It is an indisputable fact that Narendra Modi has led the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) to a clear majority on its own in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Parliament of India).
It is equally an indisputable fact that at 31 percent of the vote the BJP has the lowest vote share of any party to win a single party majority in the same Lok Sabha. (To compare the BJP number in 2014 to the Congress in 2009 is an apples and oranges comparison because the Congress has not won a majority on its own since 1984).
But to insinuate that because of the latter, the former is somehow suspect or even illegitimate is mischievous, delusional and ultimately undemocratic.
While vote share might be of interest to psephologists and strategists, for the purposes of forming a government it’s the number of seats that counts. That’s the way the game has been set up and no one can change the rules of the game at this stage just because they are unhappy with the results. And the BJP will rightfully occupy 282 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha—that’s 52 percent of the Lok Sabha, not 31 percent.
Those who want to take solace in that 69 percent who did not vote for the BJP, or the 61.5 percent who did not vote for the NDA, can do so, but those numbers are in the end crumbs of very cold comfort.
If the 69 percent is important, it’s not because it can be used to question the legitimacy of Modi’s victory, but because it signals the work he has to do given that Modi and his supporters have been claiming a mandate in a way a Manmohan Singh was never able to.
If the BJP wants to play down the importance of vote percentages nationally it cannot play up the tripling of its vote share in a state like West Bengal even though it only won a couple of seats there. Likewise Amit Shah is too shrewd a strategist to assume that Mayawati is irrelevant in Uttar Pradesh politics because the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) drew a blank in terms of seats. It still got 20% of the vote, something the BJP would be foolish to ignore when it comes time for Assembly elections there.
Of course Modi does not have to be accommodating if he does not want to. “(T)his was not a mandate for consensus but for audacity,” writes journalist Swapan Dasgupta urging Modi to not yield to the “merchants of caution.”
Modi’s party has a comfortable majority, he has a free hand and he can rule as he wishes, serving the interests of the 31% who elected him. He can start building a Ram Mandir tomorrow and announce a Uniform Civil Code the day after and the 69 percent can weep into their op-eds and blogs.
Yes, he can. But what good will it do him?
After Barack Obama won the United States presidential election in 2008, a bitter and acrimonious election where his race had become a factor, Obama rejoiced in the historic victory, much as Modi did in Vadodra, but Obama also reached out to those who did not vote for him.
“And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.”
Many in that 69 percent were straining to hear echoes of that in Modi’s first speech after winning as well. Modi gave some indication of that when he said “I want to tell my fellow Indians that in letter and spirit I will take all Indians with me.”
The 69 percent question for Modi will be how he chooses to walk his talk. But as Ramakrishna, the mentor of his favorite icon Vivekananda put it “jato mat tato path.” (As many beliefs that many ways to God). Modi wants to put India first. One India cannot be the same thing as a homogeneous India.
While the final vote breakdown numbers are still trickling in, Modi and his advisors must already have a good inkling about who make up that 69 percent of doubters.
Muslims are the group who have gotten the most attention. Yet numbers prove conflicting. India Today notes that BJP won big in many seats with a high number of Muslim voters—Lucknow, Gauhati, Chandni Chowk for example. India Today also points out that of the 102 constituencies where at least one in five voters is a Muslim, the BJP won 47 seats. In 2009 it had won 24 of those seats.
Pre-poll studies have shown that the BJP went into these elections with a gender gap. Rajeswari Deshpande of the University of Pune analyzed National Election Studies (NES) figures from 1996 to 2009 to conclude that “Among those who favored Modi as prime minister, 62 per cent were men and 38 per cent were women.”
And let’s not forget that gay Indians disappointed with the BJP’s stance on Section 377 are also part and parcel of this diverse India that Modi will have to lead. Modi supporters might dismiss them as inconsequential whiners but the rights to privacy and the right to dissent are not inconsequential for the health and well-being of any democratic society.
Technically speaking Modi can ignore all these groups. The election results of 2014 have given Modi the unquestioned right to the bully pulpit. That does not mean the country has given him carte blanche to be the bully.
The 69 percent figure should not be bandied to question Modi’s right to be the next Prime Minister of India. But it should be a reminder to him that all of India is not on the same page as he is after an election that was presented as a referendum on him.
Vote share or no vote share, Modi has the keys to the kingdom. It’s his choice what he does with it—whether he decides to be the Prime Minister of India as opposed to the Commander-in-Chief of the 31 percent.
Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost.com. He is on leave as editor with New America Media. His weekly dispatches from India can be heard on KALW.org. This article was first published on Firstpost.com.