Is this our first election outside of caste? Signals that it might be came with the astonishing performance of AAP in Delhi in December. A formation that assembled itself through self-righteous anger against democratic politics and an unrelenting media focus on spectacle, AAP portended bigger things stirring in India. This was a middle class that is asserting itself as the biggest caste group and the largest vote-bank. Its time has come and this is its election.
The science of psephology has become very good in India, and its findings are unambiguous. There is a wave in favour of Narendra Modi.
He is the candidate who best represents middle-class anger and frustration. He is basking in its adoration as the one-man solution to all of our problems.
If we observe the major states in which the BJP has a presence, something striking is on display. Look at Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. In none of them is the Congress winning more seats than the BJP, according to any opinion poll. Local factors seem to have been overwhelmed by something national. The only and possibly qualified exception is Karnataka (where the result is unclear). This can be construed in only one way, that something has stirred in favour of Modi and against the Congress.
A sharply defined campaign from a tireless campaigner is consolidating this. If there is something Modi is not doing to achieve victory, it is hard to spot. He dominates the headlines and his every utterance finds the mark. His rallies are a triumph. From its weakest position in 15 years in 2009, he is about to deliver the BJP’s best result.
Polls predict a BJP about as strong as the Congress is in the Lok Sabha today, meaning a little over 200 seats. It will be interesting to see how well Modi manages to govern from the same position as Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
What else is this election about? It marks the exit of Manmohan, a good man who tried, from public life. Sonia’s decision to leave government to his conservative, careful hands worked in the UPA’s first term, but not the second.
The surrender of the Congress to its allies, the public swallowing of every humiliation and the constant choosing of pragmatism over principle have cost them this election.
Extreme pragmatism is indistinguishable from opportunism, and in its place, we are now promised the muscular, principled and unbending new disposition of Narendra Modi.
For 10 years, India has been led by a leader intellectual to the point of being boring. Now it must prepare for one simple-minded to the point of being dangerous.
Modi says he is decisive, but he does not set great store by input. He says he never reads files, because he cannot govern through “academics studies (sic)”. In his alarming interview with NewsX, Modi said he always asked his officers to summarise the contents of files and orally communicate what “masala” they contain. Then he offers his ruling.
Higher policy cannot be run in this tribal fashion, as we will soon learn. Strategic affairs cannot be conducted by flaunting one’s 56-inch chest.
Modi says he has created the Gujarat Model but those familiar with the state will be puzzled by this assertion. I grew up in Surat, went to college in Baroda and worked in Ahmedabad. These cities look no different from others in India, and in many ways they are worse.
Everything that the Indian needs to bribe government for in the rest of India, he needs to bribe for in Gujarat.
Economists supporting Modi says he has created a neo-middle class but this is manifestly untrue. Modi’s policy of denying English to the children of poor Gujarati families in all state schools till the age of 10 has denied access into the middle class for a generation of them.
Modi says he empowers those under him, but he specifies that these are all bureaucrats. He has bypassed the elected, the ministers and his party.
The BJP is today, like the Congress, an autocratic party. Its old guard is gone. A new BJP has arrived, as it did in Gujarat, where all threats were brushed aside or nudged and prodded constantly till they were forced to go. Its interests are aligned with the interests of Modi and the RSS, whose cadre has finally got the no-nonsense, no-compromise Hindutva candidate it always wanted and has thrown its weight behind the campaign enthusiastically.
On the other side, the Congress needs some time in the opposition to figure out what it is trying to say. This is not about arguing against its performance, which it could well defend, but its public image, which is battered and needs restoration. Here critical work is needed.
Even those who are sympathetic to his plight will accept that Rahul Gandhi has an impersonal, distant style. He does not radiate the enthusiasm, and some would say optimism, that politics requires. Some will define his style as being realist but the truth is that Gandhi is, like his hero Manmohan Singh, too boring for electoral politics.
The first man since Jawaharlal Nehru to get a degree in the family (Indira and Rajiv both failed before dropping out, and Sanjay and Sonia never went to college), he is not particularly impressive as an intellectual either. His narrative is mushy and there is no lyricism in its content. He is earnest, but what of it?
Cometh the hour in India for the quick solution and for the demagogue to articulate it. And in Modi cometh the man.
Aakar Patel is a former Gujarati newspaper editor and a columnist for Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal