Modi- Politics

Narendra Modi

Although Modi wants to portray himself as a strong and independent personality, even he hasn’t managed to completely brush off the influences of systemic factors during his political career. Joining the RSS at a ripe age of 8 already paved the way for a political career that he was bound to take. The decades of Congress rule along with the rivalry that the BJP had with the party gave Modi the exact case of ‘what not to be’ and was not afraid to point this out to his audience.

Modi’s early years in the BJP provided him with all the groundwork needed to closely observe and understand the targeted voters which helped him become the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat for three consecutive terms. Modi used all his achievements in Gujarat as an illustration of what he could do for India if he was given a chance to become the Prime Minister. Promises of ‘Good Days’ and rapid economic development were made and his voters, who were exasperated with the Congress rule, put all their faith in him and elected him as the Prime Minister of India in 2014 and then again, in 2019.

But throughout his political career, Modi also had a few downfalls. During his initial years in Prime Ministership, people saw him focus on the one thing that wasn’t excessively elaborated in his mandate: a robust foreign policy with a focus on bilateral relations. But over the years, Indians have seen him diverge from economic programs towards security-based and socio-cultural policies which not only distracted the audience from his economic letdowns but also appealed to them and strengthened his vote bank.

The Congress Rule: how it shaped Modi's rhetoric

The Indian National Congress was key during the Indian freedom struggle against the British Empire. Even after independence, they played a significant role in the conceptualisation of the Indian Constitution and the Indian parliamentary system. In fact, Jawaharlal Nehru, the former president of the INC became the first Prime Minister of independent India in 1947. His legacy has persisted after so many years with Rahul Gandhi, the former President of the INC who is a sixth-generation family member but also lost against Modi in the 2014 and 2019 General Elections.

It can be observed that to endure so many decades in India, the INC definitely had a lot of power (which it still retains) and it has often been criticised for corruption and stalling India’s growth, especially in the late 20th century. However, all’s not well in the Congres front. With a near six-decade-long rule in India, the Congress had taken many bad decisions which would haunt them for years to come. Most of these can be attributed to their dynamic leaders. The Congress’ tainted past is what the BJP has always used (and still does) to measure themselves against.

One of the key events in which Modi protested against when he was younger was 21 month-long National Emergency imposed by the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi in 1975. Gandhi was about to lose her next term in office and due to this, she declared an emergency to maintain her power with the argument of controlling ‘internal disturbances’. Communal riots had also broken out across the country and Modi played a key role in the anti-Emergency movement. He joined the Gujarat Lok Sangharsh Samiti (GLSS) and coordinated amongst the activists in the state of Gujarat. Stories of him travelling in disguise to help the affected communities made rounds and helped him gain the respect he needed within his society.

The ‘tyranny’ of Indira Gandhi is an excuse used by BJP even today, after over 40 years. Of course, a party that has been in power for so many decades would definitely have flaws. These exact weaknesses are used by BJP. In many election campaigns, BJP has highlighted the diabolical nature of the Congress party by stating that even after independence from the British, India never truly gained independence.

Another thing that Congress has been criticised for doing is appealing to the minority communities in India. India’s unfortunate history of politicising religion goes far being Modi’s Prime Ministerial rule. Congress’ move has finally come back to bite them. BJP has voiced its anger towards the Congress for supporting the Muslim community in India which had predominantly faced poverty. This has helped the BJP claim that the Congress is pro-Pakistan, a sentiment not appreciated by many Indians.

Ironically though, the Congress has a history of ‘anti-Pakistan’ policies with Indira Gandhi playing an important role in the division of Pakistan (regarding Bangladesh) and Rajiv Gandhi being prepared to go to war with the neighbouring country in 1987. Yet, many Indians find it perplexing to differentiate between the party’s support for Indian Muslims and Pakistan. BJP has exacerbated the situation by making these two sentiments interchangeable.

To understand this hostility, one needs to look at what both the parties perceive secularism as and more importantly, whether they have applied this in their party ideology. For Jawaharlal Nehru, secularism meant the complete exclusion of religion from politics or the economy since religion was based on personal faith. In fact, Nehru had stated that “the fate of India is largely tied up with the Hindu outlook. If the present Hindu outlook does not change radically, I am quite sure that India is doomed.” He understood the shift to nationalism which would be led by a majority Hindu country. However, Nehru himself found it difficult to refrain from amalgamating religion with politics. Under his term, the government formulated Hindu personal laws with regards to the Hindu code while permitting the Muslims to retain Sharia law rather than having a uniform law. Moreover, Rajiv Gandhi, his grandson pushed for Sharia law for the Muslims as well.

As one can observe, all of these events gave Modi and the BJP enough substance to verbally attack the Congress. One of the biggest mistakes the Congress made was that it largely chose to focus on the 18% minority population, although in certain cases it was rightly done so for socio-economic purposes. This gave the BJP enough scope to target their audience – the Hindu majority. With the argument that the Hindus had been neglected for years, Modi easily managed to secure his largest voter bank.

Modi's tryst with BJP: A long and promising marriage

Due to the nature of a parliamentary system along with the Single District Multi Plurality system that exists in India, the role of the party as a whole is key in Indian politics. It has been rare, especially in the Congress era that any minister be it a Chief Minister of a State or the Prime Minister has had the sole responsibility for making any decision. The idea of collective responsibility runs deep in the Indian governmental system. Thus, this does undermine Modi’s individuality in policymaking. Although each leader brings her or his own power dynamics and personality to the Prime Ministership, many of their policies are influenced by the party they belong to with bureaucracy playing a notable part.

In 1987, Modi joined the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the centre-right daughter party of RSS. Modi served the BJP under several positions until he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001. In the 1990s, Modi helped organise ‘Ram Rath Yatra’ and ‘Ekta Yatra’ (journey of unity) as well as the ‘Ayodhya Yatra’ which were mass marches across the several towns and villages within the state of Gujarat and some of them also extended till the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. Although the sentiment of ‘Hindu nationalism’ had not taken off yet amongst the majority population back then, it should be noted that the BJP did not choose to hide their faith in Hinduism. Now while each political party is free to hold their own ideologies and religious beliefs, the pluralistic, secular nature and multi-cultural image of India also has to be taken into account. Moreover, it also depends on whether a political party manages to separate its own religious beliefs from the nature of the Indian Constitution.

In 1990, Modi was also named as one of the 17 members who would participate in BJP’s National Election Committee. This helped Modi not only understand operations in Gujarat but also in New Delhi. LK Advani, a prominent BJP leader was fond of Modi and supported his professional career in the BJP. In 1995, Modi’s position as the party secretary and his electoral strategy has been credited for BJP’s victory in the Gujarat state elections in 1995. Modi had been given the responsibility to organising the BJP and gaining support in Punjab and Haryana amongst 5 states and union territories in India. The groundwork that Modi had to do here gave him a better understanding of the electorate in India and not just Gujarat which was his area of expertise. In 1998, Modi was appointed as the national General Secretary which indirectly assured him that his position as the Chief Minister of a state would not take too long now. Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was the Prime Minister of India (and member of the BJP) back in the late 1990s and early 2000s appointed Modi as the party spokesperson in 1999.  With the approval of such a high-profile BJP leader, Modi success within the party was assured. Modi was eventually elected as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001 after the failure of his predecessor Keshubhai Patel’s poor crisis management during the earthquake in areas of Gujarat where he went on to serve for three consecutive terms.

Gujarat: 3 glorious terms and the birth of Modinomics

Modi was elected as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in October 2001, becoming the longest-serving CM of the state as he held three consecutive terms until he was elected as the Prime Minister of India in 2014. The reason he was revered during his 2014 General Election campaign was for his work in Gujarat. He used the state as an example of how he could transform India. In fact, his economic policies in Gujrat became so popular that they were referred to as ‘Modinomics’.

Under Modi, the state government utilised funds to improve infrastructures such as modes of communication and water supply. He also brought in Foreign Direct Investment as companies such as Ford and Suzuki set up factories in the state, strengthening the manufacturing sector as well bringing him closer to his dream of Gujarat as the ‘global Gateway to India’. Moreover, between 2000 and 2010, Gujarat’s GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) grew at a rate of 9.8% while the GDP growth rate in India at that point was 7.7%. One of Modi’s shining moments was a record growth rate of 10.75% in the annual year 2005. Modi focused on all the three sectors: agriculture, manufacture and service. By propelling growth in all three sectors, people from different fields felt that Modi considered their issues.

Modi’s government implemented easy farm loans that permitted farmers to take loans up to INR 300,000 at a 0% rate. Additionally, before the polls, Modi drastically lowered the rates of the Goods and Service Tax and made the procedure simpler; this, of course, benefited the businessmen. For the industrial sector, Modi used a neo-liberal approach to implement his ‘Gujarat Growth Strategy’ which included improvement in infrastructure to allow corporate investment, development in governance to address the demands of the corporate sector and the provision of incentives and subsidies to attract investments.

But it should be noted that while Modi did transform a state, sometimes, it isn’t as easy to replicate this on a larger, national scale. Without trying to criticize Modi’s efforts, it would be useful to point out that he already had a better starting point than many Chief Ministers of other Indian states. Gujarat has consistently maintained the 3rd position in the development index, even before Modi. Moreover, with Gujarat located on the West coast of India, it always had the advantage of about 40 ports which aided in the expansion of its industrial sector.

Looking at his victory in Gujarat, people were impressed. And why wouldn’t they be? Here was a man, promising the citizens that ‘Good times were coming’ and he had the backing of over 10 years of growth to prove this. But voters often overlook the fine print in politics and throughout his 2014 campaign, an incident kept haunting Modi- the Godhra riots.

Modi’s pan-nation rises to fame: The 2014 Elections

Apart from the minor Godhra hurdle, Modi was all set to contest in the 2014 General Elections. With Gujarat as the flagbearer of a rapidly developed state, Modi began his campaign with ‘Acche din ayenge’ (good time will come) all over India as well. There were a few things well in place that would assure Modi’s victory in 2014. The first thing in BJP’s favour was the Presidential style campaign that took off against Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress. India has a multi-party parliamentary system where parties stand for the General Elections by sending a representative for each state and district. The locals then vote for the representative in the district and the votes are then converted to seats on a national level. The Prime Minister is officially appointed after the House of Representatives (Lower House) votes for the candidate and a government is formed thereafter. However, while the voters have technically always voted for political leaders instead of parties, there was always the perception of voting for the ‘Congress’ or the ‘BJP’, that is, a political party rather than a leader. But Modi turned this system around.

BJP announced Modi as the candidate for Prime Ministership in advance. Now, when voters went to vote for the BJP representative in their district, they weren’t just voting for BJP, they were voting for Narendra Modi. Owing to the pressure created by the BJP, the Congress too had to step up. So, they brought in Rahul Gandhi as the candidate for Prime Minister, the son of Sonya Gandhi who is the President of the Congress. Now, it was a fight between Modi and Rahul Gandhi. The campaign was such that the competencies of these two leaders were judged more than that of the entire party. And to that effect, Rahul Gandhi appeared weak in front of Modi. Modi was dynamic, said the right things, brought in corruption of the Congress and appealed to the masses. Rahul Gandhi could not do the same. Unfortunately for the Congress, Rahul Gandhi was ridiculed not just by Modi and the BJP but also the public. On top of that, Modi also used India’s former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s lack of a distinctive character to his advantage. He convinced the masses that they needed a leader who was dynamic, vocal and an action taker. The majority of the audience was convinced.

Another aspect that was in Modi’s favour was the corruption that the Congress was so well known for. Using the Congress’ vice to his advantage, Modi was able to convince the audience that under his Prime Ministership, fraudulence and bureaucracy would be drastically reduced.  Media itself played a very important role in his campaign as he even chose to use holographs to address several towns and cities at a time. No doubt, Modi had a certain persona and the audience was awestruck by his freshness. Modi’s main support came from the growing middle-class as well as the youth who were craving a change in leadership. The other thing Modi promised to fix was the Indian economy. In 2013, the GDP growth rate was 6.39% which was low compared to China and Modi found this unacceptable. The economy was the focus for his first electoral campaign (but this changed in his second campaign).

Although the evident surge in Hindu nationalist movements across the countries was seen after the elections, this aspect also played its part in Modi’s campaign. One was that Modi had the backing of 45,000 branches of the RSS across the nation promoting his campaign. Although it was not evident throughout the campaign, the support of the RSS which is a far-right Hindu party said a lot in itself. Moreover, his history of membership in the RSS and the Godhra riots was worrying for a few. 

And then came the election day. With a staggering 66% voter turnout, the election was bound to be historical with BJP winning 282 seats by itself. The BJP along with the NDA got 335 seats. By winning a majority in the Parliament, BJP could form a non-Congress, non-coalition for the first time in history. Of course, they did have the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to back them up. But the sheer size of the number of seats BJP had won implied that people wanted Modi in power and what’s more – the opposition was weaker than ever to withstand any laws passed by Modi in the parliament. In many ways, this also reflected the switch in the mindset of the Indian citizens as they had moved to the right.

The only possible hindrance to Modi’s policymaking in his first term came through the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) where the BJP coalition only held 26% of the seats while the Congress coalition held 38%. Fortunately for the opposition, it would be a way to block any bills they didn’t approve of. This, however, changes in his second term (2019 onwards) where the BJP alliance also gets sufficient seats in the Rajya Sabha to pass Bills in both the houses. Thus, it can be observed that most of Modi’s more ‘controversial’ bills were introduced in the second term while economic policies, far more acceptable by the opposition, were introduced in the first term.

Modi's first 100 days in office and changing priorities

With the staggering support that Modi gained from his voters, he was all set to impress during his first 100 days in office. But rather than focusing on domestic matters, Modi had something else planned. Think of Modi as a musician who had just got his major break after releasing the first album. And what does such a musician do to gain recognition and approval? He goes on a world tour of course! Right after his election, Modi went on state visits (92 trips, 57 countries to be precise) for two main reasons: He obviously wanted to portray himself as this dynamic leader and in a way, overshadow his predecessor, Manmohan Singh. And the other one: no Prime Minister can avoid Indian foreign policy. India’s geographical location, its economic and trade ties as well as a large Indian diaspora in several parts of the world necessitate a foreign policy which is equally active. Modi demanded efficiency and deliverables to show progress in this field. Moreover, the Modi government also went ahead and used e-diplomacy in foreign affairs to increase negotiation amongst the states. Foreign policy was Modi’s priority in the beginning. He focused on building bilateral relations and displaying India as a nation that would offer investors great returns. So, in flew the FDIs to India with his ‘Make in India’ campaign albeit not at a growth rate that he would have hoped for.

It was notable that during his first 100 days, the government had to set up a crisis management system to help Indians held hostage or were stuck in Iraq. Modi, the Minister of External Affairs, National Security Advisor and Intelligence Bureau Chief were in contact with officials in Iraq and Saudi Arabia to mitigate the crisis. In fact, the late Sushma Swaraj, who had been appointed as the Minister of External Affairs by Modi in his first term, was applauded in several instances for the work she had done to solve the problems of Indians living abroad. From Indians losing passports to those held hostage in Saudi Arabia, Twitter seemed like the most efficient way to communicate with her. Her rescue mission is what gained her the fanbase; she had also helped Indian migrant workers in Yemen, South Sudan and Syria amongst other countries reach back home to India. 

Although things were going well in the international front, Modi’s domestic policies fell short of the expectations that had been raised by him. After months of promising a turnaround in the Indian economy, the first government budget was not as ambitious as Modi made it seem. There were no talks about a change in the labour laws or the introduction of infrastructure projects. Even though Modi started at a slower pace, when he took off, it seemed like nothing could stop him then. 

Modi 2.0: A bolder and relentless leader

By the end of his first term, Modi was left with not many proud-worthy achievements except for his security and foreign policies (only to a certain extent). But the economy had worsened by the time it was time for the next election. To his disadvantage, the ‘good days’ that Modi had promised did not see the light of the day in terms of economic matters. Unemployment rates had never seen such heights in 45 years and the agricultural sector was facing a massive burden due to agrarian distress with farmers demanding subsidies. Moreover, the banking sector had started showing its cracks as the credit system weakened and an NBFC crisis was imminent with private investment rates plummeting. The GST had still not shown all its benefits and the government was expected to decrease the number of slabs to two.

But Modi tried to brush these aside as he prepared to stand for the General Elections in April and May 2019. The airstrikes in Balakot (February 2019), considered a victory in his voters’ eyes, was still fresh in their minds and Modi could use this to his advantage. His ‘chowkidar’ (or watchman) slogan was widely used and this time, Modi pulled out all the stops. According to a report published by the Guardian, BJP spent more than INR 260 million on advertisements on social media compared to a mere INR 35 million spent by the Congress party. Indeed, Modi’s campaign was thriving.

Regardless of the economic burdens faced by the rural and low-income population, the trust the population had in Modi was unparalleled by any other political leader in India at that time. Considering that Modi largely appeals to the younger generation, it certainly benefited him that India had the largest young population along with 45 million young people who would vote for the first time. What’s more, is that the electorate’s incentive to vote for Modi was based on this idea that Modi’s “actions are guided by selfless dedication for the nation”. Modi’s popularity had only grown tenfold since his previous elections. While a survey conducted by Firstpost showed Modi’s approval rating at 63% (4 times more than that of Rahul Gandhi), another survey observed that 32% of the people who did vote for BJP would not have done so if Modi did not stand for election. Although Modi did have the burden of his failed economic policies on his shoulders, polls showed that the voters had chosen to disregard this. 

This was further reiterated when Modi’s BJP won a landslide victory by securing 303 seats in the Lower House of Parliament while the NDA won 353 seats out of a total of 542 seats. Congress, on the other hand, won 52 seats while UPA won 90 seats. Adding to that, Modi had also gained sufficient support in the Upper House of Parliament through the different state ministries; now, approving policies and Bills in the Parliament would be without strong opposition. After Modi’s victory, one thing discussed was that while one cannot disregard the votes and seats that a party might have gained (along with this idea that the majority of the voters wanted Modi so there is nothing undemocratic about his win), a weak opposition to any government could threaten the integrity of any democratic nation. Modi could now take bolder moves and have the support of politicians in the Parliament. And this set the mood for what was to come in the first few months of his second term.

It seemed that the entire narrative for his second term had been revamped. Indeed, Modi did pass 30 bills in the Monsoon session of Parliament including the criminalisation of triple talaq (a custom carried out by a portion of the Muslim population in India) as well as an amendment in the Right to Information Act which now does not permit the State Ministers to appoint the Chief Information Commissioners, making the system more centralised.

But one of the major bills that Modi succeeded in passing was the Amendment of Article 370 pertaining to Kashmir. Then, in December, Modi also passed the highly controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill which seemed to open up India’s pandora box that had been brimming with hatred for so long. Before Modi’s re-election, communal divides between the Hindus and the Muslims had worsened and the two mentioned Bills seemed to have created an even greater divide amongst the masses, allowing his critics to bring in Hindutva back into the picture.

It has only been a year since his re-elections and there are several policies that people are expecting him to implement. Citizens are now watching out for the implementation of the NRIC, a population control policy and further amendments in Bills passed by previous governments due to the discriminatory nature of the policies towards the religious majority in the country. Modi 2.0 seems to be bolder and riskier who cares less about dissent because he’s got all the right cards in his hand to pass these dramatic (lined with Hindutva) Bills.

Modi 2.0 holds no restrains: Article 370 Amendment

The attacks in Uri and Pulwama provided the Modi government with sufficient ground to voice its concern over the security of India due to the Kashmir dispute. By using the slogan of ‘chowkidar’ or watchmen throughout his 2019 election campaign, Modi insinuated that security would be a top priority to the Modi government. Thus, not long after he was re-elected as the Prime Minister, Modi announced the amendment of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution regarding the special status granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5th, 2019 which consequently made Article 35A of the Constitution obsolete.

Prior to the announcement, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was granted special status which was to be a ‘temporary provision’ under the Indian constitution since 1954. Article 370 stated that the Indian parliament required the approval of the state legislature of Jammu and Kashmir if it wanted to implement any law to the state barring those concerning “defence, foreign affairs, communications, and ancillary matters”. Initially, under a presidential order, the government amended the Clause 3 of the Article 370 and changed the status of Jammu and Kashmir from “Constituent Assembly’ to a “Legislative Assembly” thereby revoking the rights of the state to have its own Constitution. However, since this was a Presidential order, it could only go into effect if the Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament. The Upper and Lower Houses of the Indian Parliament voted in favour of the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation ) Bill of 2019 which took away Jammu and Kashmir from the status of a state. Now Jammu and Kashmir would be one union territory (directly administered by the central government) and Ladakh would be the other. While the former was to have a legislature, the latter wouldn’t. Due to the amendment, Article 35A of the constitution, which had previously allowed Jammu and Kashmir to define a “permanent resident”, also became redundant. Article 35 A also determined if a resident in the state could apply to certain jobs, own private property and receive specific welfare benefits.

The reason that the government gave for this amendment was to curb the issues pertaining to terrorism and militancy that the (now) union territory had been dealing with for decades. The status of a union territory also gives the central government more control over Kashmir and its borders. It went on to state that from 1990 to August 4th, 2019, there had been 70,000 instances of terrorist activities while 41,861 Indian soldiers had been killed in the crossfires. Moreover, the Modi government also stated that Article 35A had proven to be a barrier for investments as non-residents could not own property; it also created high levels of youth unemployment. Article 35A also removed the permanent resident status of a woman if she married outside the state and restricted her right to inherit property.  Apparently, the locals in Ladakh had also been demanding for a change in Ladakh’s status to that of union territory for a long time now.

Modi knew that such a measure would not be taken well by the citizens of Kashmir. Thus, the night before the announcement, he imposed restrictions in Srinagar (summer capital of J&K) under Section 144 which banned people from conducting public meetings or rallies. Public movement would also be restricted while all educational institutions were closed down. The constant use of this article would be observed by the masses for months to come not just in Kashmir but throughout the country once the CAA would be introduced. Matters became worse as the government used the Public Safety Act (PSA) to arrest 662 individuals that permits the detention of people without a right to trial for two years. Along with a lockdown, telephone and internet lines were shut down and prominent political leaders in the Union Territory were under house arrest. Social media websites amongst several others were blacklisted for 7 months. Although the internet was restored eventually in January 2020, people could only access 300 websites at 2G internet speed. 

International attention concerning the humanitarian situation of the crisis was raised but not regarding the amendment to the Constitution itself because the Modi government had done so legally under domestic as well as international law. Yet, the international pressure was not sufficient to instil any change of emotions in Modi. This was a major blow to the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as the control over the Union Territory also implied greater monitoring of the Pakistan administered Kashmir.

The Modi government stated that since August 5th, five locals had joined militancy on average every month as compared to the average of fourteen who did prior to the amendment. Now, although this is an achievement in terms of security, what Modi had created was an extremely controlled environment with restrictions on the freedom of speech and the placement of an extensive army in the state. Modi has not only angered Kashmiris but to a certain extent, also the Hindu population of Jammu who had previously supported Modi. In January, the government also introduced a new Domicile rule in J&K permitting people from all over India to apply for jobs in the public sector along with the police force as long as they fulfil certain criteria. As restrictions are reduced, it is uncertain whether the rate of terrorism will decrease over time. Moreover, the increase in investment that Modi had promised has also not arrived yet. Obviously, the unstable political environment would not attract a lot of investors. But the other issue is that most of the region is hilly and does not grant enough access to land for setting up factories; economic activity had stalled for decades before Article 370 even after government incentives.

Modi’s power move only indicated the Bills he could only pass these bills because of the majority he held in the Lower House of the Parliament and the support he had in the Upper House; such Bills would have definitely faced hurdles if he tried this in his first term (also reducing his chances for re-election). For many, the event threatened the idea of democratic representation because the opposition had become futile with insufficient strength to block his Bills.