The ghost of Jawarharlal Nehru could well be an uninvited guest at the banquet marking the swearing-in of Narendra Modi. Tuesday, May 27 will mark Modi's first official day as the 15th prime minister of India. It will also mark the 50th death anniversary of Jawarharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister.
The BJP's convoluted "Hindutva" ideology, a curious and contradictory mix of cultural revivalism, economic Darwinism and militant nationalism, has always been rooted in anger. Much of it has been directed against India's liberals, leftists, Dalits (as "untouchables" now call themselves) and the Muslim, Christian and other minority communities. The BJP's view is that they have milked the system and public sympathy for undue benefits, which the Congress and other parties have showered on them for electoral, and not national benefit.
What Modi offered to voters was in effect a mix of market-friendly growth, muscular nationalism rooted in Hindu lore and the promise of a militarily-strong India. The extent to which this mix proved to be an elixir, particularly for India's young, aspirational, technology savvy generation, would be obvious from the outcome of the elections. The Congress party has suffered its worst defeat in its history. Parties that banked on the votes of the lower castes and Muslims have been routed. And those controlled by families in the states have been flattened. Modi's appeal has thus cut across India's traditional fault lines. In one fell swoop, the BJP has widened its social base and, no less important, established its presence in virtually every state of India. It can now legitimately hope to fill the void created by the debacle faced by the avowedly secular and populist parties. This election therefore heralds a tectonic shift in Indian politics.
The rhetoric of this election and the concomitant actions of extremist political players point to the emergence of a less tolerant India. Does change in governance have to mean the exclusion from the social compact of those whose beliefs do not resonate with those of a shrill and increasingly violent majority?
It has been described by one newspaper as the "dance of democracy," and by another as "Mahabharata," after the Indian epic that tells the story of an ancient war between two warring dynasties. Whatever you might call it -- Hillary Clinton called it "the global gold standard" -- India's elections are here.
On account of his strident nationalism, rooted in right-wing Hindu ideology, and the pro-market policies he espouses, Narenda Modi's critics fear the emergence of 'soft fascism' in India while for those very reasons his fans hail him as Kalki -- the last avatar of the Hindu divinity Vishnu who will bring peace and prosperity in abundance to the hapless motherland.
The world's largest democracy is set to go to the polls from April 7 to May 15. At stake is nothing less than its much-lauded position as an emerging economic powerhouse and its much-hoped-for transformation into a bulwark of modern, liberal, democracy. India's stunning economic growth over the past 25 years marked the first time in centuries, if not ever, that the average Indian was truly been able to change his life and lot. This was the greatest wonder of the economic reforms India kicked off in 1985 and embraced more seriously in 1991. It felt then like a new superhighway that would speed India directly to superpowerdom was being conceived and built by South Block, as the Indian prime minister's office is unobtrusively called.