Anxieties are high on all sides. Can Modi, revered by so many and also hated by so many, deliver the promises he has made? Will he carry out his threats? Can he deliver economic miracles? Or, will he marginalize non-Hindus, who despise him? Will his agenda lead to further escalation of regional tension?
There is no doubt that India needed a change. Indians were tired of the dynastic rule from the Nehru family that has ruled India for much of her history since she won independence in August 15, 1947. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the ruling Congress had become a political fossil that did neither inspire nor engage the party cadre, much less general public, and knew that his time has run out and that the mantle of leadership had to be passed on to someone new and younger, possibly a hypnotic and charismatic figure.
But Rahul Gandhi, the grandson of Indira Gandhi and the son of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, surely, was not the person who could gravitate people to the Congress cause. He appeared too upper-class, European/non-Indian looking and out of touch, as if not belonging, in spite of his occasional use of dhuti in the election rallies. With a Catholic mother, albeit Sari-clad, and an electorate that has increasingly come to identify itself along narrow religious lines, Rahul Gandhi appeared naïve and unfit, and was no match against a veteran politician like Narendra Modi who symbolized Hinduism, or more properly, Hindutva.
Too many things have gone wrong during the Congress rule of India. The economy has been suffering miserably and growing at an anemic rate, inflation has been steadily rising, and the unemployment rate has been steeply climbing forcing some half a million Indians to work illegally inside Bangladesh. And to this list, add the endemic corruption that has multiplied several folds and a bureaucracy that is one of the least efficient and highly corrupt in our world.
In the midst of all such crises, the Indian voters were looking for a prudent leader who not only looked like them and had an ordinary upbringing, but could also revive their economy by bringing in jobs that mattered most. The Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi seemed to fit that expectation quite well. He is a commoner who served as a tea hawker in his childhood years in a railway station; his mother worked as a servant in other people’s homes. As a teenager he got attracted to the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS, the Hindutvadi platform, which was to shape his life.
Modi formally joined the BJP in the mid-1980s, and participated in its meetings, rising gradually from a field worker to a regional leader. In 1995 he became the BJP's national secretary and, three years later, became the general secretary. He held the post until October 2001 when he was chosen to be the chief minister of Gujarat. He got reelected twice.
Last year in May, Modi was appointed the head of the BJP's election management committee. Within months, he was declared the BJP's prime ministerial aspirant. He made good governance and development the main focus of his campaign, deriding Gandhi as a "princeling" who had little concept of the aspirations of more than half a billion Indians, living below the poverty line. During the election campaigns, he traveled far and wide and sounded serious and credible, while the ruling party ran a lackluster campaign. He was highly organized and had a plan, while the ruling party seemed to have none. He also sold hope while the ruling party ran out of ideas to excite and motivate the Indian electorate. He enjoyed endorsement from Indian billionaires whose business enterprises had hitherto benefitted from the concessions enjoyed at Gujarat.
So, what was long known and expected by political pundits has now become a reality. The BJP and its leader Modi won big and are expected to run India for the next five years. His election win, however, comes with a high price. He has long been a very polarizing politician who has been accused of culpability for the Gujarat massacre of some two thousand Muslims. He represents a Hindu supremacist (i.e., fascist) party that promotes the absurd idea that India is for Hindus only, and that other minorities must either pack up and leave or conform to Hindu supremacy.
While many Hindus celebrate his win, the non-Hindus in India are nervous. Amid what many see as a rising tide of intolerance drummed up by Hindu fascist and nationalist groups, most Muslims fear what a Modi-led government means for their community. As one Muslim told the CNN, "For Muslims, Modi represents death." He also means destruction. As the Prime Minister of India, will Modi now repeat the crimes of Gujarat everywhere? Will he carry out BJP’s promise to build a Hindu temple at the site of demolished Babri mosque in Ayodhya? Will he evict Muslims, much like what the other fascist Hitler had done with the Jews of Germany?
These anxieties are not merely a relic of the past. As recently as September last year, more than 60 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced in pogroms in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh state. Most of the affected were Muslims. Modi’s bigotry-ridden and xenophobic speeches in election campaigns have already resulted in the targeted massacre of Muslims in Assam, bordering Bangladesh. Thousands of Muslims are without homes now. During the election campaign, Modi appeared alongside associates including a Gujarati politician who made inflammatory speeches speaking of "revenge" for the 2002 riots and called on voters to reject parties with Muslim candidates. Modi has also threatened to deport the so-called outsiders to Bangladesh.
Modi’s initial victory speech was self-referential. “Go on YouTube and you will see young children who can barely say mummy or daddy say, “Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar (this time around, Modi’s government).” As a leader of a fascist party, humility is not in his dictionary. He is proud and rigid.
If the past is any way to judge the future trend, Modi is sure to ruffle feathers further polarizing the divided nation. Indians through their vote for BJP and its polarizing figure Modi have once again proven the shallowness of secularism in India. Truly, they have never come to terms with the true spirit of secularism. It is a sad commentary, but a hard fact!