“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”
— Jawaharlal Nehru – August 15, 1947
The 2014 elections of the world’s largest democracy are finally drawing to a close. In a day or two, the final day of voting in the country will be completed and on May 16, the country and world will learn the results.
Above all, it has been fascinating watching the largest electorate in the world go to the polls. The numbers are simply mind-numbing. It’s not just the largest, it is arguably the most diverse country in the world and the elections have been no different in demonstrating that rich diversity.
The country awaits the election results with hope and trepidation. As people have voted, the top-of-mind, #1 issue for people across the country has been economic growth. This is followed closely by corruption (the elimination of it, that is).
The front runner, by all accounts, is a divisive Hindu despot who has created a massive wave of popularity primarily on the backs of the stagnated, corrupt opposition party that has been in power for the last two terms and as a dominating theme of “anybody but Congress” resonates across the country.
His populism is also built on the alleged economic progress of the state of Gujarat which he has been governing for more than ten years. Related to this, there has been a recent surge in Indian equity markets with excitement that domestic and foreign investment in India could surge with a Modi win, given his reputation for being highly pro-business.
Yet a question that many people are asking is whether one can sacrifice the founding principles of a secular and pluralistic India for economic growth. The answer apparently is yes.
This is a politician who has more than one dark side. According to a recent article in The Guardian:
There are darker sides to Modi’s nationalism as well. He has praised the late founder of Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray, who promoted the idea of Hindu terrorism, praised Adolf Hitler (both for his art and his political vision), and said of Muslims, “They are spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer.” And Modi will forever be associated with sectarian riots in Gujarat in 2002 that left as many as 2,000 people—most of them Muslim—dead. Modi has been criticized for failing to prevent—or, according to some critics, allowing or even facilitating—the violence.
A recent presentation by Indian-born author Salman Rushdie in New York gives eloquent voice to similar fears – it is remarkably chilling in its prescience.
Yet by this time next week, we may very well be watching as Modi is announced as the victor and begins the formation of the next government of India.
Last night, I was at a party with some friends when one of them started a conversation with me about India and Modi. We found, to our surprise, that we were on absolutely the same wavelength and regarded each other in curious realization. You see, both of us had never, ever had a political discourse where we had not been on opposite sides of the fence. Of course, that was mostly politics of the Republican/Democratic vein. But still. He remarked –finally, we can agree on something! – and we high-fived the sentiment.
As hard as as I try not to care, my fear factor regarding India and its future is at an all-time high. I don’t remember feeling like this during the last couple of elections. In fact, I don’t remember ever feeling this high emotional connect to what was happening there. Perhaps it’s all due to my recent, temporary stint of living in Mumbai. I wish it would just go away!
Ironically, I have a business trip coming up that has me landing on Indian soil precisely on the day that the election results get announced. Can’t get weirder than this.
Now, it’s back to the watching, the worrying and the waiting.
“If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it. The state would look after your secular welfare, health, communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my religion. That is everybody’s personal concern!”
Map Credit: By Furfur (https://commons.wikimedia.org/) [CC-BY-SA-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons