The biggest elections ever held just ended in India. With the projected win of 302 out of 543 seats, nearly six times that of the next contender largest party, incumbent ruling party BJP looks to sweep back to victory. A “historic mandate”, the PM Narendra Modi hailed afterward; a thumping rejection of the madness of a fragmented opposition without a message or messenger.
Modi’s return is a reflection of a Proud India that wants to make a more prosperous self, especially when compared with neighbor China. A decisive India is emerging in place of the fractious and argumentative
Indian of the years before. Above all, it is a rejection of so-called intellectual elites by the unwashed masses who suddenly have the same, or bigger, mindshare and influence-making capacity than intermediaries of the day’s past.
Intellectual elites of India used to be variously identifiable by the schools they went to, by the company they keep, the fake-posh accent they cultivated and, at times, the dresses they wore. No matter what made them elite, and no matter which master they bowed down to, they reveled in their collective strong-hold in policy making, or more visibly, by their appearance as the final authority in everything that mattered in politics or economics.
No matter that few, if any, of them, actually were ever stooped so low as to partake in of making or selling a single economic commodity in their life. Most transitioned from elite colleges to decision making bodies, think-tanks or media, at times with forays to NGO’s. No matter how they ended up in these elite colleges – some did strive real hard and overcame horrendous roadblocks in their way – their path beyond looked essentially the same, even if they espoused competing interpretations.
Technology changed all that; instead of being filtered through a few media, news comes to their screens in a rainbow. My own Facebook timeline can give me warped views on the same topic depending on when I look at it and when updates hit. Most follow influencers, if not by name, and each has dozens to seek out on various issues. Rise of these influencers has supplanted a few choices of such coloring we had before.
Not that the game is essentially much different, but it reflects democratization of influence making – the top-heavy level of so-called-experts has proved anemic and unreliable as their megaphone. Political parties now can take their message straight to the mobiles where it will have an eyeball, or they can create an army of influencers who will collate news with a coloring that serves their purpose.
BJP has proved itself to be master of the game. Perhaps it is because most of their leaders came up the ranks through retail politics; their formative years were spent when they were a pariah in a political sense. Congress, the biggest opposition party is still led by a political dynasty whose President has bestowed the title as a political infant simply because it was his turn down the succession line. By contrast, Narendra Modi had to duke it out with other stalwarts and seniors in his own party barely a year before he was elected Prime Minister in 2014.
Messaging was another key factor. Modi’s slogans were simple and resonated with the aspirations of the masses. They projected a decisive India, an India that has earned its rightful place in the league of powerful nations, an India that check-mates archenemy Pakistan and contains China through alliances. A resurgent India that can think of a network of high-speed rail, an economy that works so that people do not have to look out for doles. In January I traveled close to four thousand kilometers, by road, and by rail, and was struck by the optimism at all levels. Universal Basic Income scheme of Congress, brought at the last minute almost as an after-thought, seemed like a slap in the face of Aspirational India by an elite economist-cohort who thought asking alms is all that Indians are good for.
Technology broke choke-hold of the old oligarchy. BJP, being defined by retail level politics, saw it coming and was better prepared to take advantage of. BJP’s message was direct and was about aspirations No wonder BJP won by a landslide, again, and increased its vote-share.
We have seen the script play out in US 2016. And we will likely see it repeat if lessons are not learned.
[Partha Chakraborty is CEO of Switchboard Systems. All opinions are of the Author alone and do not necessarily represent that of Switchboard Systems. The author alone is responsible for any error or omission.]