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Narendra Modi and the BJP bludgeoned their way to election victory

The sheer aggression of the BJP campaign, the threats to the Election Commission – Modi made sure India felt his presence

 

'Voters got used to the idea [of Narendra Modi as leader] through repetition of images and slogans.'

Jayati Ghosh
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 05.20 EDT

‘Voters got used to the idea [of Narendra Modi as leader] through repetition of images and slogans.’
‘Voters simply got used to the idea [of Narendra Modi as the national leader] through sheer repetition of the images and slogans.’ Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images
This general election in India was almost a test case: just as advertising can make people want a particular brand of soft drink or breakfast cereal, can a massively funded and aggressive media campaign make people choose a particular leader? The answer, sadly, seems to be yes.

It is hard to speak of “one” Indian electorate – there is so much variation across each state – but both local and national issues have always been significant. The BJP’s campaign this time was different, seeking to present one man as the national leader and creating an unprecedented media blitz around him for nearly a year, so that voters simply got used to the idea and even started believing the hype, through sheer repetition of the images and slogans.

We do not have data on the amount of money that was spent on the Narendra Modi campaign, and unfortunately there is no limit on the spending by political parties as opposed to individual candidates. But estimates are in excess of Rs 5,000 crore (about £500m). This was possible because some large corporate entities threw their full weight behind Modi, seeing in him a strong leader who would deliver all the benefits and incentives they have got used to. And their investment in him seems to have paid off for now, as the clear majority achieved by his party alone, not to mention the strong showing by National Democratic Alliance allies, seems to have given Modi a free hand to do whatever he wants at a national level.

This huge mandate does provide so-called political stability, but it is at the same time a concern for Indian democracy for several reasons. The underlying association with the rightwing organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which pulls many of the strings in the BJP, has always been an issue, but now the personality cult around an authoritarian leader may be an even bigger problem.

Until relatively recently, Modi was widely seen as a polarising and distrusted figure, even within his own party. His role in the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat may not yet have been punished by the Indian courts (and now looks like it will never be,) but his culpability in terms of presiding as chief minister over the state in which they occurred and not punishing the guilty is still evident.

The “communal peace” that has supposedly prevailed in Gujarat since then has been achieved at a tremendous cost to the minorities, essentially by terrorising them into submission. Muslim families and individuals are increasingly ghettoised, finding it impossible to buy or rent accommodation in dominantly Hindu areas. Muslim youths are not only discriminated in employment but much more exposed to being picked up, interrogated and even imprisoned on mere suspicion of being terrorists. Bank loans are hard to come by for people from minorities, and intercommunity social mingling, particularly between young men and women, is frowned upon.

That this “peace of the graveyard” may be extended across India is a frightening prospect. Already during the election campaign the signs of things to come were evident. In the early stages of the campaign, the focus was more on the defects of the current United Progressive Alliance government and the supposed material progress of Gujarat under Modi, however illusory such progress may have been for most of its citizens. The attempt was to show him not as divisive, but decisive.

In the later stages of campaigning the gloves were off, and an increasingly strident BJP exposed their true attitudes. In a speech in West Bengal, Modi declared that only Hindu migrants from Bangladesh were welcome; the others would be repatriated. His henchmen declared in Uttar Pradesh that anyone who did not support Modi should go back to Pakistan, where they belonged. That all this belligerence only seems to have helped them at the polls is alarming.

Modi even took on the Election Commission, threatening them with dire consequences for preventing his rally in Varanasi. And this raises another major concern: that such bullying tactics can succeed. Far too many of India’s democratic institutions are weak and even those holding constitutional positions can often be bribed or cowered into subservience. The increasingly corporatised media has displayed its supine character already, avoiding asking the BJP candidate difficult questions or pointing to some of the clear dishonesty in the claims made about his success in Gujarat.

The BJP’s economic programme for India has thus far been short of specifics. But if the experience of Modi’s rule in Gujarat is anything to go by, it will involve crony capitalism that promotes and incentivises big business through all sorts of explicit and implicit subsidies, keeping wages low and suppressing any workers’ action, repression of popular movements and cracking down on dissent. The human costs of this kind of growth are enormous, as are the human costs of achieving communal “peace” through fear.

Corporate India and Hindu majoritarianism have won this particular round. But can they also reshape Indian politics, economy and society in this unpleasant image?

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The sheer aggression of the BJP campaign, the threats to the Election Commission – Modi made sure India felt his presence
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Jayati Ghosh
Jayati Ghosh
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 05.20 EDT
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‘Voters got used to the idea [of Narendra Modi as leader] through repetition of images and slogans.’
‘Voters simply got used to the idea [of Narendra Modi as the national leader] through sheer repetition of the images and slogans.’ Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images
This general election in India was almost a test case: just as advertising can make people want a particular brand of soft drink or breakfast cereal, can a massively funded and aggressive media campaign make people choose a particular leader? The answer, sadly, seems to be yes.

It is hard to speak of “one” Indian electorate – there is so much variation across each state – but both local and national issues have always been significant. The BJP’s campaign this time was different, seeking to present one man as the national leader and creating an unprecedented media blitz around him for nearly a year, so that voters simply got used to the idea and even started believing the hype, through sheer repetition of the images and slogans.

We do not have data on the amount of money that was spent on the Narendra Modi campaign, and unfortunately there is no limit on the spending by political parties as opposed to individual candidates. But estimates are in excess of Rs 5,000 crore (about £500m). This was possible because some large corporate entities threw their full weight behind Modi, seeing in him a strong leader who would deliver all the benefits and incentives they have got used to. And their investment in him seems to have paid off for now, as the clear majority achieved by his party alone, not to mention the strong showing by National Democratic Alliance allies, seems to have given Modi a free hand to do whatever he wants at a national level.

This huge mandate does provide so-called political stability, but it is at the same time a concern for Indian democracy for several reasons. The underlying association with the rightwing organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which pulls many of the strings in the BJP, has always been an issue, but now the personality cult around an authoritarian leader may be an even bigger problem.

Until relatively recently, Modi was widely seen as a polarising and distrusted figure, even within his own party. His role in the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat may not yet have been punished by the Indian courts (and now looks like it will never be,) but his culpability in terms of presiding as chief minister over the state in which they occurred and not punishing the guilty is still evident.

The “communal peace” that has supposedly prevailed in Gujarat since then has been achieved at a tremendous cost to the minorities, essentially by terrorising them into submission. Muslim families and individuals are increasingly ghettoised, finding it impossible to buy or rent accommodation in dominantly Hindu areas. Muslim youths are not only discriminated in employment but much more exposed to being picked up, interrogated and even imprisoned on mere suspicion of being terrorists. Bank loans are hard to come by for people from minorities, and intercommunity social mingling, particularly between young men and women, is frowned upon.

That this “peace of the graveyard” may be extended across India is a frightening prospect. Already during the election campaign the signs of things to come were evident. In the early stages of the campaign, the focus was more on the defects of the current United Progressive Alliance government and the supposed material progress of Gujarat under Modi, however illusory such progress may have been for most of its citizens. The attempt was to show him not as divisive, but decisive.

In the later stages of campaigning the gloves were off, and an increasingly strident BJP exposed their true attitudes. In a speech in West Bengal, Modi declared that only Hindu migrants from Bangladesh were welcome; the others would be repatriated. His henchmen declared in Uttar Pradesh that anyone who did not support Modi should go back to Pakistan, where they belonged. That all this belligerence only seems to have helped them at the polls is alarming.

Modi even took on the Election Commission, threatening them with dire consequences for preventing his rally in Varanasi. And this raises another major concern: that such bullying tactics can succeed. Far too many of India’s democratic institutions are weak and even those holding constitutional positions can often be bribed or cowered into subservience. The increasingly corporatised media has displayed its supine character already, avoiding asking the BJP candidate difficult questions or pointing to some of the clear dishonesty in the claims made about his success in Gujarat.

The BJP’s economic programme for India has thus far been short of specifics. But if the experience of Modi’s rule in Gujarat is anything to go by, it will involve crony capitalism that promotes and incentivises big business through all sorts of explicit and implicit subsidies, keeping wages low and suppressing any workers’ action, repression of popular movements and cracking down on dissent. The human costs of this kind of growth are enormous, as are the human costs of achieving communal “peace” through fear.

Corporate India and Hindu majoritarianism have won this particular round. But can they also reshape Indian politics, economy and society in this unpleasant image?

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Comment (1)

  1. Next 100 Days

    Dear Narendrabhai ,

    You have talked your way to power – calling yourself , ” Mazdoor # 1 ”

    Now , it is time to ” Walk the Talk ”

    People of India have taught a lesson to the party which called you ,

    ” Merchant of Death ( Maut Ka Saudaagar ) ”

    They believe you to be ” Merchant of Dreams ( Sapno Ka Saudaagar ) ”

    Of course , no one expects any miracle to happen on the ground , in the next 100 days

    But the decisions that your Cabinet takes – and transparently communicates to the people – in the next 100 days , will tell them , whether your Government is any different than UPA-2

    Here are the decisions that people expect :

    A … FIGHTING CORRUPTION

    * Appoint Central Lok Pal
    * Appoint ( where missing ) , Lok Ayuktas in BJP controlled States
    * Appoint Special Fast-Track Courts to try within 1 year , criminally-
    charged MPs / MLAs / Bureaucrats / Politicians / Businessmen

    B… BLACK MONEY TO WHITE MONEY

    * Introduce Amnesty Scheme , for monies invested in Infrastructure SPVs
    * Amend Personal Income Tax to Inverse Taxation Regime , where the
    incremental tax rates keep going DOWN in each higher slab
    * De-monetize Rs 1000 currency notes

    C… JOB GENERATION

    * Amend Corporate Tax Regime , with incrementally reducing tax-rates
    for Companies with higher employee-strength
    * Introduce ” Accelerated Depreciation ” for investment in Capital Assets.
    Capital Goods industry is the Mother of all industries
    * Focus on creating ” Self-Employment ” thru tax-breaks for self-employed
    * Low interest loans for self – employed

    D… DEVELOPMENT OF NORTH-EAST STATES

    * Industrialists / businessmen will not come forward to make huge
    investments in North-East , in absence of excellent infrastructure of
    roads / rails etc

    All private investments made here must be tax-free for 25 years

    E… SIMPLIFY LABOUR LAWS

    * Today’s labour laws make it extremely difficult – if not impossible – for employers to layoff / retrench workmen , if demand shrinks

    * Employers are unlikely to hire thousands of youth , if they cannot easily trim the workforce , to match the shrinking demand

    * So , an important corollary of any Job Generation Scheme is to modify our existing Labour Laws to facilitate layoff / retrenchment , when situation so demands , while protecting the interests of the workmen concerned

    F… EDUCATION / UNIVERSAL LITERACY

    * What is responsible for keeping 28.7 Crores of Indians illiterate ( 37 % of World’s illiterate ) , 66 years after independence ?

    * Ans : Lack of educational infrastructure consisting of Schools / Colleges /
    Equipments / Qualified Teachers .. etc

    * Solution ?

    Push for E-education thru online delivery of subject-matter thru tablets

    G … GOOD GOVERNANCE

    Ask each concerned Minister , to publish within 100 days, on Ministry’s web site , PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION PLANS , for the following :

    * Food Security Bill

    * Connecting 2.5 lakh panchayats thru broadband

    * Aakash Tablets for 220 million students

    * Delivery of Services Act

    * Aadhar Identification Card

    * Electoral Reforms / Right to Recall

    * CAG audit of Private Companies using Government resources

    * 4G Wireless Internet all over India

    * Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor

    * Amritsar-Delhi-Kolkata Industrial Corridor

    * Natural Resources Allocation Policy

    * Political Party’s Funds under RTI scrutiny

    * Liberalization in FDI ( Entire economy – not just retail )

    * Government funding of Elections

    * Interlinking of Major Rivers

    * ” India Post Bank ” with 139,040 branches in Rural areas

    * Bank A/C for every adult by 2016

    * Divestment / Closure of loss-making / bleeding PSUs

    * Imparting skills to 500 million youth ( NSDC )

    * Sulabh Sauchalaya ( Remember “Sauchalay before Devalaya ” ? )

    Dear Narendrabhai ,

    Do provide a ROAD-MAP ( with clearly defined mile-stones ) of how you intend to translate your DREAMS into REALITY

    with regards ,

    hemen parekh ( 17 May 2014 / Mumbai )

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