A mandate for Constitution and consensus

For both the prime minister and the ruling party, the electoral outcome has thrown up many questions and has also set the direction for the future model of governance.
Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi .
Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi .Photo | PTI

Some are destroyed by defeat, and some are made small and mean by victory. Greatness lives in one who triumphs equally over defeat and victory. The great American writer John Steinbeck couldn’t have imagined how accurate he would be in describing the result of the latest general election in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi created history by becoming the second political leader after Jawaharlal Nehru to be sworn in as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy for a third consecutive term. He is the first genuinely non-Congress leader to the enviable feat. He is also the second RSS swayamsevak after Atal Bihari Vajpayee to lead the nation since independence.

Yet, there is an arithmetical distinction between Nehru and Modi. While the Congress under Nehru won the three Lok Sabha elections in 1952, 1957 and 1962 with almost two-thirds majorities, the BJP captured power with the help of its allies—alone, it couldn’t conjure up the majority figure of 272 seats on the third attempt. Nevertheless, the hurriedly-stitched pre-poll National Democratic Alliance (NDA) triumphantly returned to Raisina Hill under Modi’s leadership with just under 300 seats. Modi’s idea of political India has survived, slightly modified by voters. For now. For thriving in the future, he bowed before the Constitution before getting formally elected as the leader of the NDA.

The verdict has, however, delivered an ominous blow to the concept of a single-party majority government, which is seen as essential for political and economic stability. The electorate has denied a majority to any one party after a decade. India is back to the coalition era that began after Rajiv Gandhi’s defeat in 1989 and ended after almost 25 years in 2014 when Modi ensured full majority for the BJP.

Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi .
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The BJP won 282 seats in 2014 and 303 in 2019. A decade later, the BJP could secure only 240 seats out of the total of around 430 it contested. It lost 63 seats mostly to its traditional rival Congress. This time it’s not Modi 3.0 but NDA 3.0 led by Modi, with the earlier two editions of NDA helmed by Vajpayee. Even in defeat, though, the BJP scored more seats than any ruling party has done in the recent past. The Congress under Rajiv won 404 seats after Indira Gandhi’s tragic assassination but was reduced to just 197 five years later. In 2009, the Congress won 206 seats.

For both the prime minister and the ruling party, the electoral outcome has thrown up many questions and has also set the direction for the future model of governance. The party is yet to reconcile to the idea of not achieving its unrealistic target of 370 seats and crossing the 400 mark for the NDA. Party cadres blame the excessive exposure of the prime minister for losing seats in crucial states like UP, Rajasthan and West Bengal. It also didn’t gain much in the southern states as the gains made in Telangana and Andhra were offset by losses in Karnataka.

During the two-month-long campaign, the prime minister addressed over 200 meetings and gave around 80 interviews to various media outlets as part of his outreach strategy. But these choreographed interactions didn’t erase the opposition-sponsored narrative about the danger to the Constitution and rising unemployment. In addition, excessive dependence on outside agencies for micro poll management created confusion. It led to a disconnect between the committed workers and the professionals who were hired to design the contours of the campaign. Above all, the minimal involvement of BJP veterans and workers also contributed to the decline in votes. Soon after the 2004 debacle, the then Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani had stated that the BJP lost because it ignored its core constituents.

Skewed economic policies are also partially responsible for BJP’s losses. During the past decade, the BJP government has spoken proudly of its pro-business ideology. Modi has promised to make India into the world’s third largest economy. He had earlier stated that India would be a $5-trillion economy soon. The mandate is to deliver good politics and judicious economics. Excessive exposition of market models haven’t gone down well with the masses. It is rare that heads of state or senior ministers goad the people to invest in the markets just before the results are announced. Linking the comprehensive health of the nation with artificially inflated market capitalisation is a deceptive narrative for seeking endorsement of policies. It may, at the most, boost big business behemoths, but rarely brings extra smiles to the masses.

Moreover, leaders must learn from the past to plan for the future. If mesmerising markets could alter political fortunes, then both P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh wouldn’t have faced humiliating shellacking at elections. Rao, who formed the first minority government in 1991, was responsible for introducing massive economic reforms. The Sensex registered an elephantine escalation of over 180 percent during his five-year tenure. The Congress was mauled and Rao was politically martyred after the party was humbled in 1996 because it was perceived as being pro-rich.

During Manmohan Singh’s tenure from 2004 to 2014, the Sensex ended with a Brobdingnagian 400 percent escalation. Despite that market medal, the Congress lost even the status of the main opposition party in the Lok Sabha. It is evident that the Western capitalist models of top-down or trickle-down principles don’t work in a democratic country like in India where over 800 million people are still dependent on freebies from the government. Modinomics will have to change to include the Naidu-Nitish social equity model. 

Good economics isn’t necessarily better politics. It’s not the amount of foreign exchange or the number of extra billionaires created by a regime which gives it durability, credibility and acceptability. The success of any coalition government is tenuously linked with the prime minister’s prowess to mould him to handle new arithmetical realities. For the past 22 years, Modi has evolved an administrative model in which he alone plays a decisive role. He collects inputs, yet he isn’t used to the concept of collective responsibility. It has helped in taking quick decisions and getting them implemented in a record time. He is a master slogan-smith. From Swachh Bharat to Digital India, he has mesmerised the nation with his generous guarantees.

He has been leading a cabinet in which he has been the first among unequals.  But the new numbers would also alter the administrative algorithm which would guide policy formation. Modi still remains the most powerful leader. His invincibility may have taken a hit, but he enjoys the title of the Maximum Leader. For his long-term success and for possibly creating history by completing a full third term, the nation is looking forward to a renewed politics of consensus, and not confrontation. That alone will ensure his greatness. NDA 3.0 needs to follow kindness, and not brute numbers, the commoner’s touch, not billionaire handshakes, and delegation, not dictation.

Prabhu Chawla

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com

Follow him on X @PrabhuChawla

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