That Narendra Modi’s party would win again was never really in dispute. The only question was whether the BJP (the Bharatiya Janata, or Indian Peoples’ Party), would emerge merely as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha, and thus be forced to seek coalition partners, or whether it would repeat its astonishing success of 2014 and govern alone. In the end it did better than that. The BJP-dominated alliance now has 351 seats, the Congress alternative 95. The size and scale of the victory is breathtaking. In West Bengal, a state run by the Communist Party for forty years (and subsequently by a maverick Congress split-off), the BJP won 18 seats out of 42. The left and other ‘secular forces’ were wiped out without trace. In Uttar Pradesh, the largest state, the BJP won again, and the Congress lost Amethi, a pocket borough of the Nehru family that had voted blindly for the dynasty for almost half a century. Were it not for India’s quaint electoral laws permitting the same candidate to contest seats in a number of constituencies, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader, would not even be in the new parliament. As the results started coming in, a veteran Congress leader in Bhopal, Ratan Singh, had a heart attack and dropped dead. A tragedy overlaid with symbolism. There was some resistance to the BJP, especially in the south: in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the BJP didn’t win a single seat. But overall the results showed that, contrary to the predictions of the commentariat, there was no anti-incumbency vote. If anything, the opposite. This has never happened before in Indian politics.
The main opposition, the Congress, turned the campaign into a referendum on Modi. Could the tea-seller’s son, an untutored, uncouth, bigoted, small-town petit bourgeois (who can’t speak English) be trusted again? India’s electorate has now provided the answer. They love their Modi. Another landslide victory for the orchestrator of pogroms against Muslims. The post-independence consensus which some yearn for is dead and cremated. The BJP and its parent organisation, the Hindu nationalist RSS, are now pacemakers, embedded in the heart of a modernising Indian state and using all its facilities and resources to impose their ideological views and punish those who don’t conform. History is a crucial battleground and is being systematically rewritten to chime with the Hindutva ideology. We can only hope they don’t go so far as to burn the books of Romila Thapar (a bête noire of the BJP because of her knowledge of ancient Indian history) and Irfan Habib’, or treat Arundhati Roy as Joan of Arc. What’s not in doubt is that most mainstream publishers will be scared away from publishing critical, scholarly works on the origins and development of Hinduism, the RSS etc. This is already happening and will get much worse. Self-censorship, the result of fear, cowardice and declining profits, eats the soul.