By Swapan Dasgupta
On Friday, India didn’t merely elect a government with a resounding mandate, it categorically entrusted the responsibility for running the show to Narendra Modi. The extent to which the credit for the victory belongs to the BJP-led alliance and to the man who campaigned relentlessly for a Congress-free India will be the subject of debate in the coming days. To the average voter, however, this is no subject for hair-splitting. The vote was essentially for Modi, for his combative style of leadership and for the dream of a better future he proffered.
The opinion polls and the exit polls are quite clear on this score. The booster dose that carried the BJP beyond the 272 mark and which gave the NDA more than 330 seats was essentially a result of the massive support its candidates received from India’s youthful voters, those under the age of 35. It was this section that gave the Modi campaign its T-20 energy, allowed it to spread throughout India and break the seemingly impregnable bastions of caste and community. The credit for Modi’s spectacular victory belonged to those who demanded a better future for themselves, their families and their country. It was a vote both for self and nation.
The sheer boldness of the mandate may well be lost on a political class that still thinks in very conventional terms about what is possible and what is not on. Modi doesn’t. Having for long successfully defied the collective wisdom of the commentariat and the entrenched Establishment he would know that this was not a mandate for consensus but for audacity. After a long spell of experimenting with the staid and the conventional (that also included dollops of venality), India has preferred a ‘dil mange more’ impetuosity.
It is imperative to grasp the full meaning of Friday’s momentous mandate because the next few weeks will witness a concerted attempt to blunt the sharp edges of the voter restlessness. There will be a bid to suggest that the excitement of the past three months should be firmly buried and replaced by a business-as-usual spirit. There will be the usual jockeying for posts and ministerships by those who were left out in the past decade. And there will be gratuitous advice showered on the new Prime Minister to shed his combativeness and be socialised into a new role.
Some of these suggestions are no doubt well-meaning but Modi must resist the temptations of yielding to the merchants of caution. The vote is for a radical rupture with the fundamental assumptions of governance that, in today’s India, has come to mean institutionalised inefficiency and lack of transparency. Just as he redefined the rules of campaigning during the course of his 450 plus public meetings since September 2013, Modi must be true to his instincts and his partiality for a national resurgence.
Such a lofty project will no doubt need relentless application but equally it will need a revitalised political culture. Hitherto, governments have proceeded top-down to manage change. Modi will need to harness the wave of adulation for him for a larger mission to revitalise a creaky system and make it fit for purpose. This could offend the status-quoists. But he needn’t fear. If India wanted to merely plod along, it wouldn’t have elected a man like him.
Times of India, May 17, 2014