CHENNAI, India, 3 May 2019
Several observers, journalists, and critics of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been pointing out that the ongoing Indian Parliament election looks like a Presidential election, focusing on one man and not really on the election of people’s representatives as intended in the Indian parliamentary system. They have been blaming Mr Narendra Modi for this scenario. In support of their viewpoint, they point out that while Modi’s political party BJP has formed alliances with a few other parties under the banner National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a campaign is being done amongst the people by the ruling party not in the name of BJP or NDA but in the name of Mr Narendra Modi. People are being “brainwashed” to vote for Mr Modi rather than being appealed to vote for BJP government or NDA government. The critics further say that this has been deliberately done by Prime Minister Modi, bringing the focus on himself. According to them, this is Mr Modi’s disservice to Indian system of parliamentary democracy.
While it is true that the Parliamentary election is taking place like a Presidential form of election, focusing entirely on Mr Narendra Modi, the question remains whether Mr Modi is responsible for this.
The fact is that the opposition parties in India are largely responsible for this situation, and Mr Modi is only responding to the scenario.
The ground reality is that there is no leader in the opposition political parties (most of whom are really leaders in the state level with their influence restricted to one or two states) to match Mr Modi in charisma, oratory skill, personal integrity and leadership qualities.
When Jawharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were the Prime Ministers and Parliamentary election took place in their time, there were several stalwarts in the opposition parties like Rajaji, Jayprakash Narain, Lohia, Acharya Kripalani, and more. People had a definite choice. It appears that such a situation is not the case now.
Aware of their limitations, leaders of several political parties, most of whom are regional leaders, have joined together to oppose one man, Mr Modi.
In the process, they all seem to have concluded that Mr Modi’s fair image amongst people has to be effectively demolished, and that is the only way that BJP or NDA can be defeated in the election. Therefore, in all their speeches, the opposition leaders of various parties started personally targeting Mr Modi. Abusive language was liberally used, calling Mr Modi a thief and even going to the extent of stating that Mr Modi’s claim of belonging to a backward community is false. Mr Modi was personally blamed for every development that took place in the last five years of his governance, and no other leader of BJP and NDA was criticized with such vehemence. The net result of this situation is that Mr Modi became the single and sole target for the opposition parties. Obviously Mr Modi has to fight back and explain his stand and viewpoint.
The fact remains that Modi government has initiated many proactive and imaginative schemes in multiple directions in the last five years, keeping the complex requirements of India in view. Of course, some of these measures have not yet yielded the expected results in a way that people could feel and benefit. However, most of his actions are works in progress as of now. Opposition parties know this, and they cannot take him on such issues as the clean India campaign, opening millions of bank accounts for poor people, skill development programmes, digitalization, etc. Therefore, to paint Mr Modi in black, an attempt has been made to call him corrupt and using words such as thief.
Now voters in India are left with no alternative other than viewing the Parliamentary election as a decision to vote for Mr Modi or not to vote for Mr Modi. As the process of elections are going on, nobody else is being discussed, and the merits and demerits of individual candidates are not being analysed and evaluated. Every candidate representing Modi’s party is being evaluated as Mr Modi himself, and the merits and demerits of Mr Modi as seen by the voters is the only factor in exercising the franchise by the people in favour of one candidate over other. Candidates belonging to opposition parties are being evaluated as representing anti-Modi forces.
The opposition parties with no coordinated principles or policy programmes and with considerable mistrust between themselves have no alternate leadership to highlight against Mr Modi.
At this state, while the media projects that Mr Modi is well ahead in the election contest, the 2019 Parliamentary election in India will go down in history as a contest regarding the acceptance or otherwise of one man, Mr Narendra Modi. This has never been so before in the history of Parliamentary elections in India.
About the author
NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.