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The Great Indian Election: Do elections change a country?

The Great Indian Election: Do elections change a country?


The former British prime minister Harold Wilson once said a week is along time in politics. He was probably wrong.: In India, a weekend is enough as I have realized yet again. Ten days ago, I sat down to write out my lecture with the focus almost exclusively on the 2014 general elections. And then Bihar happened and I realized that we may need to revisit atleast some of the premises of the 2014 elections. We thought, for example, that caste blocs were fraying: Bihar suggests that caste is still the dominant factor in north Indian elections. We thought that the youth had moved beyond traditional alliances and had discovered their new messiah in prime minister Modi. We were again proven wrong: the youth vote broadly reflects the caste alignments. We thought politicians with criminal records were now being shunned by the voter. The fact is that the party whose leader has been convicted in a criminal case, Lalu Prasad, won eighty per cent of  the seats he contested. We thought that in a media dominated political discourse, charisma meant telegenic leadership. The fact is that the distinctly uncharismatic Nitish Kumar won a resounding third consecutive term. We thought that money power has a decisive role in Indian elections: the fact is that the BJP outspent its rivals several times over and yet lost. We thought the Congress party was finished in north India: it won seventy  per cent of  the seats it contested. We even thought that last mile voter mediators, like the RSS workers, would influence floating voters: we were proven wrong. And hey, we even thought that pollsters atleast could safely predict the winning party: guess what, we got that wrong too.

In other words, Bihar proved yet again that there is no election quite like an Indian election: unpredictable but in the end reaffirming the power of  a humble voter. Voting day is the one day in the year when the aam admi or the ordinary Indian feels equal to the khaas admi or the VIP. Unlike in the US, where data suggests that the wealthier you are,the more likely you are to vote, in India, its just the opposite. So, in a state like Bihar with a population of  over a 100 million, and with over 30 per cent below the poverty line: the poor used their vote to send out their message. Let me offer two anecdotes to reflect the voter mood in Bihar. First, was when I met this young man who makes the best litte choka ( a Bihari meal made of flour and vegetable that you must have) who after giving me a long and erudite discourse on the elections, tells me: “The price of dal is now 200 rupees a kilo, the Modi government promised to bring down prices, what happened?” He was angry.

The second was when I visited a little village just outside the town of Darbhanga to meet the family of  a person who had been working with me for the last 20  years. The family belongs to the Dhanuk caste: a caste of landless agricultural labourers, the family  earns less than 50 dollars a month. So who would they vote for. The woman in the house told me, Nitish Kumar and when I asked why, she pointed shly to the light bulb. We now get electricity 22 hours a day, she said. The lady was hopeful.

Hope and anger: the two emotions that wrestle with each other during elections. When they come together, they create a chemistry which when aligned to arithmetic create what can best be described as a “wave”. Bihar was a wave election. So in a way was the 2014 general election in India. Last year, when I sat down to write a book on the 2014 general elections in India, the word ‘historic’ seemed to crop up on more than one occasion. Even allowing for journalistic licence, it was, after all, an election of many ‘firsts’, and thus probably deserved the tag. The first election won by a clear majority by a single party other than the Congress, the first election that had seen a chief minister being openly projected as a putative prime minister, the first where the prime minister elect had been an RSS pracharak (or tutor), the first election which had seen the Congress party get less than 100 seats: surely this election was historic. It was also historic it seemed in not just statistical terms. The first election which had been fought under the intense glare of 360 degree media, the politics of 2014 not only seemed to shift the battleground from the maidan to the media but  marked a distinct rightward shift in the Indian polity: the irresistible  rise of Narendra Modi and the BJP meant that the Nehruvian consensus that had marked Indian politics since 1947 had been openly challenged and conquered.

Which is why when my publishers Penguin suggested a title for the book, the strap line was ‘the election that changed India’. I have suggested in the introduction to the book that India has seen three truly historic elections. The first was 1952, the first Indian general election premised on the principle of one man, one vote, and one which placed the citizen at the heart of the democratic process. Most observers, domestic and foreign, were sceptical: a Chennai-based editor called it ‘the biggest gamble in Indian history that was doomed to fail’; the former British prime minister Winston Churchill, was even more contemptuous, suggesting that India would break up under the weight of  internal contradictions. And yet, Indian men and women, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Jains, Dalits and upper castes, tribals and city dwellers voted: India had shown the way to the world, including the U.S., where voting rights for all were still a battle.Ballot boxes were carried on horse and camel to distant parts of  a vast country. It was an unqualified triumph of  the democratic process that made the first election a historic one.

1977 was equally historic: it was an election fought under the backdrop of the Emergency imposed by then prime minister Indira Gandhi that had led to suspension of civil rights in the country. There was a genuine threat of dictatorship. As it turned out, India rejected Indira and reposed faith in democracy once again. 2014 too, like 1952 and 1977, may well be judged as a watershed moment in Indian electoral history: an election that marks a decisive end to  the Congress era. Every social group, with the exception of  the minorities, preferred the BJP to the Congress. Infact, if  you were to undertake a road journey on the main highway from Mumbai to the Punjab border, the first Congress-held seat would be up north in Amritsar. The party run by the Nehru-Gandhi family had been decisively rejected, placing a question mark on its future. And yet, the question could be legitimately asked: were my publishers right in suggesting that I position the election  as one that changed India? Even more generally, do election verdicts transform a country as diverse and complex as India?

It is my belief that they do, or atleast they have the potential to. Since 1952, India has seen 16 general elections and many state elections. Each election provides an opportunity for millions of  Indians to believe they are shaping democracy. The 2014 elections, for example, saw as many as 550 million Indians caste their vote (more than the entire population of north America), 930,000 polling booths and 1.7 million electronic voting machines. Size does matter. Indeed, most elections have seen a rise in voter turnout, a sign of  the enormous public faith in using the ballot box as an instrument of  change. It is, after all, the one day in the year when all barriers of caste, income and region are broken, when every Indian with a black ink mark on the finger feels empowered.

 Contrast India with neighbouring Pakistan where democracy has been imperilled on several occasions by the army. In India, the army has stayed firmly in the barracks: the transfer in power has always been peaceful. And yet, does a transfer in power result in genuine change, or does it simply mean one ruling elite being replaced by another. The growing cynicism towards the political class means that many Indians seem to believe that nothing really changes in their lives: it is simply a question of choosing the lesser evil at the time. And yet, it is this wondrous election process that has seen the caste system being shaken with the rise of  Dalit and backward caste leaders, it has toppled rajas and maharajas of  another era and replaced them with commoners. Where else but in an Indian election process could the son of  a cowherd like Lalu Prasad aspire to be chief minister of his state, or a dalit ki beti  like Mayawati whose father ran a small telephone booth lead the most populous state in the country, or even a Narendra Modi who claims to have sold tea at a railway station become prime minister? In the most aspirational society in the world, elections offer an opportunity for great social and political mobility. Yes, we still are burdened with political dynasties and family run parties that undermine democratic principles, but there is enough reason to hope that new India will eventually break the doors of  any political party that is run like a closed shop.

The real hurdle to a truly free and fair election is not family networks as much as it is money power. There was a time when muscle power influenced voters: the era of election booths being captured is over. Money though does play a key role: a majority of  our members of  parliament are millionaires several times over: estimates as to how much is spent in an Indian general election range from $2 billion to $ 5 billion dollars. 

And yet, to return to the original question: does a power shift change a country as dramatically as one might imagine? Let me return to Bihar for a moment. In 2005, Nitish Kumar came to power in alliance with the BJP. The state at the time had a reputation for a lucrative kidnapping industry, where women couldn’t go out at night, where the roads resembled craters on the moon, where rural Bihar was trapped in permanent darkness. In his first term, Nitish empowered the police and made them accountable: within a few years, the kidnapping industry had virtually been smashed and young women were going to night shows in cinemas. Road building became a priority and highway projects dramatically changed connectivity. Another scheme provided cycles to girls who studied in class nine. In a decade, 40 lakh young women benefitted and school dropout rates declined. Two years ago, rural electrification was focused upon and suddenly several villages were lit up. The same bureaucracy, the same government system, a new leadership: Bihar could claim to have changed. Not everything changed, of course. Quality of teaching was still appalling, job opportunities were still way too few, there  was very little industralisation, far too many people still living on the margins. But in comparison to Bihar ten years ago, this was truly a new Bihar.

So, if a leadership change in Bihar could transform its polity, what about a change at the centre. A few weeks ago, former minister and a one time supporter of prime minister Narendra Modi, Mr Arun Shourie, described the Modi government as a Congress government plus the cow. The reference here was to the strident anti cow slaughter campaign launched by the new government in India which has led to a beef ban in several BJP ruled states and evoked much controversy. Mr Shourie seemed to imply that the BJP was essentially a saffronised Congress, a government that had placed continuity above change, that hadn’t moved away from making any major policy changes. It is a proposition that needs to be tested.

Let’s be clear: the BJP won the 2014 election because the people of India wanted change: it was anger, or call it fatigue, over the performance of the previous Congress government that had been in power for a decade, as much as it was ‘hope’ symbolised by the persona of Narendra Modi that tilted the electoral balance of power so starkly. Some saw in Mr Modi a economic reformer who would propel faster growth; others saw him as Shivaji-like figure, a Hindu Hriday Samrat who would restore a lost glory to Hinduism; still others just saw him as a stronger leader than the namy-pamby leadership being offered by the other side.

I would liken Mr Modi’s emergence to the rise of Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1980 after just the single term of Jimmy Carter. Like Carter, the incumbent Congress prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh was perceived as weak and ineffectual. In effect, he was seen to suffer from what can be best described as a leadership deficit. In fact, the joke in Indian political circles was that the only time prime minister Singh opened his mouth it was when he was forced to visit the dentist. As for Mr Modi’s main rival, Rahul Gandhi: he was a young man who is seen to have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity: politically amateurish and a very poor public speaker. By contrast, much like Reagan, Mr Modi is a charismatic personality: no, he isn’t a film actor, but he does have the penchant for the dramatic moment and has extraordinary communication skills.

Moreover, if in 1980, the U.S. found its global position being challenged by Russia in the Cold War era, India too in the last years of the Singh administration was perceived to be punching well below its weight. If the U.S. economy in the late 70s was beginning to falter, the Indian economy too had begun to slow down between 2010 and 2014. All of this accentuated the need for a strong leadership: someone who could drive away the mood of negativism and pessimism and offer the promise of a better future. If Reagan’s slogan was ‘Good Morning America’, then Mr Modi’s poll plank was ‘ache din ayenge’ or better days will soon be  here.

There is another interesting parallel. With the rise of religious fundamentalism in Iran in the late 1970s and the onset of the Islamic Revolution in that country, the U.S. faced a fresh challenge: this was as much a security challenge as it was seen to confront the American way of life. The 60 and 70s were a period of  cultural freedoms: as a reaction to the so called excesses of liberalism, a section of American society perhaps felt the need to re-assert a sense of American core values premised on family and nationhood. A similar mood prevailed in India in the last decade and perhaps stretching back to the early 1990s when Hindu nationalist forces began to politically assert themselves. The rise of Islamic terror and the failure of the ruling establishment to ensure strong and even handed rule of law while adopting a secular constitution meant that these forces were able to convince many Indians that their religious identity was under threat from Islamic fundamentalism and the country was confronted with a cultural deficit. Issues like terror strikes, religious conversions, for example, became a weapon to create a fear among the majority that their culture and religion was threatened.

The lurch towards right wing conservatism in the U.S. in the 1980s has been mirrored by a similar rise of the right in India in recent years: a rightward movement in political, economic and cultural terms. For years, the Indian right has felt marginalised to the national discourse, dominated by a left-liberal ideology. But in the last 20 years, there has been a conscious attempt to challenge the dominant narrative and create space for a vision dominated by economic liberalism and social conservatism. If Reagan represented that conservative value system, so does Narendra Modi in the Indian context: he was, after all, an RSS pracharak for much of his life: the RSS ideology sees India as primarily a Hindu majoritarian state that needs to preserve and promote the idea of  India as a Hindu Rashtra where minorities must accept the dominant culture of the majority Hindus.

It is this with backdrop that we must return to the original question: has the 2014 election changed India?  Let’s take an example from the U.S. again and place a counter-factual proposition. What if the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections had been won by Al Gore and not George Bush, what if Florida had learnt to count like India: would contemporary US history have changed forever? Possibly. But possibly not. Would Al Gore have really responded very differently, for example, to a 9/11 style attack, or is there a basic consensus that prevails on critical issues of national security and foreign policy that suggests that a change in leadership actually doesn’t dramatically alter governmental decisions. We could argue that on taxation, global warming, healthcare, a Gore government would have been very different to a Bush administration, but there are certain areas where the difference might have been more in style than substance.

Sometimes, of  course, the style does matter. Just like an Al Gore is a very different persona to a George Bush, or a Carter was to a Reagan, so is Modi when compared to a Manmohan Singh. A soft spoken bureaucrat economist who owed his position almost entirely to his proximity and loyalty to the Gandhi family, Dr Singh could never really stamp his authority on government decision making beyond a point: he was, self confessedly, an accidental prime minister. Contrast that with Mr Modi, a fierce individualist, someone who had been reared in the womb of the RSS, someone who had been a 24 x 7 politician and could hardly be seen as a leader by accident but wore his prime ministerial ambition on his sleeve.

In a sense, the change in guard after an election which throws up a distinctive political figure is bound to bring about a change in the style of functioning of the government. To that extent, we could argue that Mr Modi has changed the way the prime minister’s office functions: much more centralised and personality oriented than the previous regime. Just look at the style for example of his foreign policy outreach: it isn’t as if  Dr Manmohan Singh didn’t travel the globe. In fact, he travelled to almost as many countries in his first 18 months as Mr Modi has. Yet, his  was a style that was deliberately understated and low profile. By  contrast, Mr Modi, be it in New York or San Francisco, London or Sydney,  appeared to be like a performing rock star, addressing large gatherings of NRIs, making constant prime time appearances and rousing speeches, giving a sense of  a leader in perpetual campaign mode.

Nothing would underscore the difference between the two leaders more than a selfie the Indian prime minister took with his Chinese counterpart  when he was in Beijing: apparently, it was the most retweeted photo at the time, a real power statement (I don’t think Dr Singh has ever taken a selfie in his life!) Or indeed, when Mr Modi met with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and hugged him and broke down while speaking about his mother and humble origins. Dr Singh comes from an equally humble background but not once has he shown any emotion in his long career in public life. Nor would Dr Singh ever address the U.S. President as Barack in public as Mr Modi did even though they shared a warm relationship. Mr Modi also has monthly radio conversations with the nation and has an entire team handling his social media outreach: in a sense, we could even argue that we have gone as a country from a prime minister who barely spoke to a prime minister who perhaps speaks too much. To that extent, it could be argued that India has dramatically changed in the style and nature of its leadership. And maybe the Modi model of a more individualistic leadership offers a template for the future: Indians want to see their leaders as men and women of action.

The question is: the style may have changed, but has the substance of governance changed? Or is a government a continuum where who becomes prime minister makes limited difference to the permanent bureaucracy? The secretaries who run the government of India don’t change with an electoral verdict. Nor do state chief ministers change after a national verdict. To that extent, Mr  Modi has to deal with the same ‘system’ that his predecessor had to. It is impossible, for example, to effect administrative reforms overnight in a country where the bureaucracy has been used to a particular manner of functioning for decades. Mr Modi’s prescription for the bureaucracy has been to place greater emphasis on bureaucrats coming to office on time, not hooking off for long lunches, even introducing a biometric system to ensure attendance in government offices. But there is much more to bureaucratic reform than creating a fear factor amongst them. There is little evidence to suggest that the bureaucracy under Mr Modi is more efficient or meritocratic than under the previous government. Unless you effect a fundamental change in the bureaucracy, you cannot change the quality of governance. Maybe, its easier to do that in a state where you deal with fewer bureaucrats, where a chief minister can be like a single window clearance office, but it is much more difficult to achieve that at the national level. In fact, I would argue that Mr Modi at times still functions like a CEO like chief minister  or a project manager with a handful of bureaucrats who he trusts rather than being a prime minister who focuses on a policy agenda for deeper, more long term institutional change.

A prime minister also finds it more difficult to dictate terms to increasingly powerful regional chief ministers, many of whom run states whose populations are  larger than most European countries. How do  you then in a vast and diverse country effect change merely by a change of leadership in the national capital?

The key, in fact,  to real change in a sub continent size country like India lies in the state capitals. The constitution places the prime responsibility for key areas like education, law and order, healthcare, power distribution on state governments. The centre can effectively only provide a policy framework: implementation is the primary responsibility of the state leaders. To give one example from the Modi government. The prime minister has made swach Bharat or clean India,with a focus on sanitation a priority. Great idea, much needed. But who will execute the vision? I was in Bihar last month on the campaign trail and was struck by the dirt and squalor in government schools and hospitals. There was no ‘swach bharat’ here: quite simply, the local administration was a world removed from the PM’s vision. Another learning from my travels was the high teacher absenteeism in government schools, especially in rural areas: where is the policy change that would incentivize teaching at the primary schools? ( I might point out here that ratio of  state expenditure on education is amongst the lowest in Gujarat, one of  the flaws of  the much hyped Gujarat model). And while the prime minister in Delhi speaks of ‘smart cities’ and digital India, a trip to tier two towns in Bihar only revealed just how these urban centres are in a state of chaos and disrepair. The town of Darbhanga, for example, the fifth largest city in the state with a population of about half  a million doesn’t even have a single traffic light. Can the prime minister effect the change here by planning to make it a “smart city”, or will real change have to come from below with a stronger, more accountable and empowered local self government?

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Mr Modi, as a former chief minister, has spoken repeatedly about invoking the federal spirit, about working with chief ministers in a spirit of mutual co-operation. He has even replaced the Planning Commission with a Niti Aayog which has been set up to promote this very federal spirit. The fact though is, many of these policy making bodies end up as talking shops for ideas. Mr Modi has also announced schemes for financial inclusion like a Jan Dhan Yojana aimed at providing bank accounts to the poor. The scheme itself  is a legacy of a similar scheme started by the previous government. Official figures suggest that an impressive 200 million plus accounts have been opened in the last 12 months: the fact is a majority of  them have no money in them. The challenge, therefore, facing the Modi government, like that confronted by his predecessors, really remains much the same: executing ideas, strengthening delivery systems.

To some extent, the use of technology,through Aadhar or Unique Identification Scheme, is a positive step to identifying potential beneficiaries of government projects and reducing leakages, but there is still enough evidence to suggest that petty corruption and administrative inefficiency haunts the poor. To take an example from Darbhanga again: the main hospital is housed in a building which has been declared unsafe but the file to house patients in a safer area is still trapped in bureaucracy for the last three years.

What makes the challenge even greater is the nature of parliamentary democracy with its pulls and pressures. Here again, the situation is not too different to the U.S.: more specifically, like in the U.S where the president is dependent on Congress for legislative change, the Indian prime minister too has to work with parliament to effect landmark legislation, and even if he has the numbers in the lower House of Parliament, he is faced with a more hostile upper House. While the Modi government does have the security of a full majority government unlike the previous government where coalition pressures forced a series of compromises, the prime minister finds that even a shrunk opposition can stall parliament through sheer obstructionism. The last session in parliament for example was a complete wash out because the Congress-led opposition wouldn’t allow it to run: the BJP had adopted similar tactics when they were in the opposition. In effect, legislative gridlock cannot be broken by one election triumph: major reform still lies stalled in the corridors of parliament. Unfortunately, the prime minister appears to have little time for parliament: he hasn’t participated in any major parliament debate, rarely attends parliament. It is almost as if his domineering personality will not allow him to share space with the opposition: the result is a freeze in relations.

What is also true is that faced with competing interest groups and multiple political parties, leaders tend to prefer incremental reform to dramatic change. This is where the criticism of the likes of Mr Shourie maybe justified. The 2014 electoral victory of Mr Modi was premised on the belief that he had a magic wand which would almost instantly transform the country from sloth and corruption into a high growth, corruption free society. This demand was perhaps the greatest amongst the Indian middle class, drivers of the aspirational Indian growth story. This class is remarkably mobile, but also highly impatient. They demand instant gratification. Many of them have been prime minister Modi’s biggest cheerleaders, now they are more circumspect. Suddenly they have realised that the prime minister isn’t playing a limited overs cricket match, that he doesn’t have any instant solution. The robust campaigning style of  the prime minister has meant that he is a great motivator, it also means that he can create unrealistic expectations. Being in campaign mode 24 x 7 can catch up: when the expectations aren’t fulfilled, hope is rapidly replaced with cynicism and even anger: managing perceptions and expectations is a big challenge before a leader like Mr Modi.

To be fair, the prime minister has made a genuine effort to put an end to big ticket corruption that has plagued the Indian polity for decades. A stricter vigil has meant that crony capitalism — by which a handful of individuals have enormous access to precious natural resources — has been somewhat controlled with more transparent rules being put in place for resource allocation. Ironically, industrialists who were vociferous in their criticism of  the previous regime now almost seemed to be nostalgic about the past when they could manipulate the system more effectively. This, of course, doesn’t mean that corruption has ended, or will end any time soon. The prime minister talks of the ease of doing business and ‘make in India’, but the fact is, with a plethora of rules and regulations at the state and in the centre, India is still a difficult country to do business in (we have just moved from rank 134 to rank 130 in the world bank rankings). There is little evidence on the ground, for example, that the prime minister’s attempts to enthuse business have actually resulted in major investments nor has domestic demand perked up.

The key to change doesn’t lie in slogans: the prime minister is very good with slogans, be it Start up India, Skill India, or Make in India – the key lies in moving from artful slogans to realizing the economic potential of a country with the world’s largest working population. We will in the next decade have the world’s largest working age population. But the demographic dividend remains in real danger of becoming a demographic disaster with job driven growth  still not taking off. The challenge is huge: every month, almost a million young Indians in the 18 to 23 age group enter the job market. Last month, for 35 clerical jobs in the UP government, there were 75,000 applicants! Remember, UP’s population is over 200 million: it is the world’s fifth most populous country! The prime minister’s  office claims that it is putting in place a policy architecture to ensure speedier reforms: the key is, will the reforms get trapped in the persona of  Mr Modi, where the man is the message or will it actually bring about lasting institutional change.

The challenge for change is not just economic and demographic, but requires redressing social imbalances.  At one level, how do you reduce the gap between high and low performing states: importantly, how do you reduce the inequalities between the haves and have nots. It is a problem that exists in all societies but one which is aggravated in a country like India where the income disparities remain so stark and where there is virtually no social security net. The previous Congress-led UPA government spoke of being more ‘inclusive’ and introduced a series of legislations aimed at providing some rights based protection to those who were below the poverty line (the critics would describe this as dole economics). The right to food, for example, is designed to ensure that no Indian goes hungry: the truth is, millions still do. Can one election victory change that reality? Interestingly, Mr Modi has continued with most of these high spend social programmes of the previous government and even attempted to take credit for expanding their ambit. And yet, there are parts of the country which simply have escaped the “growth engine”: even in relatively prosperous states like Maharashtra for example, agrarian distress is a reality: more than 1300 farmers have committed suicide in the state since the start of  the year. Sadly, this government has been so carried away with its neo-middle class constituency that it seems to have ignored the India on the margins, especially in rural India. The prime minister has travelled the world, wowed NRIs, but he hasn’t gone to a single village where a farmer has committed suicide, or provided a prescription for enhancing rural consumer demand and investments.

There is one final challenge that Mr Modi, and indeed, any leader of a multi-religious plural country like India must face: the challenge of respecting diversity. In a country of multiple faiths, how do you genuinely promote the idea of  sarva dharma sambhava, or all religions are equal. While the previous Congress party was guilty of compromising with corruption, often because of coalition pressures where smaller parties could dictate terms, the Modi government is confronted with a different kind of  a political coalition. While Sonia Gandhi was seen to be the ideological patron of  the previous Congress-led government, Mr Modi’s BJP gets its ideological mentorship from the RSS, a grouping that draws inspiration from a militaristic style approach to building a Hindu majoritarian state. Mr Modi leads the government and the BJP, but it is the RSS which provides the cadres and the ideological glue. There are elements within this Sangh parivar or saffron brotherhood that would like to ensure that the cultural ethos of a Hindu society becomes the dominant idea of India.

This challenges the very idea of India as a secular and plural society that respects all faiths. So far, Mr Modi’s approach has been to avoid a direct confrontation with the more rabid Hindutva elements with the result that some of them feel empowered to try and push their agenda, be it by aggressively pushing an anti cow slaughter campaign, seeking a rewriting of textbooks, or banning religious conversions. In recent weeks, the prime minister’s relative silence on these contentious issues is seen to have only emboldened those groups who feel their time has come. That some of  the individuals who speak off sending to Pakistan those who eat beef are within the Modi government makes the prime minister’s position even more compromised. You cannot talk of sabka saath, sabka vikaas, as the prime minister routinely does, and yet, preside over a political system which discriminates against the minorities, or makes them feel insecure. Nor can a government build a more inclusive society if it constantly encourages a “them” versus “us” polarisation, or  sees any form of dissent (be it from an NGO or civil society or political opposition) as “anti-national” (the “go to Pakistan” rhetoric is an ugly manifestation of  this intolerant steak)

Truth is, the 2014 mandate was for change as defined by Mr Modi’s promise of  high economic growth, more jobs, a stronger, more cohesive nation. It was not for gradualist reform and a risk averse approach, it was certainly not for dividing the country, poisoning and polarizing young minds  or, indeed, for an agenda that would spread fear among minorities . I would like to believe the prime minister is aware that he cannot allow his mandate to be derailed by those who will rupture social cohesion or puncture economic growth, some of whom are within his government and the wider sangh parivar. How he tackles these forces will determine his own future and  to a large extent whether the 2014  elections has changed India for better or worse. And whether the strapline for my book was based on ground realities or simply clever marketing.

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