The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 Indian general elections slams home the hypothesis that caste and other regional considerations are becoming less pre-eminent in electoral choices. Factors such as jobs, inflation, asset (housing, really) prices and corruption have acquired primacy like never before. Yes, one cynical way of looking at it is that it's a Hindu, majoritarian verdict. And, to be sure, caste versus development is not a binary choice; at least, not yet in independent India's evolution. A quick look at the votes share and seats won by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, however, makes it evident that the verdict in its favour - or, against the Congress depending on which way you look at it - is across rural-urban settings and is a pan-India vote. If you need any more evidence, look beyond Congress's rout: see in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar the performance of parties whose USP was their caste and religious identities. Plug: the stubborn optimist in me pointed out this on this page ('One India, No Bharat') three issues ago. But never did I expect such a huge shift in votes share and seats to the BJP.
What does this mean for India and BJP leader Narendra Damodardas Modi? It is not just an opportunity to get a wobbly India back on rails but also a chance to move it into a new orbit. Look at the promise: India has the largest number of young people in the world, has sub-optimally natural used resources, is a destination no global corporation can keep off its growth agenda, and has multi-layered inefficiencies to weed out. All that is required to tap into that Indian Promise is a laser-sharp focus on implementation. Modi, who when he's sworn in will be the youngest Indian prime minister in 18 years, has the DNA, proven ability and mandate to execute that mission. And, it's hardly a wager that he will put his coalition's heft behind much-needed reform in support to entrepreneurs, 24X7 electricity, mining and labour laws, railways and infrastructure, urbanisation, subsidies, to name a few areas. It is fascinating, at some level, that India expects Modi to deliver big change easily despite the complexity of the task before him.
"A leader is a dealer of hope," wrote French general Napoleon* Bonaparte and Modi has proven himself well on that count. But, to succeed in the coming years in leading one-sixth of humanity, like every other effective leader or CEO, Modi should cultivate an important trait: the ability to be coached, or, what organisation theorists call learnability. If he wants to be a statesman like, say, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Modi has to rise above sectarian divides that pockmark his past and make a persuasive case for 'sab ke saath, sab ka vikas' (with everybody and for everybody's progress) before all of India's 1.2 billion. It will be tempting to use the BJP's electoral advantage - there is hardly an opposition in the 16th Lok Sabha - to ride roughshod over any obstacle before him but he will do well not to ignore evidence that it is institutions that deliver sustainable economic growth; and that growth is the fix to most of our ills. Elsewhere, the world is not insulated by what India does and it will increasingly look in our direction for credible leadership. In aspiring for that, Prime Minister Modi will face several challenges (e.g., a resurgence in terror from Pakistan or renewed border heckles from China). That's the nature of the new game he just entered and to be effective, Modi needs to learn quickly to play it.
* Corrected the spelling of Napoleon Bonaparte.
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