India has taken a right turn. There is no other conclusion to draw from the results of the 2014 elections but this. One can slice and dice the numbers, talk of caste combinations, discuss polarisation and even put it down to the massively funded campaign that catapulted a Chief Minister with a hugely controversial past into the top job in New Delhi. The weak and ineffectual campaign of a party that seems to have run out of ideas and thinks the dynasty can bail it out each time has certainly played a part. But these were just components of a larger picture. Getting down to it, Indian voters have made a statement that is unambiguous — we think the country can progress only if it adopts right wing policies, be they economic or social.
There was nothing about Narendra Modi that was not known. The killings in Gujarat in 2002 were not a figment of anyone's imagination, nor were the anti-minority rantings of the sundry members of the Sangh Parivar. The Gujarat Model of managing an economy, with all its successes and failures, was there for all to see; it had brought infrastructure to the state but was also slanted towards benefits for big corporate houses. What could be more obvious than the dramatic rise in the stock prices of certain companies in the run up to the election results? Clearly, Narendra Modi, the complete package, was not a mystery — what you saw is what you got.
So if he has been handed a decisive victory by the voters, they were clearly making a statement — they wanted him and him alone. The Bharatiya Janata Party was incidental — indeed, in many ways the old style BJP was a liability, with its tired senior leaders and its lack of any alternative vision. For the voters, the old style BJP was more of the same —Modi was new and refreshing, holding forth a promise of taking the country to new heights, if only he was given a free hand. And they have grabbed it, unmindful of (and perhaps supportive of) all that he represents.
The numbers do tell a story. The BJP now has a presence in states like Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. It not only won big in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which have BJP governments, but also in Maharashtra, a state that has kept out the BJP-Sena combine for a decade and a half. Though there is a National Democratic Alliance, the BJP does not technically need its allies because it has crossed the half-way mark on its own. With its NDA allies such as the Telugu Desam and the Shiv Sena, it will become even more powerful. Their support will also give the BJP help in the Rajya Sabha, where it is woefully short of the numbers it will need every time it has to push through legislation. Besides, it's best to keep them within the fold as they will also come in handy in state elections. But what is now clear is that the allies need the BJP more and will not want to walk off at any time.
What is the promise that Modi held out that mesmerised the voters so much? How did the party win not just in cities like Mumbai and Delhi or small towns like Jaipur and Bhopal but also in mofussil centres and villages? The techie in Bangalore bought into this promise as much as the Dalit in Uttar Pradesh. Local factors mattered, of course, but for each voter, the dream of a more prosperous India made the difference. Modi's constant refrain of development struck a chord among voters who have seen growth slow down and real incomes suffer because of inflation.But that is half the story. Modi also spun the tale of a decisive, no-nonsense leader who would brook no opposition to what he planned to do. In Gujarat there is no worthwhile opponent to him, not just among the other parties but also within the BJP. The tough leader persona has made a huge difference. That this also would mean that Modi will brook no dissent and that genuine, democratic opposition could be in the danger of being drowned out is not something his supporters worry about too much.
The verdict gives Modi a complete grip on the government, in Parliament and interestingly, his own party. This is now the Bharatiya Modi Party and those who are not on board will soon find themselves shut out. This can be an advantage if a leader is genuinely interested in progress and in doing away with needless red-tape; in the wrong hands, it could be positively sinister.
As for the Congress, it has gone from ruler to rump within a day. The signs were there, in the hopelessness of the campaign, in the poor communication skills and even in the body language. The over-reliance on the dynasty is of course a curse, but its failure can be overestimated; after all the dynasty has won for the party before. This time round, the Congress was a party without any ideas, caught in the headlights as the Modi juggernaut just rolled on. The Grand Old Party found it difficult even to talk about its many achievements; moreover, no one was ready to listen. The narrative of scams, corruption and inefficiency, which was amplified by a media that saw mainly virtue in one side and vice in another, was impossible to counter. Rahul Gandhi, entrusted with the task of not just managing but also presenting the Congress story failed to rise to the task. Sonia Gandhi, herself a good campaigner, was just not present in action and the party's upper echelons, most if not all of them rootless wonders, had no answers. There was a time, when the Congress had strong regional leaders, each one with a good sense of ground realities and able to smell a political opportunity. Those days are gone. Now it will be in the Lok Sabha in pathetically low numbers, trying to oppose a mighty machine. We are heading for a very interesting five years.
The author is a senior journalist