Pranay Gupte Headshot

With Indian Election Results, Lots of Hope and Lots of Hyperbole

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It would be silly to assume that any visiting or resident journalist would be able to readily gauge the "mood of India" on the day that the results of an historic national election are announced in a nation of 1.3 billion people. Members of the local punditocracy have been trying all day on television to outdo one another in finding clever ways to characterize Narendra Modi's victory.

Whatever words the commentators use - "extraordinary," "remarkable," "unprecedented" are some of the most common ones - there is general agreement that Mr. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party changed the political landscape of India.

What do the election results tell us about contemporary India?

It is a clear sign of the transition from "It is my fate" to "Enough is enough." And the younger voters have most vociferously voiced this. Of India's population, some 75 percent of males and females are under the age of 25. Those eligible to vote - 813 million of them - came out in force: they set an election record through a 67 percent turnout.

The election shows that the felt need was for a stable strong government. Not a government which with unfailing regularity is forced to compromise just to save itself. Not a government that is held to ransom by the dog-in-the-manger attitude of an almost equally strong Opposition. But a government whose leader will lead and not meekly follow. (No point in assailing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his last day in office - but you get the idea.)

Other issues, which certainly were of importance, included corruption which was so brazenly condoned by the earlier government mainly because of coalition pressures. We're talking not of pennies but uncountable trillions of dollars. It's been reliably reported that India's GDP of $2 trillion is easily matched - if not surpassed - by the black money, funds that are illegally squirrelled away abroad. Notwithstanding the fact that no voter is foolish enough to believe that any party can be squeaky clean, Narendra Modi still managed to engender the hope, particularly among India's young, that his government would be clean - that the days (and nights) of business-as-usual would no longer be tolerated. We shall see.

Having got such a massive mandate, one of the priorities for the new government, would be to bring in a visible upswing in the economy (luckily, the stock market and rupee rate against the US dollar have surged).

Then there is the need to reassure all communities that the secular nature of country would be protected, especially in the background of provocative statements being made by fundamentalists affiliated with Mr. Modi's BJP.

Because of poor governance and corruption, India has generally taken a beating in the eyes of the international community. The need of the hour is to perk up the country's image and reestablish trust and credibility.

Mr. Modi has shown so far that he understands how important it is to flourish in the global comity of nations. Modern technology was used by almost all parties: email, SMS, recorded messages in campaigning on behalf of candidates. So were the social media - Facebook and Twitter in particular. But the tone and content were quite dissimilar. Perhaps the senders who realised that the concern of the common man was to do more with himself than the fortunes (or misfortunes) of any political party were most successful in holding the attention of the receivers.

"The elections proved the efficacy of electronic media, the mobile connectivity and the effect of instant communication through mass messaging. It also proved its effective penetration across the classes and masses not just in urban India but also in rural India," said Bakul Rajni Patel, a leading businesswoman and former sheriff of Mumbai.

Every political party painstakingly arranged for meetings to be addressed by its leaders with faces. But many of these degenerated to finding fault with others and at times went right down to personal remarks, which to the discerning voter was a non-issue when it came to the governance of a country.

With hundreds of television channels beaming twenty-four hours (and often re-telecasting the speeches), one couldn't help get a feeling of déjà vu, as much of the speeches were superficially reworded edits of the same substance. Speakers who restricted themselves to a simple practical list of what their parties would do if elected, no doubt scored the highest in the TV ratings.

And keeping in mind the deluge of information that one is subjected to, this tactic perhaps would be the most advisable in future campaigns. No one knows this better than Narendra Modi.

(This article was written with the cooperation of Jagannath Ramaswamy of Chennai.)