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Thus spake the people

If this electoral rebuff be treated as a defeat for Narendra Modi, then it must be said that he has been his own nemesis.

Thus spake the people

Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (PTI File Photos)

The electoral verdict revealed to the people on Tuesday has a message of many layers. There’s something in it for every state, every party and every political persuasion. But at the core of it lies the truth that must go home to every citizen: It is that the people of this republic have chosen to keep power to themselves rather than vest it in a king. It is a sweetly-nuanced message that rejects no ideology or negates any belief. The nation cannot be said to have gone right or left. No party can be said to have arisen as an alternative. The only message is that we shall remain a republic.

If this electoral rebuff be treated as a defeat for Narendra Modi, then it must be said that he has been his own nemesis. The long path to this humbling began when the BJP national executive in January 2023 adopted an astounding nine-point political resolution in which it curtsied to Modi no less than 38 times. Just a week later, the Uttar Pradesh unit of the party adopted its own resolution in which it resolved that its only mandate was to make Modi Prime Minister again.

For an ideology-driven organisation with a hundred-year history, this was a terminal slide towards strongman politics. This collective decision by the party to reduce itself to one man presaged a series of bizarre events, signals and ceremonies showcasing Modi’s love of regal raiments and royal spectacles. Here he was receiving the Sengol, a golden sceptre handed to a king with the divine right to rule; here he was officiating as high priest at the Bhavya Ram Mandir. And here we see him loll in the company of fawning media; and lo and behold the people showering petals upon him wherever he went! In parallel, we were witness to an alarming series of decrees and deeds befitting a monarchy rather than a democracy: draconian penal laws passed without debate; summary changes to the way in which judges of the realm are appointed; incarceration of opposition leaders; supercilious ignoring of farmers’ woes; and repression of dissent. As elections approached, this offer of Modi as candidate for king went down differently among different sections of the people.

While to those with sufficient means this promised a continuation of their life of privilege, to the most socially and economically disadvantaged classes, particularly the Dalits, this seemed like an omen portending a reduction of their status enshrined in the Constitution. These omens were amplified when BJP leaders spoke fondly how idyllic village life once was and how jati occupations were so noble.

It is implicit in the verdict we were served on Tuesday that the people have drawn firm tramlines for the political class: Gloat all you want in your vainglory but stay within the space ordained to you by we, the people. As regards Narendra Modi, it’s a chastisement more than a repudiation. Tuesday’s denouement retains him as an important figure in our politics but compels him to work with other leaders who might impart to him some consensual sagacity and statesmanship, which he so covets but lacks. It’s a satisfying verdict, one that affords India sounder sleep.

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