In recent years right-wing populist politicians and political groups have seen a significant increase in voter support. As a result, identity politics have become considerably more visible across the globe (Milner, 2018). India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has the largest voting population in the world – is one such example. Modi’s ascension into Indian politics has been attributed to three factors, his successful developmental thrust and policies as Chief Minister of Gujrat, the ineptitude of the previous government, and his strong connections and support base through the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under the leadership of Narendra Modi secured majority seats in the lower house Lokh Sabha and therefore formed the government. The BJP, as Adeney (2015) analyses, was quick to recognise and adapt to the ground realities of Indian politics (Adeney, 2015). For example, embracing federalism and accepting regional diversity to some extent (Adeney, 2015). Modi and BJP benefited from each other by exploiting the governance failures of the previous governments. Modi’s rise was a gradual process. He crafted his persona around strong narratives such as that of Hindu nationalism, making India an economic powerhouse, overcoming dynastic politics, and built a pan-Indian support base (Hinduism is a diverse religion, and much of this diversity manifests itself along regional lines) (Adeney, 2015 and Sinha, 2014). He used technocrats to further strengthen his narrative of Hindu nationalism, such as establishing the Chief Minister Office in Gujarat (Sinha, 2014). He very astutely exploited the growing anti-Muslim sentiments and developed a sub-national identity of “Gujarat Asmita” (Sinha,2014). Modi used an information-centric approach to target the BJP’s weak organisational structure, making his speeches, trips, and activities public (Sinha, 2014). As a result, one can assert that Modi’s image as a charismatic leader (Ammassari, 2018) was formed not only as a result of strong narratives that he adopted over time but also as a result of the incumbent dynastic politics, as Indian politics has long been a playground for families, with the Gandhi family and Congress serving as a prime example. His narrative against dynastic politics was central to building his persona. He claimed that for the past sixty years dynastic politics had been a threat to democracy and had caused inefficient resource mismanagement and corruption in the country (Tandon, 2021). Many Indians embraced Modi’s ideas because they were weary of dynasty politics’ social distortions, and it was believed that 30% of ministers chosen were from the political family (Pandey, 2019 and Tandon, 2021). The following section will identify and analyse factors that led to his rise.
Hindu Nationalism and Identity Politics
India is both culturally and ethnically diverse and therefore religion and identity play a central role in national politics. Previous governments, going as far back as the founding fathers, made numerous attempts to establish a secular state (Gettlemen et al., 2019). Minorities were well represented in the assembly in the 1950s and 1970s, and Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act of 1951 prohibited any political campaign in the name of religion. Modi’s nationalist narrative however diverted the public’s attention from rational socio-economic issues towards identity politics of Hindu revival (Khokhar et al., 2019). The promotion of religious radicalism in the policy structure and forming anti-Muslim policies has been the source of inspiration for Hindu extremists (Islam, 2020). One of his prominent steps was the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (Reuters,2019). Another was removing personal laws for Muslims and Christians (Adeney, 2015). Modi’s attempt to build stability and become a source of national cohesion by deploying anti-Muslims, enforcing a curfew in Indian-occupied Kashmir, and modifying articles 375 and 35 A of the constitution gained him popularity from the Hindu majority, but the parliamentary opposition grew stronger (Khokar et al., 2019).
As noted above, Modi had been successful in introducing business-friendly reforms in Gujrat, therefore on becoming PM, he adopted a reformist posture and launched tax reforms. India has had a complex tax system and the tax was circumvented in numerous ways once the base failed to deliver the promised public revenues (Sharma, 2021). In 2017 Goods and Services Tax (GST) was implemented (Missaglia et al., 2018). The tax was designed to unite India’s 1.3 billion people into a single market and to foster industrial development (Welle, 2018). In 2016 the “Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC)” (Missaglia et al., 2018) was established. The rationale behind it was to provide assistance to defaulting companies, smoothen the Indian banking system to increase their capital base, and reduce the debt level in the economy as public banks own 70 % in loans and assets as compared to private banks. Another reform was a step towards digital infrastructure. The demonetization of high-value currency notes increased the use of digital banking and digital transactions (Missaglia et al., 2018). The intention behind this was to reduce corruption and increase transparency and diligence and move towards establishing a modern economy (Aiyar, 2018). The reforms were favourable to the business sector since they relieved small enterprises of constraints, expanded the tax base, and improved government openness. The reforms benefited the formal economy that accounted for 15 % (Aiyar, 2018). In India, many are still dependent on the informal economy and cash transactions. The informal sector suffered, the job growth rate improved, but the quality of jobs among the educated unemployed remains an issue.
India is the fifth largest economy in the world with a GDP of $ 2.87 trillion and a growth rate higher than 4% (Silver, 2021). Modi, though, did not lend support to protectionism on several occasions he criticised President Trump’s measures to raise tariffs on Indian products, but he introduced several protectionist policies with the vision of India advancing its role in the Global Value Chain (GVC). His first one was the initiative of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”(self-reliant India) to pace up India’s development, create competitiveness in the industry and connection building in GVC (Singh, 2020). The government also increased tariffs to encourage local production and small businesses (Benniwal, 2020). The policies were against China and Chinese goods, oriented towards the private sector, and provided protection to small manufactures of electronic and consumer goods (Aiyar, 2018). “The Make in India” campaign was another successful policy measure taken (Aiyar, 2018). These policies attracted foreign investment and boosted the production in the domestic industry, leading to improvement in India’s rank in the Ease of Doing Business Index (EDBI) (Aiyar, 2018 and Kapur, 2021). Meanwhile, Modi’s constituency from the business community rose. These policies may help India’s domestic industry, but would create several distortions for Indian products and in the GVC.
Media & Modi
Modi is a media savvy politician. The BJP’s information and technology department is incomparable to any other political party. A social media team of 11 people is assigned to each of the state’s six zones. There are 11 members in each district, five in each mandal (a local government area i.e. tehsil or district), two in each ward, and five in each booth, the last point of contact with the electorate (Bansal, 2019). It was noted that Modi became the second most followed politician on Facebook in 2014 (Ali, 2014) and on Twitter after Trump (Bansal,2019). Almost half a billion Indians have access to the Internet and 75 % of users are younger than the age of 35 (Bhansal, 2019 and Ali 2014). Manchanda has highlighted several incidents where the media deliberately played a role and BJP took advantage of the situation in shaping people’s opinion about Hindu nationalism and promoting Modi’s narrative. This eventually led to a polarisation of society and exacerbated ethnic hatred and minority suppression (Manchanda, 2002). The right-wing media campaigns used various social media platforms to create an ecosystem portraying Modi’s image as the leader and conveying these messages especially to the youth (Marhawa, 2019). In the election of 2014, the median age of voters was 29 years (Marwaha, 2019). According to Marwaha, youth support is a critical aspect in Modi’s rise since they see him as the only person who can fix societal problems, protect society from the threat of Pakistan, and pursue his ambitious parliament agenda (Marhawa,2019). Bansal finds that social media has mastered the election campaigns. This has helped Modi mobilise his narratives to the masses (Bansal, 2019).
Modi is an effective communicator, by invoking Hindu nationalism and rousing anti-Muslim sentiments he was able to highlight sensitive topics and gain sympathy from his Hindutva support base. When the plight of Gujarat Muslims gained attention in the aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom in 2002, Modi’s contribution to Gujarat’s economic development brushed the issue aside (Sinha, 2014). According to his narrative, any cacophony that occurs in society, the institutions, states, and people are to be blamed, not Modi because he had done everything he could and it’s the institutions that had failed to live up to his vision. (Sharma et al., 2021). Modi does not stand alone, a similar case for Rodrigo Duterte from the Philippines (Sharma, 2021) and Borris Johnson from the UK was also observed (Williams, 2021). Modi has liberated the Hindu population of India through his policies. However, in the past two years the lure of Modi is fading away, as in the case of Mamata Banerjee’s election victory in West Bengal in May 2021. Yet, his success in the states of Assam and Kerala proves that Modi can still reinvent and remodel himself as the leader to extend his stay in Indian Politics. The opposition is still weak and divided into regional politics. Now, all eyes are on the Uttar Pradesh election in 2022, which could be the real test, and decide the future of BJP and Modi’s popularity.
About the Author
Neha is co-editor of the Student’s Quarterly and an MPhil student at CPPG. Her research interests include globalisation, leadership, competitiveness, entrepreneurship, as well as innovation and institutions.
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