There are two places on Earth that have perpetual militant electioneering: India & Israel. It isn’t possible for an American to wade into the morass of either and arrive at clear ideological differences between the irreconcilable camps because the American political regime isn’t hewed from racial distinctions. Being a child of the Enlightenment meant that politics is applied ethics. At the least, the irreconcilable differences between the competing camps in American politics come down to competing ethical visions of the “good” and its constitutive relation to public policy.
With India and Israel, the social base of each party has distinct racial, ideological, geographic and financial components. Its a violent vortex only heightened by parliamentary rules that continually seek majoritarian status. Because these regimes are binary, they are unstable, even violent.
Today’s win by Modi in his home state of Gujarat has permanently hurt his status and by consequence India’s relation to its own secular vision denoted by Nehru. The BJP parties formula for building an electoral majority is failing, but the reasons should not be dumped on Modi for India’s own parliament, the Lok Sabha, and its senate, the Rojya Sabha remain severely dysfunctional.
From 2001 to 2014, Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister who turned a business friendly model of development into a springboard for national power. It worked, until the BJP hit upon the bulwarks of India’s parliament.
New Delhi’s Center for the Study of Developing Societies has noted the strong anti-incumbency throughout India, but it was Modi’s own de-monetization efforts coupled with nationalized sales tax that broke the luster of the BJP’s status. Despite high levels of foreign direct investment, India remains stagnant with high unemployment, massive regional disparities, high farm prices and low social mobility. The real story of today’s win in Gujarat, is how could India’s socialist Congress party gain on Modi when it has no strong social base in Gujarat, lacks a consistent message and is saddled with a hereditary leader of the Gandhi dynasty.
The answer may be Gandhi’s willingness to exploit India’s growing social discontent at having witness Modi’s grandstanding at the cost of governance.
Team Modi sought to stoke Hindu fear of radical muslim minorities while uniting Hindu’s by weaving an alliance network over various castes under the ideological banner of paternal rule, progress and order. It continues to work, but Modi’s campaign style isn’t positioning India for strong policy strides.
Modi’s main threat came from two non-politicians who sought to play upon the social fears of minorities. Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor; both young tribal community members that sough to exploit India’s surging identity politics. For example, Modi continued to use acronyms to create divisions among the opposition by calling a vote for BJP as a vote for R.A.M., an acronym that identifies a major Hindu deity with local party leader names; Congress was called H.A.J. identifying Gandhi’s leaders with muslims.
Although Modi won in his home state, he’s damaged, weak and proved to be extremely vulnerable. Gandhi’s party remains fragile because its base is comprised of divergent social identities, a coalition of castes who openly seek more state dependency.
The fight for the soul of an independent, growing, inclusive and secular India is on and Modi’s isn’t winning.