Book Title: India’s 2019 Elections: The Hindutva Wave and Indian Nationalism
Author: Paul Wallace
There is no alternative to the BJP, asserts Paul Wallace in his introductory essay to this interesting collection of essays, written by 27 academics, interested in the political processes of India. Wallace needs to be congratulated for getting such a large group of people to come together to make sense of the latest transformations in Indian polity. Even more commendable is the fact that he managed to persuade them, distinguished academics all, to finish their allotted task within a year of Modi returning to power a second time. That also indicates the tremendous esteem in which the academic community holds Paul Wallace, his leadership in scholarly affairs, and his insights into Indian politics. Wallace passed away recently.
The essays are divided into five sections, with four of them focusing on distinct regional clusters. The fifth consists of six general essays on themes connected with the elections. Modi’s return was propelled by the rise of Hindu nationalism — this belief underlies many of the essays in this volume. And once this belief becomes the starting point for one’s analysis, no other factor is considered as responsible for Modi’s victory. In fact, they do not even consider the elections to be Modi’s victory but, insist that the victory is that of the BJP. The one exception is Wallace who indicates that the elections of 2019 were a plebiscite in which the people of India were to choose between Modi and Rahul.
This is the normal sort of analysis which most political observers of India have been doing for many decades in which everything that precedes the election results is taken to be an explanation for the victory of one of the parties. Little wonder politicians continue to approach astrologers for guidance rather than political scientists who specialise in election studies.
The structure of the essays — and their conclusion — is fairly similar; all of them are informative. Most of the authors express surprise at the victory of BJP candidates while their, the authors’, pre-election belief was that the BJP would either fail completely or fail substantially. They give a synoptic view of the politics, social structure and, existential concerns of whichever region they are examining, to conclude that those were the conditions that explain the victory of the BJP or, in the case of Kerala, the absence of victory. All of them focus on the rhetoric of elections to insist that this was the victory of the right wing in India. None of them, not even Paul Wallace, notices that it was not the BJP which found favour with the electorate but Narendra Modi. James Chiriyankandath does point at the absence of a BJP victory in Kerala but confines himself to noticing that Kerala did not return a single BJP member of Parliament. This anomaly could be used as a possible lever to oust the BJP in future elections.
Four essays in this collection break out of the ordinary rhetoric that one associates with political scientists. One is the essay in which Rainuka Dagar maps these elections and the rhetoric used by leaders against gender issues. Much more needs to be done, she concludes as her data points at the increased participation of women in the elections of 2019. Surprisingly, in her documentation, Narendra Modi comes out as the one leader who seemed far more concerned with gender issues than anyone else. The other is Pramod Kumar’s masterly re-cap of the Punjab elections where he reconstructs the social-political landscape of Punjab and the failure of identity politics of the right-wing sort, to talk of the strategies used by different political groupings to attract voters. Suhas Palishkar and Nitin Birmal point out that Maharashtra is essentially a Congress state where the BJP won the 2019 elections by chance, mostly because the Congress eco-system refused to nurture its traditional supporters.
Then there is SY Quraishi’s beautiful description of the administrative side of elections in India and the problems faced therein. In fact, it was the Election Commission’s ‘No Voter to be Left Behind’ spirit which was responsible for a much larger number of women participating in the elections this time. He also points that the EVM-based system of voting that India follows proved itself, once again, to be ‘foolproof’.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a large number of young American men and women came to India to report about the country. Some of them came under the aegis of the Peace Corps and hoped to help change India; many were funded by the CIA which was curious to know more of India; most came through the university system to work on their PhD thesis. Many of them became life-long friends of India and added much to our knowledge about India. Paul Wallace, who passed away last month, was one such. He crafted a life for himself trying to make sense of the political system of India. He was one of those who repeatedly expressed faith in Indian democracy, messy and loud as it was. In his many decades of engagement with India, he wrote over 10 books and 40 articles, each of them of considerable reference value on Indian political behaviour. Paul Wallace represented a scholarship that was scientific, kind, considerate and, critical in equal measure. This is just what India needs today. He will indeed be missed.