What had been the narrative of a section of people, obsessed with liberalism and secularism, was actually Hindutvaphobia — a fear of a mysterious demonic entity that would devour the whole country and regress her to the stone age of violence and darkness.
So, 38 per cent of the Indian electorate who voted BJP and Modi back to power became “fascists” and gullible of being “intoxicated” and “seduced by passion of vengeance”.
This obsession of the Modi-haters actually united almost the whole country against their hypocrisy, against their demeaning of the Indians in the name of Hindutvaphobia, against their baseless propagation of the fear of an apocalypse should Modi come to power again.
Just after the results of the General Election 2019 were out, all hell broke loose among a section of people and media who were desperately expecting an anti-BJP government to come to power. Their hatred for BJP and Modi is so great that they were fine even with the direction-less and narrative-less Congress and the motley group of politicians like Lalu, Mayawati, Mulayam and many more, all of whom have dismal records when it comes to human rights violations, safety and development, and, not to forget, corruption.
Someone from this disappointed group said, “India is a full blown fascist country. Its transformation to fascism is now complete. Majority of Indians that voted this fascist political outfit are fascists. Once we recognize these basic facts, we can begin considering appropriate strategic responses to India and Indians…”
Someone else made a clarion call, “Those friends who are still sane, still believe in love and solidarity, like my friends in Calcutta, shall we walk the street tomorrow, in a walk where we talk about togetherness, sing about love, standing with our neighbors who speak to different Gods? This day is so disheartening, scary, unnerving!”
A major media house in the West went to the extent of scaring everyone. “Intoxicating voters,” it claimed, “with the seductive passion of vengeance, and grandiose fantasies of power and domination, Mr. Modi has deftly escaped public scrutiny of his record of raw wisdom… He triumphantly reaped one of the biggest electoral harvests of the post-truth age, giving us more reason to fear the future…”
Fascism might be an understatement. What had been the narrative of a section of people, obsessed with liberalism and secularism, was actually Hindutvaphobia — a fear of a mysterious demonic entity that would devour the whole country and regress her to the stone age of violence and darkness.
It was as though a group of illiterate and uncouth people from the hinterlands of India – without any basic wisdom and knowledge of Indian culture and civilization, of what all India stands for, things like pluralism, inclusiveness, etc. – had suddenly occupied the hallowed seats of power, of course through deceit and magic, and wanted to unleash their frenzied dark energies into the society and take full control over the lives and ways of the country’s elite and intellectuals, who, by the way, have taken upon themselves the grandiose task of maintaining the secular fabric of the country and upholding all the values and righteousness they have been the custodians of since God knows when.
Rarely has there been such vicious attacks by a section of the media and intelligentsia, on the people in power, purely because the latter doesn’t align with the ideologies and thoughts of the former. And lo, the former are the ones who talk about liberalism and tolerance, whereas they come across as the most intolerant to anyone who doesn’t belong to their fraternity. Not only the BJP, the ire of the former very soon fell upon everyone who voted them back to power again. So, 38 per cent of the Indian electorate became “fascists” and gullible of being “intoxicated” and “seduced by passion of vengeance”.
Overnight, Modi-haters came up with theories of massive consolidation of the Hindu votes against the Islamophobia, allegedly supported by the BJP. In doing so, they totally ignored the real reasons behind Modi’s stupendous win. Rather, I would say, they were so lost in their own vision that they were blind to the realities on the ground.
In the 2019 General Election, BJP got around 38 per cent vote share and 303 or 53 per cent of the total seats, against Congress’ 20 per cent vote share and 52 or 9 per cent seats. In fact, in some seats where BJP contested, its vote share was as high as 46 per cent.
With 37.6 per cent vote share in rural constituencies, BJP improved its performance in non-urban areas by close to 7 per cent. In the seats it contested in rural areas, its vote share was close to 46 per cent, compared to Congress’ 23 per cent. This is totally in contradiction to the stories of rural distress propagated by so many in the opposition. I don’t imply here that there was no rural distress at all but I do have reasons to say that the rural electorate did see some value in getting BJP or rather Modi back to power. If not, we will have to accept the ridiculous proposition put forward by many that “Indians don’t know what they have done”.
BJP got 42 per cent votes from the least educated (quartile) and around 40 per cent from the least prosperous people in India, improving its tally with the latter by almost 30 per cent. It improved its vote share in the SC and ST constituencies by 6-7 per cent. It got 11 per cent more votes from areas with significant Dalit population. More people from the Adivasi-dominated areas voted for the BJP this time than they did in 2014.
Interestingly, BJP has increased its vote share by close to 10 per cent in areas with 20-40 per cent Muslim population. Overall, around 11 per cent Muslims have voted for BJP in 2019, compared to 8 per cent in 2014, which is a close to a 40 per cent improvement. For instance, the vote share of BJP has increased by 5-10 per cent in the Muslim-dominated Shivajinagar, Chamarajpet and Shanthinagar assembly constituencies in Bangalore compared to 2014.
Close to 50 per cent of the gen-next population (born after 1996), all first time voters, have opted for BJP.
So, the BJP has been accepted over a large spectrum of the electorate.
Engage with the masses
A little engagement with the masses would have made it very clear what the pulse of the nation was before the election. A few anecdotes will make things very clear.
One day, a month before the election, my wife had asked me if I knew anything about a scheme called Saubhagya. I vaguely remembered the name – one of the many schemes launched by Modi in the past five years. I asked her the context. She said that our maid, Kamala, had given her a lecture in the morning about many such schemes – she managed to remember only one name. What I figured out was that, Kamala was actually trying to “sell” Modi to my wife, because she had an inkling that the “rich” people, perhaps not among the beneficiaries of any of Modi’s schemes, might not bring him back at the helm of everything once more. She was worried that they, the “poor” people had a lot to lose if Modi didn’t come back to power. Kamala is from a village in Karnataka, not far from Bangalore.
The next day I asked my driver, Sunil, whom he would vote for. He proudly told me that he hails from the same village as Aravind Limbavali, the BJP MLA from Mahadevpura, the assembly constituency we are part of. He pleaded with me to vote for the BJP. I asked him why he liked the BJP so much. He requested me to come to his village and find out for myself. His village, he claimed excitedly, is not much different from the place we stay in Bangalore. Many roads there, he said, were better than in Bangalore. Few days later he flashed his RuPay debit card. He also talked about the new LPG connection at his house. He was proud that he too had the privileges which had been merely aspirational to “them” in the past, privileges which only the “rich” in the cities had, but were now a reality even in his village.
Both Kamala and Sunil felt they were empowered.
Last year, I’d been to Delhi for some work and I’d taken a cab on rent for the day. I have the habit of chit-chatting with cab drivers as I always get to know a lot of interesting facts and figures from them – the facts that are generally not published by the main stream media. I asked him what he thought about Yogi Adityanath’s government in UP, now that it was almost a year since he had come to power. The cab driver smiled sarcastically. “You, the educated lot,” he mocked, “you won’t understand.” That was rather rude, I felt. “The police have started working finally [in UP],” he said. “Isn’t that a badi baat (a big thing)?” I remembered that some time ago another cab driver had told me a similar thing about the Delhi cops. “Since Kejriwal became the CM,” he had told me, “we’re no longer harassed by the police. I have the number of my MLA – the police know very well that I can call him anytime…”
For the lesser privileged, or rather the “poor”, I realized, the taming of the police was also a sort of empowerment – it gave them a sort of psychological safety.
Empowering the less-empowered
After the 2019 General Election, when I was trying to figure out what magic Modi had done, I remembered Kamala and Sunil and the Delhi cab drivers. The empowerment came in various forms.
Fifteen million people have subscribed for the Atal Pension Yojana, a government co-contribution scheme to assure a monthly income up to INR 5000 after the age of 60, for all employees in the unorganized sector.
There are around 360 million beneficiaries of the Jan Dhan Yojana, one of the earliest welfare schemes launched by Modi. It’s a massive financial inclusion scheme, which starts with a bank account, a RuPay debit card, an INR 5000 overdraft facility and an INR 1 lakh accident insurance. The main usefulness of this scheme is actually the immediate transfer of all benefits from the government directly to the account holders, by-passing any middleman. More than USD 100 billion worth of benefits have been already transferred till date directly to the account holders.
Close to 60 million have subscribed to the Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojona, an insurance scheme for all account holders, with a premium of roughly INR 1 per day, and a life coverage of INR 2 Lakh.
One and a half lakh kilometres of roads have been constructed in villages across India under the Gram Sadak Yojana. Commuting to and from a village to the nearest big hospital or school or workplace at a town close by is no longer at the mercy of fate.
Non-corporate Small Business Sector (NCSBS) — comprising small manufacturing units, shopkeepers, fruit and vegetable vendors, truck and taxi operators, artisans, street vendors and many others — is perhaps one of the largest dis-aggregated business ecosystems in the world, sustaining around 500 million lives in India. The Mudra Yojana, aimed at extending, among others, financial support, in the form of refinance, to this sector, has sanctioned 180 million loans, amounting to about USD 130 billion.
Under the Awas Yojana, aimed at providing a pucca house with basic amenities to all houseless and those living in kutcha and dilapidated house, financial assistance up to INR 1.5 lakh per house has been provided for the construction of more than 15 million houses.
As per the Fasal Bima Yojana, aimed at supporting sustainable production in agriculture sector by providing financial aid to farmers suffering crop loss/damage due to unforeseen events, among others, the farmers have to pay only 1.5-5 per cent of the sum insured as the premium, with the government paying more than double the amount.
The calculator available at the official website of the scheme gives an idea of the premiums. For example, a farmer’s contribution to the premium for insuring 1000 hectares of land for cotton cultivation in the kharif season in Latur district of Maharashtra would be INR 2.15 Lakh, with government chipping in INR 4.73 Lakh, for a sum insured of INR 4.3 Crore. Close to 150 million insurance covers have been registered under this scheme till date.
More than 25 million households have been electrified under the Saubhagya scheme. More than 100 million toilets have been constructed under Swachh Bharat. More than 70 million LPG connections have been released under Ujjwala Yojana.
Even a pessimistic estimate would reveal that more than 200 million households would have benefitted from one or more schemes launched by Modi. That’s more than 400 million adults or around 40 per cent of the total electorate. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the BJP got a vote share of around 38 per cent.
The motivated negative campaigning united India
Turning a blind eye to such magnanimous amount of welfare, and designating the 38 per cent of the electorate as “fascist” people, who voted for BJP just because of Islamophobia, or because of their zeal for creating a Muslim-free society where Hindutva would rule the roost, is not just ludicrous, but also, I would say, racist, intolerant, parochial and above all, utterly stupid. It reminds me of the opening lines of a poem from Tagore’s Gitanjali – “I’ve conceded defeat! Whenever I wanted to push you, I’ve only hurt myself.” I would rather paraphrase it as follows: “You’ve been defeated. Whenever you’ve wanted to push [them], you’ve only hurt yourself.”
The vitriolic and venomous attack on Modi, calling him “chor” when not a single scam from his tenure could be proved till date, spreading the fear of Hindutva and indirectly painting the entire Hindu community as an intolerant fraternity who would kill all its Muslim neighbors the moment Modi would return to power, the repeated usage of the terms like “Hindu Terror” just to counter balance the rise of the Islamic Jihadi terrorism worldwide and more closely in Kashmir, supported by Pakistan, would have turned any Hindu, who perhaps was not a great fan of Modi, away from the Modi-hating opposition.
So actually, it was not Modi who divided the country through any rhetoric of Islamophobia and consolidated the Hindu votes against his opponents but it was rather the latter, who united almost the whole country against their hypocrisy, against their demeaning of the Indians in the name of Hindutvaphobia, against their baseless propagation of the fear of an apocalypse should Modi come to power again.
Collective wisdom of the Indian electorate prevailed
However, it doesn’t mean that the issues cited by the opposition are all concocted. Issues of mob violence against cow traders, of communal barbs from the fringe elements in the BJP, of alleged increase in unemployment, and of increasing distress among the farmers in many parts of the country, are all prevalent to an extent. PM Modi has to surely tackle all of these. But many of these issues were blown out of proportion and created an air of Hindutvaphobia. A few fringe and stray incidents don’t skew the statistics of the overall crime and violence of any form, whether communal or not. Each crime needs to be investigated and the criminals punished, whether it’s communal or political or otherwise.
It’s the collective wisdom of the Indian electorate that they chose wisely. Despite the ills and negatives – no one can be sacrosanct – they still felt they had some sort of psychological safety and a sense of empowerment during Modi’s tenure, whether it was his schemes or the surgical strikes against anyone who attacked the country.