Development is the new religion, caste is no longer as important, and coalitions aren’t here to stay
Every possible stereotype you can think of, and more, have been busted, and convincingly by Narendra Damodardas Modi, India’s next prime minister. Indians don’t cast their vote, they vote their caste; Muslims never vote BJP; and with coalition politics here to stay, the split between caste and religion is what will mean that critical difference between victory and defeat in multi-cornered contests. Indeed, that is what has allowed India’s caste-warriors like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Mayawati to walk so tall all these years. That Modi might be able to actually achieve Mission 272 while selling just the mantra of development—the campaign had definite Hindutva undertones but caste was hardly mentioned—was visible in even the early phases of polling. Round 3, which involved 11 crore voters across 92 seats in 11 states, saw a surge in turnout levels; from 52% in 2009 to 64% in Delhi, from 48% to 69% in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, and from 43% to 54% in Sasaram in Bihar.
Apart from addressing 437 rallies and travelling 3 lakh km across the country between September 15 and May 10, an essential part of Modi’s campaign were the rath yatras that criss-crossed every UP village, for instance, showing them videos comparing life in Gujarat with that in UP. A similar voter trend got repeated in later rounds—Arrah in Bihar saw turnout levels rise from 36% to 53% and Patna Sahib from 34% to 52%. All told, by the time the polls were over, an extra 8% of voters cast their vote in 2014 across the country.
Even this youth bulge, though, couldn’t quite capture the TsuNamo, to use Amit Shah’s turn-of-phrase since the BJP’s vote share rose from 18.8% in 2009 to 31.5% in 2014—its seats rose from 116 to 283, while those of the NDA from 141 to 339. Clearly other forces were at work. The CSDS-Lokniti post-election polls for CNN-IBN, for instance, threw up interesting numbers, later validated by the actual poll results. In the 18-22 year olds polled, the NDA got 45% of votes versus a mere 21% for the UPA; for those above 56, the NDA got 38% versus 27% for the Congress—that is, the youth bulge was an important factor. When asked who was the preferred candidate for PM—Modi or Rahul Gandhi—the answer was 55% to 11% for upper castes, 38 to 13 for upper OBCs, 46 to 11 for lower OBCs (Modi’s caste), 35 to 18 for the STs and 29 to 14 for the SCs. In other words, it is not just the country’s youth, others are also impatient with the collapsing economy and the large corruption. While under a tenth of Muslims voted for the BJP, the CSDS-Lokniti poll showed, the number rose to as much as 34% in Rajasthan—even the en masse Muslim vote, it appears, is a myth. As for which party was more “secular”, both the BJP and the Congress got an equal share of the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh. Not surprising then, that the caste warriors got badly trumped in the elections. While Lalu Prasad’s RJD got the same number (4) of seats as it got in 2009, Mulayam Singh’s SP got 5 versus 21 in 2009 and Mayawati got 0 versus 21—even Nitish Kumar, who worked more for development than concentrated on caste politics, got all but wiped out with just 2 seats versus 19 in 2009. The communists got just 10 versus 20 in 2009.
Modi’s Achilles heel, it is well known, is the Rajya Sabha where, with his current allies, he controls around a fourth of it—assembly elections in the next couple of years will help increase this tally, provided the Modi magic lasts. But don’t bet on it since, as the AAP’s performance in Delhi makes it clear, there is a big divide between assembly and national elections. Even so, as this paper has pointed out before, there are lot of low-hanging fruit for Modi to pluck quickly, even as larger reforms—such as those on labour or getting the government to function efficiently enough to raise India’s ease of doing business rankings—take time. With around R2.1 lakh crore worth of tax cases filed against leading MNCs in the last few years, just setting up a panel under a tax expert—say Parthasarathi Shome, the current advisor to finance minister P Chidambaram—and a retired Supreme Court judge to decide on their validity would itself do wonders to the investment climate. Simple decisions like raising gas prices—already notified by the UPA on January 10—will bring in $10 billion from RIL/BP/Niko alone, and probably a similar amount from other players like ONGC and Cairn. In telecom, just simple spectrum trading rules—an administrative decision—could multiply the large investments already on the anvil and bring $7 billion worth of BSNL and MTNL’s spectrum into play. Continuing to hike diesel prices regularly—a decision already taken—will add over R2 lakh crore to the market cap of PSUs based on the amount they currently bear and current tax rates; imagine what this will do for their investment plans. Modi can do a lot before he reaches the Rajya Sabha’s binding constraint—that applies to bills like GST and DTC.