on the fate of the country. The Congress asked voters to examine whether they wanted to elect Modi, a man who had ruled the state of Gujarat when more than a thousand people — mostly Muslims — were killed in religious riots, in 2002, who was known for his autocratic temperament, and whose political education was shaped by Hindu nationalists. In one campaign speech, the heir to the Congress dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, explicitly compared Modi to Hitler, warning that he would discard democracy altogether. “Hitler thought there was no need to go to the people,” Gandhi said. “He believed that the entire knowledge of the world was only in his mind. Similarly, there is a leader today in India who says, ‘I have done this, I have done that,’ and behaves arrogantly.” [Continue reading…]
Subir Sinha writes: Given than the elections have been declared “free and fair”, does this apparent magnitude of popular support for Modi not suggest that the fears of people like me, who recently signed a letter expressing concern at this prospect, are unjustified?
Modi appears to have been democratically elected. But, as his record in Gujarat indicates, he has exhibited a propensity to wield power in an undemocratic way and for undemocratic ends. Within his own party, he prevents emergence of independent leadership, making sure that potential rivals are politically finished. He encourages defections from other parties, rewarding defectors with party tickets, undermining the legitimacy of opposition.
He undermines key constitutional bodies: whether agencies investigating the 2002 massacres or extra-judicial killings in Gujarat, or the Election Commission. He centralises power, once holding 14 portfolios in the state cabinet. He talks of “uprooting” opponents and “erasing” opposing political parties, and his supporters promise exile and incarceration to critics.
The cult of personality around him likens him to Hindu gods: this militates against the principle of political equality at the basis of democracy. He does not open himself to any critical questioning, about the “Gujarat model” or about the massive finances spent by his campaign. Gujarat, which he holds up as a model of “good governance”, has the highest levels of violence against those seeking to use the “right to information” to find out about the activities of his government. [Continue reading…]