Narendra Modi's secret sauce: Why new India is gung-ho about him

The Mandal-Mandir movements and the economic liberalisation of the 1990s have collectively transformed and created a new India voter. This is what Modi has understood best. Hence his success.

R Jagannathan October 16, 2014 16:53:21 IST
Narendra Modi's secret sauce: Why new India is gung-ho about him

It would be easy to see Narendra Modi as the author of the BJP's recent rise in most parts of the country. Certainly, the hour and the need have produced the right man for the BJP and the country.

But if one were to step back a little, and view the phenomenon dispassionately, one will not just see Modi's hand in it, but an entire process of historical churn that began with the Mandir-Mandal conflagration of the late 1980s, and the economic bankruptcy that drove India to liberalise and reform in the 1990s, that subsequently led to the creation of a wide spectrum of new middle classes.

Today's voter - whether in Maharashtra or Haryana or anywhere else, for that matter - is a completely new animal. He is a post-Mandal, post-Mandir, post-ideological voter who is beginning to sidestep some of the identity-based baggage of the past.

This is why a Dalit no longer finds it wrong to vote for an "upper caste" party like the BJP; conversely, only the old arrogant “upper castes” are willing to vote for relics like the dynastic Congress and the moribund Left. This is because the new voter, Dalit or OBC though he may be, is not looking for crumbs and the occasional act of benevolence from the upper caste table, which the Congress, the Left and some of their regional clones are happy to offer. He is looking for equal ownership of the nation.

Narendra Modis secret sauce Why new India is gungho about him


What applies to the hitherto poorer castes and classes applies equally to the young Muslim, who is moving away from the "secular" parties to those created by, of and for Muslims - AUDF, MIM, etc. This is because he realises that the old elite took him for a ride in the name of secularism. The young Muslim wants the same things that other citizens do, and patronising support for his faith from phony secularists is not a good enough compensation for his vote. The young Indian Muslim too has evolved. His faith is important to him, but so is his citizenship.

Simultaneously, the young Hindu (and Sikh, and Christian, and Jain or Buddhist) has also evolved from the tyranny of meaningless conflicts over the Ram Janmabhoomi or Love Jihad. The arrival of the internet Hindu is sometimes seen as an assertion of narrow Hindutva (which is partly true), but the real Internet Hindu is a liberal, someone who is not willing to take secular nonsense for god’s truth. He is secular by habit and a civilisational ethos of 5,000 years. If, despite this, we still have tragedies like 1984, 1989, 2002 and 2012, it is because India’s bogus secularism has failed.

Today’s Hindu will not take lying down the usual upper class elite snub to put him or his beliefs down. He is no longer willing to apologise for the past sins of caste or religion when he may not be a party to such oppression now. This is not to dismiss the all-too-real caste conflicts of middle and rural India, but the trend is to leave these behind. No one wants to be apologising for the sins of his forefathers or the real or alleged bigotry of the past.

Our parents were always guilty about everything: about whatever wealth they enjoyed, about their faith, about the caste they were born into, about everything. They thus created a nation wallowing in self-doubt and lacking in self-esteem. This is what the historical Mandal-Mandir-economic reform process of the 1980s and 1990s has now begun dissolving.

Let’s go back to the late 1980s. India was mired in several religion-linked conflicts: one in Punjab, with the Khalistani groups, and another in Kashmir, with Pakistani-based jihadis. Elsewhere, the forces of Mandal and Mandir were congregating for Armageddon.

The Mandir madness, which resulted in the bringing down of a controversial mosque on what was seen as Ram Janmabhoomi, was partly initiated to contain the caste fissures in Hindu society. The Sangh’s aim was to use the Mandir movement to bind castes into one religion-based identity when the Mandalites were trying to splinter it in the name of economic affirmative action.

Both Mandir and Mandal succeeded - upto a point. Both vital to learning and progress. As the forces of OBC social empowerment took power in the north (the south had already done so much earlier with the anti-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu, the Ezhava struggles in Kerala, etc), the Mandir movers themselves saw Mandalisation as inevitable and the BJP became the first major national party to take to caste engineering in a big way. Kalyan Singh, under whose watch the mosque was brought down, was an OBC. So was Uma Bharti. Or Vinay Katiyar. If today there is an OBC at the BJP’s helm in Modi, it is because of this force of mandalisation that took root in the party over the last two decades. Kanshi Ram’s efforts to organise the Dalits and Bahujans were another major factor in changing mindsets all over.

The Mandir movement also marked the beginning of the end of old Hindu orthodoxies of caste and gender. As Hindus – of all castes - agitated for the Ram Temple in their first flush of enthusiasm, they found new power by taking to the streets. It was no longer possible for the upper castes to manipulate the OBCs and other castes by remote control, Nagpur or no Nagpur.

If today both Mandir and Mandal are fading out, it's because they have served their historical purpose.

The economic bankruptcy of 1991 brought in a new force for change. As the old licence-permit raj – another relic of the upper caste era – was overthrown, future growth and corporate winners were decided more by markets and less by babus. What mattered in business was good strategy and execution, not personal connections.

Reforms spurred urbanisation, and urbanisation eliminated distance between castes. You can’t travel in a crowded Mumbai train an even begin to wonder if the guy pressing into your ribs is a Dalit or OBC.

It is not surprising that a new Dalit entrepreneurship has risen only over the last two post-reform decades, and there are even some Dalit millionaires around today. Consider how liberating this idea is: once upon a time, Dalits had to depend upon the upper castes for a pathetic living; today, a Dalit entrepreneur can offer jobs to his former caste tormentors. The power equation is no longer one-way.

To be sure, even the recent UPA rule paved way for big change. The fast-paced growth of 2003-2011 created many layers of new middle classes, empowering them in ways that largesse alone cannot. This very class has now outgrown the patronage culture of the Congress. Hence its downfall. The children of patronage and affirmative action have revolted against it.

Today’s new voter is thus a product of many forces. If today they are tired of the old constraints of caste and religion, and if they are willing to look at a broader sense of citizenship, it is because Mandal, Mandir, and a Market economy have broken the old shackles of thought and action.

Today’s voter is neither Left nor Right, but a non-doctrinaire believer in progress and change. He believes in what works, not empty ideology. This is Narendra Modi’s secret. He has discovered the secret sauce that makes the new India of the young tick. He has broken free of the past – like the rest of India.

He is the first follower of this new India, and this is why he is able to lead the change.

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