The real winner in this Lok Sabha election was democracy. And, personally I could not be more delighted. On both sides of the divide was a campaign that sought to diminish democracy. From the INDIA lot we never heard the end of how unfair the election was and how the Election Commission and the EVMs were going to ensure another spectacular victory for Narendra Modi. He for his part campaigned as if he was no ordinary politician seeking a mandate, but a man sent by God to save India. The choice before voters was to choose between bad and worse.

On the evening of the results when the Prime Minister appeared, as he usually does, to address his party workers at BJP headquarters, they went through the usual motions of garlanding him in a massive garland of orchids. And, showering him with rose petals as he walked to the stage and he himself tried to pretend that he had made history by becoming only the second man to win a third consecutive term. But there was something in his body language that had changed. He seemed diminished as did Amit Shah and JP Nadda as they sat behind him on the stage trying to look cheerful.

The shock of what happened was so great that the BJP’s vicious social media trolls were momentarily speechless. And party spokesmen who appeared on TV seemed chastened and humbled. This is good. The BJP was flying too high and there was too much talk of one nation, one leader, one people from Modi who should know that this kind of talk is alright in an autocracy but not in a democracy. Hopefully, when he gets sworn in for the third time this evening, he will remember that he did not really win.

If, on the other side, we had a choice between real leaders, it would have been heartening. But what we have is a collection of what Prashant Kishor calls ‘potted plants’ because they have all inherited their political careers from Daddy or Mummy. They are an uninspiring bunch. And, too filled with grievances that seek always to demean Indian democracy. Rahul Gandhi has been saying for months on international public platforms that democracy is dead in India. And there has been that endless whining about EVM manipulation which ended as soon as they discovered that they had done better than expected.

What this election has proved is that the voters of India are wiser than our leaders. They deserve better. They deserve leaders who do not try to divide them into categories of caste, and they deserve better than being told by BJP leaders that Muslims are a plague that must be eradicated. In his second term in office Modi showed that he was more interested in projecting himself as India’s savior than in saving India. Somehow everything that he did was always about him. It was because of him that 80 crore Indians were being given free rations every month. It was because of him that people were being given houses and clean drinking water (not quite true yet) and because of him that rural Indians now had toilets in their homes.

Festive offer

His problem was that he surrounded himself with sycophantic ministers who lied to him about what was really being done. They did not tell him that at the bottom of the pyramid were millions of desperately poor Indians who struggled to find two meals a day and did not understand why instead of someone bothering to help them there were huge amounts of money being spent on roads, airports and the mighty temple in Ayodhya. These are things that appeal to middle class Indians and rich Indians, but the problem is that to win an election with a full majority you need the support of those at the bottom who have nothing.

In the many analyzes I have read of the election results I have not heard anyone mention the migrants who were forced to walk home for hundreds of kilometers because of Modi’s sudden and brutal lockdown. I have not heard anyone mention that horrible COVID summer when people were dying in hospitals because there was not enough oxygen. Or that the Government of India had failed to order the vaccinations that were needed for us to protect us from the pandemic. Modi is a skilled politician, so he managed to turn this to his advantage by offering free vaccinations on a massive scale with his photo on the certificates. Polls done by powerful magazines all report that people believe that the vaccination program was the best thing that the Modi government did.

Which people? That really is the question. If those people had been polled who had to bury their dead in the sands of the Ganga, they may not have said that dealing with COVID was a huge success. When he gets sworn in for the third time as prime minister Modi would do well to remember the real people of this country. He would do well to remember a few other things. He must stop making everything into a Hindu-Muslim issue — it has not worked. And he must step out of the circle of sycophants that surrounds him and remember that he is not a Messiah but an ordinary politician. If he does, he could be a better prime minister this time than he has been.

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