Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) victory is a win for Indian nationalism more than it is for Hindutva. Those in opposition to Modi have framed him as backwards and a sympathizer to Hindu extremism. Following his victory, one person even issued an apology to the world.
BJP didn’t win because of the ultra-conservatives and extremists, but instead, because of the desire to put India back on track to prosperity. Call it a renewed Indian national spirit. These elections were a resounding call by Indian citizens to will their government to be better and a catalyst for making the Indian dream a reality. It was high time for positive change and the BJP promised it could deliver.
In the last few years, India’s rate of economic growth has noticeably slowed to 4.7 percent and high inflation has affected every strata of Indian society. The incumbent Indian National Congress party and their United Progressive Alliance had more scandals than successes, which boiled over in the last two years in a drawn out battle to identify and eradicate corruption and stirred a national debate about women’s rights and safety. Congress was in bad shape before these elections and it didn’t help that the Gandhi dynasty atop the party set forth another yawn-inducing, seemingly ineffectual candidate from the Gandhi family: Rahul. The deck was stacked against the incumbent and the BJP won on a campaign promise of a better, stronger India.
For nearly a year, the BJP consulted with experts to craft a campaign throwing Congress in a negative light and advocating for a change from the status quo by way of Modi. To make a loose comparison, Modi was the BJP’s version of Obama. A candidate concerned with domestic politics and the economy, ready to take action to bring the nation back to its feet all the while backed by a party that shared the country’s sentiments that sea change was needed. A vote for the BJP was a vote for making India a global power, ensuring that Delhi lived up to the aspirations of a younger generation craving wealth in the country versus finding work and opportunity elsewhere.
The BJP’s landslide win was a result of a record voter turnout, especially younger voters, and a hunger for change so that India’s much touted, much promised potential could become reality. As troubling as it is to see that a few of the Hindu extremist factions were voted in, it’s overwhelmingly promising to see that a younger generation put some of its faith in the government and took voting seriously.
Hindu nationalism didn’t win. A new kind of nationalism—one that’s inclusive and determined to establish a well-governed and prosperous India—won the election. This promise is what won the election for Modi and the BJP.
That said, the real work starts now. Modi carries a heavy burden to make sure that his promises bear fruit lest he forget that his naysayers are ready to pounce given the opportunity. We will just have to wait and see if Modi can actually stand and deliver.
Aparajita Vadlamannati is a program assistant for the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security’s Strategic Foresight Initiative of the Atlantic Council.