Seeking validation for a fresh set of values - Hindustan Times
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Seeking validation for a fresh set of values

Apr 01, 2024 08:11 AM IST

The 2024 general election will deliver a mandate to elevate the country as the third superpower while introducing fresh values that will shape policy directions

The coming general elections will not only determine the victory or defeat of political titans but will also serve as a referendum on the introduction of new values to Indian politics. One can draw parallels between the upcoming election and India’s first general election of 1952. It had been just five years since Independence. The wounds of Partition were still fresh. Kings, princely states, landlords, and landowners held enormous power in rural areas. Also, four years had passed since Gandhiji’s death. And, except for a few territories, such as Goa, the country’s unification proceeded smoothly under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s leadership.

A man rides past an election awareness poster displayed along a street ahead of India�s upcoming general elections, in Hyderabad on March 26, 2024. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP)(AFP) PREMIUM
A man rides past an election awareness poster displayed along a street ahead of India�s upcoming general elections, in Hyderabad on March 26, 2024. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP)(AFP)

Against such a backdrop, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was attempting to create a shining example of idealistic socialism. The first general elections would determine how much trust we had in democracy and how long we could maintain our democratic character. Winston Churchill, who served as prime minister (PM) of the United Kingdom twice, had predicted: “The Indian political parties and political classes do not represent the Indian masses. It is a delusion to believe that they do… In handing over the Government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain.”

How could he have been so wrong?

Following the election, it was decided that kings and emperors would be consigned to history. Dalits and other disadvantaged groups will gradually overcome their historical disadvantages, while minorities will be accorded equal rights. Despite major barriers, our country has followed Nehru’s path for nearly 70 years, but it has faced logical challenges in the last 10 years.

Yesterday’s alluring coexistence is now referred to as appeasement. Some may call it majoritarianism, but they should remember that the entire world has already taken this route. If the Bharatiya Janata Party gets a majority in this election, it will be apparent that the new colour on ancient values has been extensively adopted by decisive voters.

What are these new values?

Jawaharlal Nehru once declined to attend the inauguration of the Somnath temple. He argued that the PM of a secular country should be cautious about displaying his religious beliefs. PM Narendra Modi treads a different path. He takes care to pause his speech as soon as he hears an azaan (Islamic call to prayer), but also has no hesitation about becoming the main jajman (the person who institutes the performance of a ritual) at the Ram Temple’s consecration. When the Opposition objects to this, BJP spokespersons ask: “How can following one’s own faith harm the faith of others?”

Further, by implementing welfare policies, Modi has created a new class of beneficiaries. He has made considerable gains among women and young voters. According to a CSDS survey, three out of every 10 BJP voters vote because of PM Modi. If he wins a third term, he will be only the second PM to win three consecutive terms. If Gujarat’s stint in power is included, it will serve as a benchmark for other politicians in any democratic country to aspire for.

Why is this shift in values happening? And why has the Opposition failed to create a counter-narrative?

The fundamental reason is that regional parties have consistently betrayed voters’ trust. After coming to power, leaders of these parties founded in the name of socialism, regionalism, and opposition to class discrimination became casteists and dynasts. As a result, those who joined these parties for noble reasons were alienated. These parties also often split when their leader’s family splits either after the retirement of the leader from politics or his death. Examples include the Thackeray and Pawar families of Maharashtra, the Paswan family of Bihar, and the Patel family of Uttar Pradesh. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is an exception as the party remains true to its values.

When Siddaramaiah’s popularity in Karnataka dwindled in the face of the BJP’s fervent nationalism, he whipped up Kannadiga pride. His decision that Kannada should be the dominant language of signboards in Bengaluru has sparked a big debate. It harks back to the cultural transition that began with the renaming of Faizabad, Allahabad and Ahmed Nagar.

The hints are clear: The 2024 general election will deliver a mandate to elevate the country as the third superpower while introducing fresh values that will shape policy directions for Indian politics and society in the foreseeable future.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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