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Prashad: It was an anti-Congress wave, not a pro-Modi wave

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

It is a landslide victory for the Indian BJP Party, led by Narendra Modi. The right-wing Hindu nationalist party has secured India’s biggest election victory in the last 30 years, winning 334 seats, compared with the Congress/United Progressive Alliance that won only 59 seats that is led by Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi’s son.

Here to discuss the BJP victory, we have Vijay Prashad. Vijay is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut. He’s the–in his latest book, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South–. He joins us today from Lebanon.

Thanks for joining us, Vijay.


PERIES: So, Vijay, what happened?

PRASHAD: Well, this is the first time since 1984 that we’ve seen one party come out with such a vast mandate. And it truly was a surprise for most people. Mr. Modi himself had said that his party alone would get 300 seats out of 543. Nobody believed him. At the end of the day, he didn’t get 300 seats, but near enough. They have sufficient seats to govern the country by themselves; they don’t need any of their coalition partners. So that’s quite a surprise. They ended the day with about 30 percent of the vote share. This was about ten or 11 percentage points more than their closest rival, the Congress Party. But because of the way the electoral system works, because of the way in each of the 543 seats the mandate can fracture, that 10 to 11 percent increase that the BJP had over the Congress gave them an enormous number of seats. So they ended the day perhaps with close to 275 to 280 seats. And the Congress Party was just able to get over 50 seats. It is a huge defeat for the Congress Party, and indeed for many of the regional parties that have previously taken up a lot of space in Parliament.

PERIES: So this defeat to the Congress, it was predicted, but they didn’t expect such a landslide victory. What happened? Why do you think Congress was defeated so badly?

PRASHAD: It was very clear why the population had turned against the Congress Party. For the last ten years the Congress has been in power, the Congress has driven policies, you know, on the basis of things like privatization, on the basis of opening up the economy to foreign capital. These policies have created deepening inequality, increased inequality. These policies have also created new desires at the same time. The increase of the desires for better goods, different kinds of goods, alongside inequality, created a great deal of frustration in the population.

At the same time, because of the kind of policies the Congress had adopted, there were a number of corruption scandals. You know, the moment you open the economy and allow large sums of money to be made from privatizing, say, telecommunications or internet and such like, you know, there is a boondoggle for firms. Bribes are paid. Corruption becomes rampant. These corruption scandals dented the reputation of the Congress.

One of the very clever things that the BJP did was that rather than criticize the policy framework which the Congress Party had adopted of privatization and bringing in foreign capital, they blamed the inequality and the frustration of the population on corruption. What this allowed was for the BJP to go to the people and say, we are with you, and at the same time not alienate a very large business community which would have not taken kindly to the BJP if it had started to criticize the actual policies. This, of course, meant that Mr. Modi was both a favorite of the business community and was able to have a populist appeal when he fulminated against the corruption scandals of the Congress Party. And the Congress Party could not recover from the tarnished-ness of these corruption scandals. And that really was the trigger for the BJP to absorb much of the dissatisfaction with the Congress to its advantage.

PERIES: Vijay, how did the left parties fare?

PRASHAD: The left had a mixed, you know–the left had a very mixed result–a very poor result, but also mixed. In Kerala, the left did better this time than it did in the last election in 2009.

In West Bengal, the situation is dismal, and it’s dismal for several reasons. The first is there’s been a secular decline of left electoral performance since 2007 for a whole series of reasons, one of which was really the battle over the question of industrialization and acquisition of land. That really dented the reputation of the left in West Bengal. That had started to, you know, return as the left made inroads into rural Bengal in particular. A very large and concentrated violence in some seats, just around polling time, intimidation of the population, etc., led to a very drastic reduction of the number of people from the left who came to the polls. So the left has said that the result in West Bengal is distorted, it’s not a true result, because of the amount of poll violence. And, you know, as a result, the left didn’t actually do well in Bengal at all.

In Tripura, the left, of course, swept both seats.

The end of the day, you know, at the end of the day for the left, the result was not very good. This is, of course, very bad for India, because it means that in Parliament you will not have a significant left bloc to challenge the BJP. As they push ahead full-bore liberalization policies alongside, you know, the policies that might be intolerant towards minorities or likely will be intolerant to minorities.

PERIES: And looking ahead, Vijay, what can Indian society expect?

PRASHAD: Well, it’s a big fight. You know, Mr. Modi made promises in one direction. In other words, he ran a public campaign on questions of governance and questions of jobs. He didn’t actually run as the man of the Hindu right, in other words, intolerance of minorities, etc. There were some crucial moments where he signaled to his base that he’s still the man he was when he oversaw the state of Gujarat during the riots of 2002, in other words, when he attacked immigrants from Bangladesh, when he talked about the need for people to be Indians and not Muslims and such like. So he signaled to his base that he’s still the same man. But the main plank upon which he ran was good governance and good jobs.

And therefore the expectation now with the BJP having such a large mandate is going to be that they will deliver on good jobs and good governance. And I think given that track record, given the kind of policies that they are going to follow, it’s unlikely that they’re going to meet, you know, the expectation. This means that it’s very likely that having not met expectations, he is going to probably pivot rightward back to the old intolerant agenda. And that is why the other parties have to be very vigilant, building among the people, making sure that the BJP doesn’t get a free ride in this parliament, which is going to last for five years.

PERIES: Well, Vijay, we look forward to a further analysis as things settle down after the elections in India. Thank you for joining us.

PRASHAD: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.