Why the idea of Modi wins

Narendra Modi's victory in Gujarat elections is a watershed in Indian politics. The fact that a chief minister is re-elected for a third term would have been a feat of monumental significance. But the scale and the context of the victory make it a watershed in Indian politics. This victory subverts every cliché. Incumbents can't win, they said. Modi proved them wrong. Sonia Gandhi has acquired a new aggression, they said. Modi cut her down to size. Caste equations would work against Modi, they said. Modi managed to rise above standard caste politics. India is experiencing a political backlash against growth, they said. Modi has ridiculed that idea. It is impossible to win if a significant section of the party works against you, they said. Modi has proved that the party is dependent on the leader rather than the other way round. You can't cater to both tribals and capitalists, they said. Modi has turned this logic on its head. So-called normal politics would triumph over the politics of polarisation, they said. Modi has made nonsense of this distinction. Modi has created a new paradigm in Indian politics, whose ramifications will be felt for years to come.

Modi's win calls for a serious reflection on the so-called secular/ communal divide. Why does secular politics carry less credibility than it ought to? Why does secularism remain a mere slogan, a straw that bends in every wind? Part of the reason is that the secular/communal divide is not, as the Congress would like to believe, a divide between two species of Indian citizens: one secular and one communal. It is a fissure that runs within most citizens, rather than between them. On the one hand, there is an easy acceptance of diversity, a discomfort with a politics that is too polarising, and an acknowledgment of modern constitutional values. On the other, there is group competition, a sense of incomplete nationhood for which someone must be held responsible, and fear. What gains the upper hand in our psychic economies, is a product of a complex politics. Managing this contradictory psychic complex requires, as Gandhi understood better than anyone else, a subtle therapeutic politics. But such subtlety is beyond the Congress. It too has acquired a deep investment in a politics of competitiveness amongst groups. It has exacerbated a paradigm of citizenship where caste and religion, rather than becoming irrelevant to people's rights and opportunities, become more central to their self-understanding. And it projects opportunism rather than trust.

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