The role of myth and nationalism as the world’s largest democracy has its say at the polls – Saro Thiruppathy 

Of the 600 million Indians in 29 states and seven union territories who cast their ballot at the recently concluded general election, 43.9 percent returned Narendra Damodardas Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies to power, to preserve India’s Hindu hegemony.

Modi is the first non-Congress prime minister to be returned to power after completing a full term in office.

A well funded war chest and sectarian election campaign were more about a referendum on Modi’s leadership than anything else. It’s apparent that the Hindutva rhetoric of the BJP remains as potent as ever and Indians are eager to see it triumph, which is why they overwhelmingly endorsed the continuation of toxic nationalism in what is a fractured democracy.

In 2014, the BJP swept to power with an astounding 282 seats in the Lok Sabha. Its simple majority was strengthened through the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the government ended up with 336 of 543 seats in the lower house.

This year, the ‘saffron surge’ of Hindutva devotees fuelled by hate speech ensured that the BJP won a gobsmacking 303 seats (37.5% of votes) and together with the NDA, the government of the 17th Lok Sabha will occupy 350 seats, having secured 43.9 percent of the votes cast.

Once more, the voters punished the Gandhi dynasty and the Congress Party by providing Modi a resounding victory – in spite of many broken promises, and a failed nirvana of less than expected development and growth.

Modi’s campaign was rooted in nationalism and marginalisation with manifesto pledges targeting anti-Muslim sentiments. He even promised the passage of a citizenship bill whereby immigrants from neighbouring countries who weren’t Muslim could obtain Indian citizenship.

National security also plays a huge part in Modi’s vision since he believes that only he has the power to eradicate terrorism.

Unemployment has been recorded at 6.1 percent – the highest in 45 years, according to a report in the Business Standard. The newspaper claims that the government withheld the results of an official survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) between July 2017 and June 2018.

Meanwhile, farmer suicides are said to be increasing at an alarming rate and the government hasn’t published data on this tragedy since 2015.

SECTARIAN DIVIDE As racial, religious and ethnic intolerance continues to rise, and the government remains silent while Hindutva zealots commit hate crimes, it’s clear that the BJP has successfully torn the tenuous social fabric of the subcontinent in two.

It’s become an ‘us versus them’ scenario with ‘us’ referring to the Hindus and ‘them’ to everyone else. Secularism has been dumped, and India’s journey towards intolerance and sectarianism is well on its way.

Early into the campaign, the manifestos of the leading parties were dumped along the way to make room for accusations and counteroffensives. The vitriolic and racist monologue of the BJP reduced the election campaign to a mud-slinging fiesta that left voters in two minds about what was actually on offer.

But they did hear one thing clearly – and that was the message of Hindu hegemony.

Political opponents were considered anti-nationals. Attacks on rivals weren’t limited to the truth, so much so that fact checkers couldn’t cope with the volume of material coming in for verification.

Modi’s dispensation with the truth even included a wild claim that Rajiv Gandhi had used an aircraft carrier as his personal naval vessel. As his opponents scrambled to deny his claims, Modi flitted from issue to issue by way of rhetoric that was tailor-made for his numerous audiences.

ROMANCE WITH RAM Modi’s plans for India are seemingly rooted more in mythology than development. The Hindus are pleased that the BJP has once again reiterated its pledge to build a grand Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Since 1991, this promise has been renewed regularly before elections – even before the mosque was razed in 1992.

Construction of the ‘Ram Mandir’ at Jamnasthan, which is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, is deemed by the BJP to be a symbol of the ‘vindication of India’s cultural heritage and national self-respect.’ The romance with this temple is one of the carrots with which the BJP has been luring Hindu voters for nearly 30 years to support its divisive policy of governance.

And the Hindus are yet waiting in hope for this grand temple to see the light of day.

A similar long-term promise has been a 33 percent reservation for women in parliament and national state assemblies – the BJP says it wants to ‘make women real participants in a resurgent India of the 21st century.’ Twenty-three years on, and Indians continue to believe that the reservation will manifest itself someday soon.

It’s possible that neither the Ram Mandir nor the 33 percent reservation for women will come to pass. Also, the number of farmer suicides could increase and more youth may be left disenchanted with rising unemployment. But broken promises don’t appear to be vexatious for BJP supporters – except perhaps the temple issue.

What’s of critical importance for the nearly 44 percent of Indians who believe in Modi is that the Hindutva ideology continues to reign over the subcontinent to the detriment of all other ethnicities and religions in India.

Long live the sacred cow!