India, like the United States, is one of the largest democracies in the world – and also home to 1.23 billion people. By April 2014, the country will elect a lower House of Parliament for the 16th time. These elections are being described by the media as a “game changer.” The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, led by the Congress Party (Indian National Congress), has been in power since 2004, and the nation is believed to be spoiling for a change. In India, psephologists (those who study elections) call it the “anti-incumbency factor.” Then, this is a country that loves to play the game of predictions. All in all, the political cauldron is bubbling in this corner of the earth, stewing in it is the “Idea of India.”
Why should that interest the world? With the Syria and Iran weapons issues on the table and a general economic slowdown, the world’s eyes are not turned to India.Yet remember, it is recession that created conditions for the Third Reich. The Indian rupee is trading at 1 US dollar for 68, and its oil import bill is $169 billion (June 2013), resulting in a trade deficit of $160 billion, two hammers the opposition possesses to ring out the call for a “tough leader,” not an economist like Singh, but a grass-roots pracharak, or propagandist-turned-politician. Moreover, India is a country where Mein Kampf in English and Hindi are sold by the thousands every year.
Before we come to what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the INC stand for, one must take note that India is a vulnerable nation open to repeated terrorist attacks, with long borders with two countries that people in India are taught to consider “enemies,” Pakistan and China. So India’s standing army is a part of its emotional heartstrings, not unlike the present United States.
What one also needs to keep in mind is that 65 percent of India’s population is below the age of 35. So it is young voters that the media and political parties target.
The lower House of parliament has 543 seats represented by 39 parties, with nine holding just one seat each. To form a government, a party has to have the support of 272 seats. Naturally, the House is terribly fractured; the Congress Party won just 206 seats in 2009 and had to negotiate the support of at least half a dozen major regional parties with 20-22 seats each, to reach the magic number.
Here lies the catch: The main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won just 116 seats in 2009. To come to power, it needs to more than double its strength. As an IV fluid, it has given itself a new leader, Narendra Modi, a man the world calls “divisive,” the man who is said to have presided over the horrific Hindu-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002 as chief minister. The United States may not have given him a visa yet, but Modi’s campaign survives on a huge number of nonresident Indian supporters in the United States. Modi’s party fancies him as a “great orator” and is pushing for a two-party system on the American model and for television and constituency debates, like those in the United States. As a direct opponent, they are attempting to draw out the young Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, by repeatedly asking, “who is the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate?”
According to news agency reports, Modi, and not President Barak Obama, is the most searched person on the internet; his twitter followers exceed 2 million and Facebook “Likes,” 4 million. Modi likes to point out, “India’s journey has gone from snake charmers to mouse charmers,” and the BJP hopes a young India will vote for it and catapult Modi to the prime minister’s position, ignoring the fact that India has only about 15 percent internet penetration, a service only the affluent – who are not great voters, if one goes by past records with the national Election Commission – can afford.
The ruling Congress Party (INC) keeps shouting from the rooftop that it represents India’s “secular” vote bank, India’s Muslims – 20 per cent of India’s population – supporting it and its allies.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has for the last two decades assiduously cultivated the image of a party “of the Hindus, by the Hindus and for the Hindus,” and Modi’s image as the man who masterminded the 2002 pogroms, does not make things easy for the BJP. The BJP grew from the Jana Sangh, a party that was guided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, a right-wing organization that claims it is not a political party, but an ideological outfit), whose leaders like BS Moonje and K BHedgewar drew inspiration from Benito Mussolini. Pure race, Arian, stridently Hindu and consequently anti-Muslim, so anti-Pakistan and Bangladesh, therefore a nuclear-supporting, jingoist, militarist India is the RSS vision of India that the BJP wants to make a reality. It is RSS’ diktat that Modi be BJP’s face in the 2014 polls – that he was declared the party’s prime ministerial candidate, overcoming great opposition and an intense power struggle within the BJP. The party, however, realizes that it needs support from the Muslim vote, and in two recent public meets in Jaipur andBhopal, the party has reportedly asked Muslims to attend “wearing the skull cap and the burqa,” evoking in the minds of detractors the image of the “yellow” tags Jews were asked to wear in the 1940s.
After his nomination last week as the party’s top leader, Modi also gave his first election speech in a rural area, Rewari, in the state of Harayana, which traditionally provides manpower to India’s army. Addressing ex-servicemen, Modi alleged the current government neither looks after their interests, nor the nation’s interest. As chief of the BJP’s election management team, in a brilliant move, he also managed to draw India’s Olympics silver medal winner (men’s double trap shooting 2004) from the armed forces, Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathor, convincing him to leave the army and join the BJP as a politician. Rathor is young, a winner and hugely respected in the army as well as by India’s young. In Modi’s team, he will be the leader pitched to direct the army, and a leader to watch out for.