India’s polity has begun to witness momentous times with lasting effects on its fabric with the advent of the first single-party majority government in three decades led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Journalist-writer Kingshuk Nag, a Modi biographer, but nonetheless a critic, has called it “launching of the second republic,” the first one being launched by Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Election 2014 and the initial six weeks of Modi’s government came in for close scrutiny and comments at a Panel Discussion the CJA, India Chapter, organized in New Delhi on July 26, 2014. Participating were veteran journalists and commentators who have, besides their routine work, written books on the contemporary political scene.
India could be in for momentous times, but views varied on the portend they hold for the country’s pluralistic and liberal ethos. Many participants expressed apprehensions about the right-wing efforts to demolish what had been built during the Nehru era and had continued for over six decades.
Although there is still no clarity in the new government’s philosophy and how it wants to deliver, Modi’s known views are “anti-Nehru” and his years in office, going by some developments in the initial weeks, could mean the end of the structures and ideas that have prevailed since India’s Independence from the British.
Veteran journalist and editor Surendra Nihal Singh who chaired the discussion said Modi is both “remarkable and controversial”, but it would be proper to give him “a fair chance” on the promises he has made during the whirlwind election campaign and see the extent to which he can deliver.
Setting the tone, CJA, India Chair Mahendra Ved pointed to many books being written on and around the election, a large number of them by media persons whose ability to perceive the evolving situation with objectivity were put to severe test. Media had sought to lead the poll campaign as never before and the results had been shocks, heart-breaks, vindication. It was now time for media to put the new government on its scan.
The holding of the election itself, every five years, truly called the world’s largest management event” has lessons for both Indians and for democracies across the world, said Dr S Y Quraishi, a former Chief Election Commissioner of India who has documented what he calls “An Undocumented Wonder”. His book was out as India was in the throes of the Election 2014. He sought to deal with an election in what is “90 countries rolled into one” – something that has met the organizational challenges that the huge and increasing numbers, the changing values and political trends and personalities have posed.
Editor Hari Jaisingh, with his book on “Pitfalls of Indian Democracy” just out, drew a succinct picture of what led to the Modi and Bharatiya janata Party (BJP) victory after the people, particularly the young, got drawn to the popular movements against corruption, one of them led by social activist Anna Hazare. The public anger was palpable when thousands took to the streets at the December 2012 rape of a girl in Delhi. People decisively voted against the Congress and its leadership after Modi captured the imagination of the young across the nation.
The consensus at the discussion was that the people, particularly the young, after the unleashing of economic reforms, will not wait indefinitely for leaders and parties to deliver. They will hold them to their promises and demand results and if not satisfied, throw them out.
Whether this could actually be done, given India’s first-past-the-post system of electing its representatives was yet another issue debated.
On the “temples and toilets” debate that gained momentum during the election campaign, CJA, India, Vice President Vijay Naik wondered whether Modi would deliver on providing toilets to the poor, or on the ‘Hindutva’ and the BJP’s contentious poll promises like building of a Ram temple at a disputed site, a uniform civil code for all communities and curb the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir.
CJA, India, General Secretary Jayanta Roy Chowdhury asked if the RSS, having promoted a ‘Swadeshi’ lobby earlier that had sought thwart economic liberalization, will now oppose the Modi Government’s policies like foreign direct investment (FDI).
Nag said the Election 2014 was Modi’s “personal victory” and not that of the BJP and its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). The RSS had ‘gambled’ in anointing Modi as the BJP’s mascot in the election to ensure a victory. It was likely that in times to come, he would make them redundant.
Modi had already defeated dissent, as Nihal Singh put it, “chopping off the tall poppies” in his party. But CJA activist Bharati Sinha said India was “more liberal” since the last BJP-led government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1999-2004) and this could pose a challenge for Modi and his parry in the future. The expectations had been raised so high as to make it difficult for Modi or anyone, to deliver substantially.
CJA activist U. Jaya Raj referred to the way religious minorities had begun to see Modi. Public statements by some of his party lawmakers and ministers had triggered controversies. One of them was by a Christian minister, that he was a Christian Hindu”, and that India was essentially a Hindu nation” should be viewed in a holistic manner and not in sectarian one.
Veteran ad-man Preet Bedi said that Modi had emerged as a ‘brand’ that could sell on its performance, only as much as, and as long as, it had the public acceptance. India had remained a pluralistic society and any attempt by the government, its political arms or those of its allies to damage that ethos would lead to negative results for them and for the country.
Is it the rise of ‘Thatcherism’? Has India turned conservative in voting a right-wing government to power, was one issue that got animatedly debated. Jaisingh felt that the people had rejected all ‘isms’ and had placed their faith in someone they found credible. Ideologies do not matter.
Sunita Badhwar, a PR person and writer, said the public memory was short and with time, it would forget Modi’s alleged role in the sectarian violence in Gujarat under his watch in 2002. Amit Mukherjee, who had witnessed and reported that violence for Times of India said people in Gujarat had moved on and had begun to appreciate Modi’s many qualities and his delivery on the development agenda.
Photos – Top: L-R : Preet K S Bedi (Adveritising Guru & former President Rediffusion DY&R ); Mahendra Ved (Chair, CJA India); S Nihal Singh (Former Editor, Statesman, Hari Jai Singh (Former Editor, Tribune) & Kingshuk Nag (Resident Editor, Times of India)
Middle: Listening intently from the sidelines – Jayanta Roy Chowdhury (Secretary, CJA India); Ravi Kapoor (Author & journalist); Shubhomoy Bhattacharya, ( Deputy Editor, Indian Express), Amit Mukherjee (journalist)
Lower: Round table discussion on Indian Elections & its Aftermath