If exit polls are any indication, Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going to be the next prime minister of India. The polls clearly put the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition comfortably ahead of the incumbent United Progressive Alliance (UPA), with most analysts projecting the NDA to win more than the 272 seats required for a parliamentary majority. The BJP itself is projected to get close to 250 seats, a feat never achieved by the right-wing group in its three decades of political existence.
If the trends shown in the exit polls continue through May 16, the day results will be announced, India’s 2014 elections will make history. It would be the first time in the democratic history of India that a right-wing Hindu party came so close to the halfway mark in the parliament. Many analysts say that this would mark a rightward shift in the Indian polity, which for a major part of its history since 1947 has been dominated by left-of-center political parties and groups.
Playing a great role in this paradigm shift is the pro-Hindutva leader and Chief Minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. He single-handedly turned the fortune of the moribund BJP and brought the Hindu party into its own.
What is significant about the rise of Modi is the support that he received not only from the traditional hardcore party workers but also from the burgeoning middle class and those social groups who have traditionally voted for other parties. It is this traction which made Modi the most dynamic politician in India today.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times, says that Modi is the first leader to challenge the Nehruvian narrative that has dominated the country since independence. It was the first Prime Minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru, who laid the foundation of a secular and inclusive modern India. This principle has guided the thought of most leaders who ruled the country after him.
Narendra Modi will become the first leader whose rise directly challenges the existing Nehruvian worldview. Modi’s upbringing happened in a typical ideological setting where majoritarianism and the establishment of an exclusive Hindu nation are the guiding principles. He has been actively associated with the Ayodhya campaign, a campaign in the 1980s which sought to build the temple of the Hindu god Ram in place of the Babri mosque. Hindus believe the land to be the birthplace of their god. The campaign polarized the nation and led to religious riots claiming many lives. In 2002, under Modi’s watch as Chief Minister, Gujarat witnessed the worst-ever Hindu-Muslim riots that claimed hundreds of lives within the minority community. Despite being exonerated by India’s highest court, popular perceptions hold him responsible for the tragedy. With Modi having such a past and ideological background, his emergence as the leader of the nation signifies a tectonic shift in India’s political thinking.
The exit polls predict the worst-ever performance by the ruling Congress Party. Many television stations claim that the tally of the oldest party of India might dip into the double digits, an ignominious show by a party which has ruled the country for more than 50 of its 60-plus years of independence. Given this, there are few people discussing the Congress party and its leadership now. It’s Modi who is in the limelight .
He carries the burden of hype and hope that he generated in the election campaign. He carries with him the expectations not only of the moderates who supported him with the hope of a corruption-free and economically resurgent India but also of the Hindu hardliners, his core constituency, who want him to advance the majoritarian agenda.
Before Modi sets out to start a new political innings in New Delhi, he will have to wait till May 16, when the counting officially begins and we come to know the mandate of the people of India.