The Meaning of Change

Happenings in western UP have an impact not just in the rest of the state but elsewhere too. After the riots, the communal elements were emboldened, seeing in the Modi phenomenon a chance to correct misplaced social and historical grievances. Reverberations of this mood were felt from the North-east to Kashmir. The rise in atavism would not yield normal election results and it is here the Election Commission failed. For example, it could have held the polling in western UP last rather than first. It would have allowed more time to lapse after the riots, making people get comfortable with the electoral process. Normal elections in other parts of the state would have dampened communal elements. The net result of the rise in communalism is that those who swear by secularism, like the Congress or the SP and BSP, could find themselves shorn of the support of some of their Hindu supporters who have been communalized. It is due to this that a repetition of 2004 seems remote.

If Modi and the BJP ride to power on the twin issues of development and religious nationalism, what will it mean for the country? We need to draw lessons from Gujarat to know how Modi  will conduct himself as PM. His fame is based on creating a robust and peaceful industrial climate in Gujarat, where trade unions, bureaucratic delays and social instability do not really trouble fat cats. That means that the Tatas, Ambani, Adani and hundreds of other business houses are not weighed down by endless bureaucratic harassment. The BJP’s manifesto, in some ways, promises to end harassment of business houses.

More worrying would be Modi’s social policies and how he deals with the issue of minorities. In this the country will have to comprehend the change it has voted for. It will have exercised its franchise for replication of the Gujarat model in treatment of minorities.

The Gujarat model endeavours to make the minority vote  totally irrelevant as it tries to socially engineer the caste Hindus as a distinct Hindu voting bloc

Gujarat is perhaps the first state that is part of the Hindu Rashtra. Till some years ago, there were villages that welcomed visitors by declaiming they had been purged of Muslims. Ahmedabad’s Muslim ghetto, Juhapura, has been described by political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot as the first “Muslim city” in India. Most of the 4.5 lakh rich or poor Muslims live in it without having access to public transport or even piped water. One side of this area, staring at Hindu colonies, is fenced, which is called ‘border’. Worse, in democratic India, these people have lost their power and influence as, after delimitation, this habitation has been carved into two parts. In short, they cannot even vote together to get a candidate of their choice elected. In Gujarat, after the Congress’s Ahmed Patel there has been no Muslim MP.

The Gujarat model endeavours to make the minority vote or the “secular vote” totally irrelevant as it tries to socially engineer the caste Hindus as a distinct Hindu voting bloc. In the 2014 election, the BJP strategists hoped to upset the tactical voting by Muslims by getting more Hindus out. They were helped by the relentless campaign by the Election Commission, beseeching people to step out and vote.

The vote that was a guarantor of Muslim protection and preserved Constitution-based secularism as it helped the existing political orthodoxies to power, may become a slow casualty.

These changes could in certain ways shake the secular foundations of a country where minorities have been accommodated and given dignity by the Constitution. If this critical balance is rudely shaken, there will be riots, instability and the kind of violence that is not shown on TV. The proximity of Afghanistan and mercenaries and jihadis stalking the ungoverned spaces could bomb out the best-laid plans for providing quality governance. After all, India is not Gujarat and we live in a very hostile neighbourhood where no one loves anyone.

Being an outsider in Delhi, Modi may either get overwhelmed by the power and influence the city wields over the national discourse or he may try to consciously diminish its influence. His early speeches, in which he derided Delhi’s secular intelligentsia, could be a sign of his irritation at them. At the same time, the rapidity with which the intelligentsia and the media are adjusting themselves to the new reality is noticeable.

Last, Modi may decentralize more financial powers to the states and give them greater freedom to attract FDI and clear their own projects, as happens in China.

India will be a very different place if the BJP forms the government on its own. What voters will come to know later is whether it is really the government they wanted.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2014