The big winner in India’s 35-day-long general elections, much more than what was expected, has been the religious right-wing Hindu party, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or Indian People’s Party). The Prime Minister will be Narendra Modi, a megalomaniac and close friend of corporate India, with little time for liberal democracy. It is estimated that Hindu mobs and the police killed 2,000 Muslims in his state in 2002 by when he was chief minister but he was never held to account for it. The ruling Congress party, after a decade in power during which it nurtured a neo-liberal economy, has lost badly because of popular anger against inflation, corruption and dynastic politics. The traditional parliamentary Left has weakened and become irrelevant nationally. Much was expected of AAP (Aam Admi Party or Common Man’s Party), formed barely two years ago, but it performed poorly. The Congress could not win even 10% of the seats. The regional parties did well in some states but, with a BJP majority in parliament, will not matter in national decision-making.
There is nothing to match Indian elections in numbers: there were 814 million voters, of whom 168 million were first-time voters over the age of 18, 919,000 election centres and 3.6 million electronic voting machines. Each centre handled no more than 1,500 voters and no one had to travel more than two kilometres to reach them, the highest of which was at an altitude of 5,000 metres in the Himalayas and the most isolated at a reserve forest in Gujarat (the only place with a wild lion population outside Africa), where five officials set up camp for a single voter. Five million civilians and another five million security personnel managed the elections. The voter turnout this time was 66.4%, the highest in the country’s history, but still significantly lower than other Third World countries like Kenya or Malaysia, which had over 80% voting in last year’s elections. Fewer women voted than men and only 11% of the candidates were women. Their presence in Parliament will be far lower. Each member of Parliament in India elected by direct vote represents on an average 1.5 million voters, more than the individual population of Estonia, Iceland, Bahrain or Barbados. The winning candidates are mostly men, younger and richer than in the past parliaments, and many of them face serious criminal charges. Statistically, honest candidates in India have the lowest probability of winning and therefore did not do well this time either.
This was also the most expensive election in the country’s history and the BJP seemed to have had most of the money. By one estimate, Modi spent more on publicity than what Obama spent in his entire election. The money came from the large corporations, the real estate and mining sectors, agricultural middlemen and owners of private educational institutions, all with high cash flows. While there were five astrologers, two beggars, two story-tellers and one consultant on the building of pyramids among the candidates, 16% were big business owners. Modi was the candidate of choice for big business. A U.S. embassy cable of 2009 released by Wikileaks reported how “five of India's most powerful business leaders… sounded an unequivocal and unqualified endorsement of Narendra Modi” at an international investment conference, praising his “skilful leadership” and calling for Modi’s model of economic development in his state to be replicated everywhere. A year later, a leaked tape exposed how corporate houses, media owners, policy makers and politicians worked together to plunder national resources. The Supreme Court asked for stricter checks. It was then that big business decided on Modi. In 2011, at another business gathering in Gujarat, India’s richest man, the dollar billionaire Mukesh Ambani who has a 27-storey house in India’s financial centre, Mumbai, said: “Gujarat is shining like a lamp of gold … We have a leader here with vision and determination to translate this vision into reality.” Indian corporate houses backed Modi because they know he would do away with most environmental and labour restrictions.
The latest arranged marriage in India (left) and a BJP supporter with a Che shirt (right)
Money that flowed from big business to his campaign was put to manufacturing the Modi myth, that of a man who would bring about rapid development in India just as he had done in his state of Gujarat. The Indian media actively promoted the “Modi brand”. In reality, Gujarat does not rank high on the social development index, although it has always been a prosperous state by Indian standards. But it provides important clues on what India will look like under Modi. A vindictive state has silenced all opposition there; the local media has been co-opted; corporate houses have gained immensely from cheap and forced land transfers and corruption is a way of life. The share price of the Adani group, an industrial house that openly backed Modi, went up by 45% during the elections. Modi travelled in Adani company jet and helicopters. The company is waiting for environmental clearance for a major port in Gujarat. In Indian politics, as analysts have noted, money is not a price for admission; it is down payment on an investment. Big business in India is certain Modi will open up the retail and insurance sector: he is their man to take “difficult decisions”.
Hundreds of thousands of volunteers of the RSS (National Volunteer Force), a Hindu paramilitary force openly modelled on Fascism, campaigned for him. Corporate India now not only has its man as Prime Minister; it also has a militia to control social protests. The Hindu middle class hopes Modi will dominate the Muslims nationally as he has done in Gujarat. It is very likely that Modi will exploit India’s caste and religious divisions and look for a confrontation with Pakistan to project himself as India’s Il Duce. His Plan A is economic growth but his Plan B is a Hindu state. The path to crony capitalism will be eased with the blood of minorities. Going by the election results, Modi will evidently cast a long shadow over India for many more years.