Welcome NaMo!

by Saad Hafiz

Exit polls had it right.  India, the world’s most diverse democracy with numerous ethnic, linguistic, religious, and caste communities delivered a resounding verdict for change.  The Narendra Modi (NaMo) led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allies are set to take power drubbing the ineffective Congress led-UPA government.  The elections showcased the maturity, inherent vitality and dynamism of India’s democracy.  The electoral focus was on jobs and development. The ruling party paid for the low growth, high inflation and claims of official corruption on their watch. The electorate clearly favoured the BJP to tackle the nation’s great problems of poverty, inequality, violence and oppression.

Voters in the recent elections bucked a recent trend by giving a national mandate to a single party, the BJP.  Over the past two decades, India had changed from a country dominated by a single nationwide party into a robust multiparty and federal union, as regional parties and leaders had risen and flourished in many of India’s twenty-eight states. The regionalization of the nation’s political landscape has encouraged inclusivity, decentralized power, given communities a distinct voice, and deepened India’s democracy.  Another encouraging result of the recent Indian elections for this writer is the ever-increasing number of women in Parliament.

Mr Modi ran on the twin pillars of economic prosperity and Indian (read Hindu) nationalism.  However, quite surprisingly, Hindu nationalism had been largely missing from his pre-election speeches.  Mr Modi made two key points at his first victory rally: 1) “There are no enemies in politics and democracy, only competitors. That’s the beauty of democracy. The strength of democracy lies in taking everyone together and 2) “I am mazdoor [labourer] number one,” and that “the ‘DNA’ of his ‘work culture’ was sabka saath, sabka vikas (support and development of all)” reflecting his personal rag to riches story and work ethos.  Mr Modi’s reported incorruptibility, austere lifestyle, self-discipline, and self-sufficiency will be a welcome contrast to parasitic leaders in many developing counties.

According to reports, significant sections of urban and rural Muslim voters, particularly in the key state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) turned to the BJP. Indian media commentators highlighted the fact that young Muslim voters responded positively to Mr Modi’s campaign promise of creating jobs and employment opportunities — which are sorely lacking — in UP.  And that is Mr Modi’s great achievement in his home state of Gujarat.  For Muslims, Mr Modi’s alleged involvement in the Gujarat riots; their horrific death toll and the insecurity created by them appears to have taken a backseat to mature electoral decisions based on strictly economic concerns. Hopefully, strategically siding with the mainstream can help Muslims improve their strikingly low national social indices in terms of health, education and literacy.

While Mr Modi’s economic success in Gujarat has been trumpeted, some experts feel that it did little to alleviate poverty or improve indexes of education, malnutrition or health care in the state.  The new government may need to engineer inclusive national prosperity.  This prosperity must be deep rooted and sustained.  Even the much touted Reaganite-Thatcherite models of minimum government, maximum governance failed to accomplish this goal.  The government could encourage inclusive economic and political institutions that allow and encourage participation by the great mass of people in economic activities.  It must boldly confront the root cause of uneven development—extractive institutions and the politics that keeps them in place.  India, which is home to a third of the world’s poor will demand nothing less.

Indian voters have given Mr Modi a mandate to practice his overarching ideas on governance and development. Down the road, he may choose to embrace the “persistent centrism” and “coalition building” of Indian politics while downplaying ideological purity.  India is in a unique position to demonstrate to the world that all groups and religions have “equal claims” on the Indian state and culture. If progress can be made on this laudable goal, it would further strengthen Indian democracy and serve as an example for neighbouring countries. In general, a strong, prosperous and democratic India is vitally important to the region and the world.

Overall, the Indian electorate must be applauded for putting in place a strong and decisive leader like Mr Modi who seems brave and inspirational enough to make the difficult reforms and provide the firm governance and economic prosperity the country is craving.  All the while, he must remain cognizant of India’s time-honoured traditions of tolerance, democracy and secularism.  India is a hugely diverse country, which stands to benefit from a strong and stable government. Its history also shows that, in the end, all its rulers need to embrace diversity in order to govern effectively.  Welcome NaMo!

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