Notes from a liberal

The six week long contest gets over, and life slowly returns to its usual pace in India. But as I write this, I find some liberals and left leaning folks around me inexplicably struck by bouts of anxiety and despondency following the Narendra Modi sweep of the elections. And I must confess I find it a little difficult to understand this sense of hopelessness. For the record, I have always been firmly liberal in my ideology and continue to be so. I intensely dislike extreme right wing politics because of the rigidity, violence and dogma that it is inevitably associated with. And this is the same reason why I detest ultra left wing ideologies as well. Both, it seem to me, appeal to the basest of human senses. Doing away with the need for intelligent thought or the readiness to examine an alternate point of view. So I am certainly not on the current right wing band-wagon, by any stretch of imagination.

Having said that, one is also clear that just because one wants something, it is not necessary that the nation may want the same. Indeed it does not even follow that what we want may be the best thing for the nation. Taking that position runs counter to the basic premise of democracy itself, which bases itself on the “wisdom of the masses”, however unpalatable that may be. As for arguments claiming only 31% voted in favor of the BJP, we do not have proportional representation etc., those are now churlish at best. That is how the system works and changes if any, should have been fought for before the elections. Now complaining that the rules of the game were unfair, is a losers song.

Secondly, I don’t think it is true that the people of this country got totally taken in by the marketing hype or are blind to the dark past that accompanies the incoming Prime Minister. To think so, would be to collectively insult the intelligence of an entire nation. It is much more likely that the people of this nation made an assessment. They figured that here was a ruthless man, but an efficient man. They hoped that he has learned his lessons from the past and will focus more on the efficiency part in the future. They have voted for this hope. They took the gamble. After all, what options did they really have? Rahul Gandhi? The Congress? An incompetent left that has left Bengal in tatters? An inexperienced new comer who rushes to the footpaths at the drop of a hat? A dodgy coalition? The fact is that this was the only hope left in a country that is on the brink of hopelessness. History could always judge the collective polity of having easily glossed over the sufferings of “others”. Of having made a faustian pact. But the fact remains that they had little choice.

It would serve the incoming government well to have this etched onto their memory. This is not a mandate for communalism or fundamentalism. This is a mandate for efficiency and national pride. There will now be mistakes by cadre who misread the mandate. This could rapidly cost them in popularity, much faster than one would imagine! The face of Indian politics has really changed. People are increasingly engaged, aware, and will swing diametrically when required. Let’s not forget that this was the same “shining India” BJP that got wiped out in 2004. And the same “incompetent” Congress that got a mandate in 2009.

On the question of efficiency, one cannot but admire the precision and effectiveness with which the BJP/RSS have conducted this election campaign. As a sales and marketing strategist, I am in awe of the multi-channel, multi-pronged strategy that was executed flawlessly by individual channel leaders, and yet held together as one by someone at the top. They were able to synch together the strategies and the data real time, adjusting seamlessly every minute.  I would love to see the dashboard that the planning leader got to see every day. The flawless media management, the timing, the catch phrases, the jingles, and the divide and conquer planning… all brought together seamlessly with superb event management, to produce a spectacle that was truly one of the Worlds greatest shows of the decade. Once can only hope that at least part of this efficiency gets directed towards nation building now!

So the nation has elected itself a “strong leader”. One could almost say that we have elected ourselves an authoritarian by choice. Perhaps that is the only way we can get anything done in a dysfunctional and chaotic country like India. The only problem with a cannon however, is that it is brutally efficient, irrespective of which direction it is pointed in. Let us hope it remains pointed in the right direction. The initial signs look hopeful, at least on the economic front. There are rumors that policy decisions to boost growth and consumption are bound to be taken quickly. Reduction of peak income tax, reductions in service tax levels, pushing through of the GST regime, large scale investments into the infrastructure and airports sectors etc. are all anticipated.

As for the incoming PM, I suspect we are going to see him as a leader for a long time now, at least for the next 10 years. One could hazard a guess that unless he miscalculates badly, this could even signal a sunset for the inexplicable stranglehold that the Gandhi family has had over Indian politics. I also suspect that if his popularity starts to wane, we may see a war with Pakistan as a result. Nothing stokes nationalistic pride and jingoism like a good old dust up in the neighborhood. And the American right has already proven that short wars are a good way to revive sagging economies. Lessons that someone as savvy as NaMO, would not have missed.

Finally, I wonder if people even now understand what a significant shift this represents for the very idea of India. India was always seen as a pacifist, slow moving, slumbering giant. A chaotic cauldron of diversity that somehow got along. A nation that improved slowly despite its government. All that seems set to change. For better or for worse, remains to be seen.

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