2014 The election that changed India


The longevity and relevance of liberation movements post freedom has been a debate that has gained momentum in the past decade in many south nations and those entering a half century of independence from their colonial past.

The Indian General elections of May 2014 has been an interesting case study in this debate. The All Indian Congress Party has become inseparable from everything on the sub-continent for the past 50 years. A recent book by acclaimed Indian journalists and author Rajdeep Sardesai – “2014 The Election that Changed India” is one of the most authoritative pieces on the demise of the Congress Party and rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), described by many as “a definitive account of Modi’s conquest of Dehli”

Rajdeep Sardesai starts off by taking his readers through a journey of Indian politics since its independence in 1948, describing India’s elections that brought Congress to power in the words of Indian historian Ramachandra Guha in 1952 as an “article of faith” in the Indian Constitution.  India’s elections have been described in many versions over the decades, the most apt being “as the world biggest democratic experiment.” The period from 1952 to 1977 saw Congress in alliance with many smaller parties to hold power, taking India from the backwaters of brutal colonial rule to becoming a world power, leading the south-south agenda for developing nations, under the stealing leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and others.

By 1977, Congress was booted out of power, as a direct result on Indria Gandhi’ repressive emergency laws, which was seen by many liberations activists as a direct attack on Indian democracy. It took the Congress party almost another decade to regain power under Rajiv Gandhi (son of Indria Gandhi) in 1984. Rajiv ruled Congress by a series of coalition governments till his assassination in May 1991. The death of Rajiv saw his spouse Sonia Gandhi rise into the leadership of Congress, by 1998 Sonia was in full control of the Congress Party.

By 1998-2009 Congress was in an unassailable control of Indian politics, the thought of Congress losing power was often scoffed at. Under Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, India achieved great success both domestically and internationally, setting the scene for domestic economic growth and lead player for a greater say in internationalpolitics by developing countries.

By 2010/2011 the wheels of the Congress Party were beginning to wobble, the economy was not performing satisfactory, retail inflation had reached double digits. The latter amongst others reflected the people’s mood most aptly in the December 2013 State Assembly elections, with Congress losing 4 State Assemblies.

The question many commentators outside of India ask is where did Narendrah Modi come from, what was his rise in the BJP like, what distinguished him in the BJP to other more senior members, what kind of strategist was he to foment the type onslaught that dealt a killer blow to the Congress Party.

As Sardesai continues to remind us in his book that Modi’s personality and character was the all-enticing ingredient to rise in the BJP, as he puts it  “His (Modi) smile could embrace you, the eyes would intimate.” But Modi’s success in the BJP came through years of political outcast to eventually rise to a leadership position in 2002, when he became BJP’s Chief Minister (CM) in the State of Gujurat.

Within months of being sworn in as CM, Modi was confronted with one of the biggest political challengers of his career, namely the Gujurat communal riots between Hindu’s and Muslims, killings scores on both sides. Many in Congress laid the blame for the riot at the door of Modi, but after years of countless enquiries, commissions and reviews, Modi was absolved of any wrongdoing.
It was during this period as CM in Gujurat that Modi and his team understood the power of the media and crafted a set of tools that would eventually become the backbone of the BJP’s electoral success in 2014.

Many political commentators in India held the view that Modi rise was a direct result of media bias for Modi. Sardesai disagrees and says Rahul Gandhi’s (Congress Prime Minister candidate) “lackadaisical leadership role versus the solidity of Modi made all the difference.” Sardesai is scathing on Rahul for his lack of vision and his series of aloofness leading to the ultimate disaster of May 2014. For Sardesai, Team Modi was leaps and bounds ahead of Team Rahul in all aspects electioneering, especially in the PR arena.

Modi’s Media & PR Team was according to Sardesai a cut above the rest. The relentless grassroots work led by Modi and his second in command Amit Shah (BJP Chairperson) was mindboggling, “Modi had travelled 300 000km” by the end of BJP’s elections campaign in 2014. The organizational might of the BJP was formidable, with 45000 Shakha’s (the refers to the daily meetings/gathering) and over 5 million RSS members to work in the trenches. The RSS is a strong grassroots NGO espousing strong Hindu nationalistic tendencies, with direct links to the BJP.

The Indian 2014 election results came as a big shock to many, with the Congress party being decimated at the polls. The lessons for us are many. As Indian social commentator Suparna Sharma puts it, “Charles Dickens may well have been writing about India 2014 when he wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

Buyile Sangolekhaya Matiwane the Chairperson of SASCO in the Western Cape