India exists in ironies. Narendra Modi is here with a renewed, vastly improved mandate, by which he has consolidated his grip over the Delhi Durbar - the all-powerful Lutyens zone - above the sulking heads of the so-called Khan Market gang (the poor shopowners in Delhi’s upmarket bazaar are in any case BJP voters-turned-Modi bhakts). With a lot of people likely bending backwards to prove their allegiance to the new order, Modi can now lord over Parliament. The Rajya Sabha, which had marred his 2014 victory march, too is within striking distance - even NDA allies could become redundant.
Modi has, in fact, done better than Indira Gandhi. There’s no point in bringing Rajiv Gandhi’s still unparalleled mandate here, because that came as a reaction to Indira’s brutal assassination, and he was India’s most apolitical prime minister. The irony is that Modi, even when he creates history in bold letters, essaying a transformational election, he is and will be compared to Indira. It’s also ironical that India, that ancient and young place, has to go back to a woman icon as an ultimate measure of power and strength. However powerful Modi is - and indeed, India has not seen such a powerful PM in decades - he cannot escape the comparison with the woman who similarly transformed herself, her party, and India too, in many irreversible ways, winning a war to boot.
When Modi creates unforgettable moments in the linear history of Indian democracy, whether by winning an unparalleled majority or by appointing the first full-fledged woman Finance Minister of India in Nirmala Sitharaman, it’s Indira who lurks behind, competing with him on whatever track record he sets. If Indira lurched to the left, creating a tectonic shift, shaking up the placid waters of the Ganga and Cauvery, wrenching a centrist Congress out of its groove, Modi would be credited with the rightward lunge of the Indian polity. (Even if he has taken a careful centrist position in his post-victory speeches and now with his Cabinet, inducting the likes of S Jaishankar.)
The similarities are many. Neither Indira nor he is known for any academic excellence, but both were/are adulated by the masses and the classes alike. Both pegged themselves successfully as champions of the poor, and used overt religious iconography to their advantage. Both came in points of India’s political history where their arrival marked of a pre- and post- phase. Under both, India changed. Make no mistake, there’s nobody else who remotely compares to these two political phenomena; both had to measure up to their predecessors (Nehru and Vajpayee), both have triumphed over the inherited legacy.
However, there begins the difference. And there lies the real narrative of this election. Indira propagated a dynasty (the seeds of which were sown early on), Modi is an ideological heir. One emasculated the party and shrunk it into a coterie of family loyalists, the other has expanded the party’s footprint such that it’s created a New Order of Things. Both, however, are in a way rebellious challengers of the status quo they inherited.
So, make no mistake, Amit Shah may be Modi’s heir apparent, he may have closed the gnawing gap between his mentor and himself, from the time he was an ordinary karyakarta and an MoS for Home in Gujarat, to the point where he’s about to assume charge of a crucial ministry once held by the likes of Sardar Patel or L K Advani. But he’s still a satellite, deriving power from the all-powerful leader. His enviable election management has felled the once formidable Congress, the Left and at least three state satraps. But he remains an ace implementer of an agenda set by Modi, he’s not a political sui generis. Whether Shah will finally grow to succeed Modi depends on if/when Modi decides to relinquish power, at his pleasure.
Unlike Modi, who wrenched power through brilliantly deployed mass politics and would be talked about in terms of representing an idea, Shah would be known for strategy. Shah’s emergence itself is a triumph of Modi over the fountainhead organisation, the RSS. Shah, as BJP chief, as Home Minister and a possible heir, have all been crafted by Modi’s power and sway, not through deference to the Sangh. Yes, Modi has never taken on the Sangh in the way Vajpayee did - the latter’s grounding and political grooming of sorts in Parliament created that. Modi’s biggest influence still remains the Sangh.
There’s also no better exemplifier of Modi’s grit than this mandate, read against December’s Assembly election results. He had no doubt that he would be winning - answering a young student, he had said May 2024 would be a contest, “Tab tak main hoon (Till then, it’s me)”. He has also been cleared of the clutter of a generation of leaders who were either his contemporaries or were mentored by Vajpayee-Advani. It’s a quirk of fate that ill-health has caught up with Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj - and three powerful heartland CMs (Shivraj Chouhan, Raman Singh, Vasundhara Raje) have lost their states. Former patriarchs Advani and M M Joshi, long sidelined, have now been granted the sight of a mandate earned without them contesting. In Cabinet meetings, Rajnath Singh, relegated to Defence, is going to be a loner among a much younger generation - most of whom are Modi’s creations and proteges. It certainly is a classic Modi moment that a swearing-in ceremony appeared like a Cabinet expansion, the pomp and grandeur and the BIMSTEC notwithstanding. As if the elections were just a diversion, a small punctuation, in between ongoing work.
(The author is Resident Editor, Karnataka. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)