This edition of Express Adda held in Delhi hosted global investor and author of Democracy on the Road, Ruchir Sharma. In a discussion moderated by The Indian Express Group’s Executive Director Anant Goenka and National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra, he spoke on national security as a poll issue, social media shaping politics and how it’s impossible to call this election.
On how democracy is thriving in India
The incumbent in India, the government in power, has incredible advantages at its disposal. Even in this election, by most estimates, the BJP is outspending the Congress party by five to 10 times. Most people have a perception that whichever government is in power typically tends to have a much stronger hold over the media.
Despite these incredible advantages that any incumbent enjoys, most incumbents in India lose elections and for me that is such a powerful statement that no matter how much money you spend or what you do in terms of controlling the institution, at the end of the day if the voter wants the government to lose, the government loses.
For me that is such a reaffirming statement about the fate of democracy in the country. This is the most powerful statement that the world’s largest democracy is thriving. The fact that this election is so unpredictable, a month into the elections, again tells us how robust the democratic process in this country is.
On whether this will be India’s first national security election
Yes, somewhere deep down there is this feeling of national security… I don’t think this country has been this polarised at a caste, religion, region and a leader level as it is now. When we tried to ask the voters who are you going to vote for, it is so simple that once you get their surnames, you know exactly who they are going to vote for. There is absolutely no debate on that. We would like to believe that in the cities we have moved to a post-caste world, instead when we were on this trip, my finding was that we were in a post-truth world.
And what do I mean by this? You can literally form a list of A and a list of B. When you ask any upper caste voter, or a non-Dalit OBC, or a non-Jatav scheduled caste person, the answer is Modi. You ask a Muslim or a Yadav or a Jatav who he is going to vote for and the answer without a doubt is mahagathbandhan. It is as simple as that. Now if you come to the issues, if you ask the person what the issues are, the person voting for the BJP will point out to how good things have been for the last five years.
They will tell you we have been given a toilet, electricity, better roads and national security. You go and ask the same question to a Jatav, a Muslim or a Yadav, and they will tell you exactly the opposite. So you don’t know what exactly the truth is because people are picking on facts that are convenient for them.
On whether the Opposition not having a face hurts them
I think yes, that is true in certain states. When you go to Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, people ask you, who is Rahul, who is Modi. There is almost a disdain for national leaders. I think in these elections, the south of India has been grossly ignored and underrated. We have a tendency of talking a lot about the Hindi heartland. So in the Hindi heartland, he (Modi) is undoubtedly the issue and in places like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, he has single-handedly been pulling the BJP up. The question to ask is, if Modi is not the leader of the BJP, is it quite possible that the BJP’s vote share would be down further?