Even in the hectic and constantly changing political life of India, there are some watershed moments. The elections of May 2013 clearly generated such a moment, when the “Modi wave” and first past the post electoral system enabled the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). despite getting only 31% of the total votes, to win a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament), transforming the national scene. The elections just concluded for the assembly in the city of Delhi, which is not even a full-fledged state, may seem unimportant by contrast, but they too have transformative potential.
Since the national election victory, the BJP—led by Narendra Modi and his henchman Amit Shah (now President of that party)—has seemed unstoppable, winning several state assembly elections and aggressively establishing dominance over its allies, as Modi and Shah have established dominance within the party. The honeymoon period has been extended because the media too generally fell in line, lauding every pronouncement of the Prime Minister and celebrating every declaration of supposedly “new” policies as heralding dramatic transformation.
There were some rumblings of discontent. Some tried to point out that there was a lot of talk without too much content. Thus, policies announced in a blaze of publicity (such as the Swacch Bharat or “Clean India Mission,” or the “Make in India” campaign) were just rehashed versions of policies of the previous government, with slicker media-savvy presentation but less public money. Some noted that the Prime Minister seemed to be more focused on self-promotion and grandiose foreign policy gestures, trying to highlight his supposed “personal chemistry” with various foreign leaders, ranging from U.S. President Barack Obama to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Still others observed that many of the promised policy changes of the Modi government had yet to occur, and that too many blatantly pro-big business measures were taken opaquely—including changing clearance rules to allow more environmentally undesirable investment and passing an ordinance that would reduce effective compensation to those who lost their land because of new projects. Instead of the promised “development and good governance,” the so-called “fringe elements” of the ruling coalition that create communal disharmony and attacks on non-Hindu religious communities were given free reign, with discreet silence on the part of the top leadership. Within the BJP, many senior leaders felt marginalized, alienated from and even humiliated by the new axes of national power.