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Throughout the semester, you have seen various ways the different rights of individuals (citizenship,
social and political) within countries have been hurt either through direct state policy, control by the elite
or groups of individuals against the expansion of rights to other groups. You will apply this knowledge to
write an editorial article (intended for the general public who read newspapers) in which you explore why
a country of your choice has seen its level of democracy (or how much rights citizens have) decline in
recent years.
GENERAL SOURCES: To help you choose a country, you can use Freedom House’s freedom in the
world score and its reports:
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2022/global-expansion-authoritarian-rule
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World
To have some general background about the country, you can explore the above Freedomhouse website,
but also use the CIA factbook:
https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/
For the academic source, use jstor, Academic Search Complete, Google Scholar, One Search or a
database you feel comfortable with to do a search. Use the name of the country with keywords such as
democracy, citizenship rights, authoritarianism etc…You only need one well-written academic source.
You are also expected to use at least 2 sources from our course. Even if they are not directly about your
country they will help give a general framework.
STRUCTURE AND CONTENT OF THE EDITORIAL
1) Summarize the information that you found about the country to a general public by, for instance,
touching on issues of whose rights are being violated, why has democracy been hurt in recent
years etc…(about one page)
2) Explain to the reader (1) how some of the perspectives we have seen and the additional source
you will have found can help explain the changes in rights (about two pages) (2) how the new
source you found further highlights the usefulness of this framework.
3) Offer a solution, based on your analysis, of how this can be improved. Are there political elites
who should be pressured by the international community? Are there groups who should be
protected? Can there be social changes brought so that the country is more equal?
Tips for each section:
1) For section 1. Remember, you do not want to bore the reader with too much information, but you
also want to share some information with someone who does not have access to the same
information. Instead of saying COUNTRY A’s freedom house score decreased, try to give two
figures that show that it is low or has decreased. You can further give a vivid example of how
someone or a group has been impacted by the change.
2) For section 2, make sure that you give enough background to understand the perspectives we
have seen without getting into too much detail. For instance you can say something like
Quadagno (a sociologist) has demonstrated that state policy hurts policy rights or something like
Mann has shown that struggle over economic resources has led to violence between groups
etc…to then link to a description of what is going on today.
3) For section 3. Think about what kinds of solutions would be easy to implement. It could be
programs to help minorities, ways to provide incentives to the political elite to change their ways
etc…
General tips
Familiarize yourselves with the tone of a newspaper editorial written by experts. For instance, you can
create a free NYtimes account through the library website or consult other news outlets like
https://theconversation.com/us. Do not forget that you are writing for an audience that might need
information to understand what you are talking about, give enough information (do not assume you are
writing for me who already knows the topic). Use the ASA citation guide to reference sources and the
information you provide. Your argument should be clear, make sure that you have enough time at the end
of the semester to edit your work, to ask a friend to reread it or to go to the writing center.
DUE DATES: November 30 or earlier Mini Assignment (for feedback)
December 20 Final version
Modi Consolidates Power: Leveraging Welfare Politics
Yamini Aiyar
Journal of Democracy, Volume 30, Number 4, October 2019, pp. 78-88
(Article)
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2019.0070
For additional information about this article
https://muse.jhu.edu/article/735460
[ Access provided at 17 Dec 2022 23:14 GMT from Lehman College ]
Modi Consolidates Power
Leveraging Welfare Politics
Yamini Aiyar
Yamini Aiyar is president and chief executive at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.
The victory won by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) in India’s seventeenth general election was historic.
It marked the first time since 1971 that a sitting prime minister returned
to power winning an outright majority in two consecutive elections, and
it was a triumph whose scale and comprehensiveness stunned even the
most veteran observers. The BJP decimated the Indian National Congress. Having long dominated Indian national politics, Congress is now
a shadow of its former self, reduced to less than a tenth of Parliament.
A handful of statistics illustrate the extent of BJP dominance. Of 191
head-to-head contests between the BJP and Congress, the BJP won 175.
Moreover, the average BJP candidate’s winning margin thickened from
16 to 20 percent between the previous election in 2014 and 2019.1 The
BJP also weakened the hold of the various regional parties that have
been significant players in Indian politics since the 1990s.
With this victory, the BJP has firmly established itself as the leading
national political party, ushering in a new phase in Indian politics best
characterized as “India’s second dominant party system.”2 The BJP’s
path to dominance began with its 2014 victory; the 2019 win signals
that this dominance is now complete. How did the BJP achieve this, and
what does the 2019 election teach us about the dynamics of India’s new
dominant party? Finally, what implications does this victory hold for
governance and politics over the next five years?
Analysts have identified money power, organizational strength flowing from embeddedness in the larger Hindu-nationalist movement, and
the right-wing populist politics practiced by the prime minister as pillars
of the BJP’s electoral success. An important but sometimes overlooked
aspect of that populist politics is the BJP’s approach to welfare policy.
Here, the Modi-led BJP mixes left-wing populism in favor of the poor
Journal of Democracy Volume 30, Number 4 October 2019
© 2019 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press
Yamini Aiyar
79
with right-wing cultural majoritarianism (about four-fifths of all Indians
are Hindus, and the BJP claims to speak for Hindu concerns and interests).
Welfare programs—strategically deployed—are important instruments through which Modi has secured moral legitimacy and voter trust.
In this sense, Modi’s welfare politics is linked to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist (or Hindutva) hegemonic project. In order to understand India’s
new party system and the character of the hegemony that it tends to
maintain, it is thus important to study the dynamics of welfare politics.
The BJP’s quest for political dominance is not just about power in
the narrow institutional sense. The BJP is a Hindu-nationalist party that
was founded in 1980 (with forerunners going back decades earlier) by
the larger Hindu-nationalist movement whose backbone is the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps or RSS, founded in
1925). The BJP’s quest for power, therefore, has to be understood in
the context of its larger ideological project of asserting the hegemony of
Hindutva. As Suhas Palshikar argues, the second dominant party system
is about a new set of dominant ideas and sensibilities.
In 2014, the Modi-led BJP ran against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on a platform promising improved
governance, development, and growth. Hindu-majoritarian themes were
present, but used selectively. The slogans “maximum governance, minimum government” and “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development with
all, for all) were emblematic of the campaign. This approach helped
to create a perception, widely held at the time, that the BJP was seeking a broad-based electoral legitimacy that would temper its ideological
project. Once the BJP reached power, however, the ideological project
gained prominence.
Under Modi, the BJP’s brand of Hindu nationalism acquired a new
character. First, it successfully conflated Hindutva with a wider, grander
notion of nationalism linked to national pride, national security, and
India’s ambition to become a world power. In this formulation, as Palshikar argues, being a nationalist is equated with being a Hindu, and
vice-versa.3 Second, Hindu nationalism became inextricably linked to
Modi’s carefully crafted image as a strong, decisive leader who guards
the nation.4 The 2019 election campaign is best understood as a continuation of this project as it strives for full hegemony.
Modi went into the 2019 campaign with an approval rating above 50
percent, and then bolstered his standing with his response to the February 2019 terrorist attack in the Kashmir Valley. He ordered an air strike
against Pakistan, sending Mirage 2000 jets on February 26 to hit targets
near the village of Balakot in eastern Pakistan, where Indian intelligence
claimed active terrorist camps were located. “We will kill them [terrorists] by barging into their house,” Modi told a March 4 rally, just weeks
before the official start of campaigning (voting began on April 11).5
National security went on to become a dominant campaign theme,
Journal of Democracy
80
giving Modi and his party what analysts called the “Balakot bump” in
public-opinion surveys. The episode emboldened BJP leaders to embrace Hindu-majoritarian rhetoric and to conflate it with national security, thus lending the project enhanced emotive appeal. Amit Shah, the
BJP’s president and chief strategist, said at a May 4 election rally that
the air strike caused consternation in the headquarters of Congress and
other opposition parties because they were worried that they might lose
their hold on the Muslim vote. “If Pakistan fires a bullet,” he warned,
“we will bomb them.”6
Sensing the opportunity to entrench Hindu majoritarianism, in his
speeches Shah reminded voters of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which offers fast-track citizenship to members of six religious groups. Muslims are conspicuously omitted. The CAB, if passed,
will reshape the norms of Indian citizenship, introducing religion into this
area in a way not heretofore recognized by the constitution. But the clearest articulation of the ideological stakes came from Modi himself in his
victory speech, where he declared “fake secularism and its leaders . . .
have been exposed and have fallen silent over the past five years.”7
Postelection surveys show the Hindu vote consolidating behind the
BJP. From 2014 to 2019, the party’s support among all Hindus rose
from 36 to 44 percent. It improved its showing not only among uppercaste Hindus (the traditional RSS base) but also among groups such as
Dalits, the “Other Backward Classes,” and Adivasis (tribals).8 In the
eyes of the BJP leadership, therefore, this election victory was undoubtedly a win for Hindutva.
For students of Indian politics who seek to understand the BJP’s
electoral success, this quest for Hindutva hegemony poses a challenge.
Ideological battles are about more than election rallies and speeches,
as important as those are. Parties utilize a range of tools to elicit popular consent and legitimacy. Understanding hegemonic projects requires
delineating these tools and studying the role that they play in securing
legitimacy. In the BJP’s case, what are those tools and what role have
they played in ensuring its electoral triumph?
Modi and the “Three M’s”
Since 2014, Modi and the BJP have built an image of the prime
minister as a larger-than-life figure driven by a tireless, selfless zeal to
protect the nation. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes, Modi “has crafted a
way of being everywhere: He managed to colonise our imaginations, our
fantasies, hopes and fears.”9 It has been through this careful crafting of
his persona that Modi has secured moral legitimacy. The keys to achieving this have been what political scientist Tariq Thachil calls “the three
M’s”: money, media, and mobilization.
Throughout the 2019 campaign, Modi and the three M’s were on full
Yamini Aiyar
81
display. The Centre for Media Studies found that the BJP outspent Congress heavily, accounting for about half the total campaign spending
while Congress did no more than a fifth of it.10 This money was used to
manage the message and control large sections of the media as well as to
expand the BJP’s organizational footprint. During the run-up to the election, the BJP appointed approximately one party worker for each fifty voters. These workers leveraged social-media tools, particularly WhatsApp,
to promote the BJP narrative. Recognizing Modi’s popularity, the BJP
put his image front and center. Party strategists said repeatedly that their
campaign “strategy” could be expressed in one word: Modi.
Modi used every campaign platform (speeches at rallies, media interviews, advertisements) to reinforce his self-presentation as a hardworking, tough leader, risen from poverty, who was giving his all to
keep the nation safe. “Up close and personal” interviews are rare in
Indian politics, so when Modi gave one to Bollywood film star Akshay
Kumar in late April, it drew wide notice. This interview was used to reinforce Modi’s image. The prime minister told Kumar that he slept only
three or four hours a night.
Modi’s conflation of grand-narrative nationalism with Hindutva went
together with the idea that India needs a strong leader to guard it and
lead it to global power. And who better than Modi—a man ready to
barge into the enemy’s home when needed—to act as such a leader?
Modi’s persona had become inextricably bound up with the ideological
project of Hindu nationalism.
To understand the BJP’s broadening voter base, political scientists
Pradeep K. Chhibber and Rahul Verma used data from the 2019 National Election Survey (collected by the New Delhi–based Centre for
the Study of Developing Societies) to create a statistical model to study
the specific characteristics and ideological proclivities of the “new” BJP
voters, defined as those who began voting for the BJP after Modi became the prime-ministerial candidate.11 Chhibber and Verma find that
these voters are more likely to favor a majoritarian view of democracy—
they believe that democracy is about imposing the will of the majority,
with minorities expected to adapt and conform. Such voters are equally
likely to endorse Hindu nationalism.
The religiosity of these new voters (defined as their likelihood of
practicing religion [Hinduism]) was less tightly correlated with their
decision to vote for the BJP. This suggests that the Modi approach of
conflating Hindutva with nationalism (as distinguished from associating Hindutva with a sense of personal religiosity) helped to bring new
voters to the BJP. In other words, Hindutva as nationalism attracted an
electorate beyond those who had been moved by Hindutva as religion.
Modi’s ideological sway with voters must also be understood against
the backdrop of Congress’s campaign, which carefully avoided offering
voters an ideological counterpoint to the BJP’s Hindutva. The Congress
Journal of Democracy
82
manifesto omitted any direct references to the idea of secularism. Instead,
Congress focused its campaign on promising voters a new welfare scheme
(known as NYAY) while seeking to dent Modi’s image with charges of
corruption. Absent any defense of a secularist alternative, voters chose to
identify with Modi’s Hindutva. The BJP’s share even of the Muslim vote
held steady at 8 percent across the 2014 and 2019 elections.
The BJP’s Welfare Agenda
Modi’s persona, its inextricable link with Hindutva, and its electoral
relevance have been widely discussed. One instrument that has been
recognized for its importance in this election but poorly understood is
the government’s welfare agenda. Modi’s first government turned out
to be far more welfarist than had been expected given the 2014 BJP
campaign’s talk of “minimum government.” From 2016 to 2019, the
government promoted schemes to provide housing, sanitation, health
insurance, roads, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections, and nofrills bank accounts for the poor. In response to growing unrest among
farmers, a new scheme providing cash transfers to poor farmers was
launched a month before the official start of the 2019 campaign.
These schemes gained wide recognition among voters. Analysis of
the postelection 2019 National Election Survey highlights that a larger
share of voters identified themselves as beneficiaries of the BJP governing coalition’s signature programs than had ever done so with regard
to the programs of the Congress-led coalition (known for its expansive
welfarism) that governed between 2004 and 2014. Modi himself said in
his victory speech that leftists “may [have] offered many ideas,” but that
his was “the first government, which does not have the label of the left
but it provided pension[s] for 40 crore [400 million] people, the unorganised labourers, and gave them a respectable life.”12
Throughout the election campaign, the government’s welfare programs repeatedly made headlines for their scale and reach. It was not
the speeches of BJP leaders that sparked the coverage—instead, voters
and ground-level party workers had repeatedly mentioned the programs
while talking with journalists. There is little credible evidence regarding the effectiveness of these schemes and their socioeconomic impact.
Their scale and reach, however, are visible. Chhibber and Verma find
that while there is a high correlation between receiving welfare benefits
and voting for the BJP, the effect of receiving benefits becomes neglible
after one controls for factors such as Hindu nationalism. But politics is
about perceptions, and there is little argument that welfare schemes had
become emblematic of the first Modi government and formed an important part of the election narrative.
In the early years of the BJP government’s first term, welfare was not
a priority. Aside from the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) toilet-building
Yamini Aiyar
83
campaign and a new pension scheme, there were no big welfare programs in Modi’s first two budgets. In 2015, the BJP’s first full year in
office, intergovernmental fiscal reforms had led to an overall drop in
federal welfare spending.
Politically, welfare policy posed a challenge for Modi and the BJP.
The BJP’s predecessor in office, the UPA government, had made
welfare its signature issue, spending its decade in power expanding
India’s welfare architecture. To set his own government apart, Modi
needed a new grammar for welfare. In 2014, he charged that Congress was about “entitlement” (doles and handouts). In early 2015, he
called its largest welfare program, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), “a living monument to
Congress failure.”13 The BJP, he said, was for “empowerment” linked
to opportunities and aspirations. Palshikar refers to this narrative as
“a new developmentalism” that sought to complement Modi’s Hindumajoritarian position.
Once the BJP took office, the opposition identified the lack of emphasis on welfare as a weak point. In February 2015, the BJP lost the
election in Delhi State. In April, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi charged
Modi with running a government for the “suited and booted.” In November, the BJP lost another election, this time in the poverty-stricken
and populous northeastern state of Bihar, home to more than a hundredmillion people.
These successive defeats pushed the BJP to change its approach. Talk
of a “new developmentalism” was abandoned. Instead, the government
took up a medley of welfare policies (implemented through government
schemes and programs) bearing a much closer resemblance to traditional redistributive welfarism than to the aspiration of “empowerment”
articulated by the BJP’s 2014 campaign. By 2016, the welfare budget
had expanded, and Modi began recasting himself as the “gareebon ka
neta” (the leader of the poor). During the run-up to the 2017 election in
Uttar Pradesh (India’s largest state, with twice the population of Bihar),
the BJP’s welfarist appeal was highly audible and visible. As Prashant
Jha has detailed, two specific policies—one to provide LPG cylinders
to women, and another to enable poor people to have no-frills bank accounts—were touted as major factors in the BJP’s electoral success.
Both programs had been launched by Congress, but their scale-up dated
to 2016.14
The BJP’s welfare schemes reflected Modi’s persona. They featured
loud, grand announcements, ambitious targets, and tightly centralized
monitoring. And here lay their genius. Many schemes that are now identified with the Modi-led BJP government’s welfare agenda were already
part of the broad basket of programs that make up the welfare state in
India, and many had been launched in the UPA years. For instance,
the program to open no-frills bank accounts for the poor was started in
Journal of Democracy
84
2005. What the BJP did was to take old schemes and “Modi-fy” them by
announcing ambitious targets, scaling the programs up, and accelerating
implementation.
Modi and the Voter
But more than the policies themselves, what distinguished Modi’s approach to welfare was the presentation and handling of them in ways that
enhanced the Modi persona. Policies that the government said had priority
had the initials PM (for “Prime Minister”) added as a prefix before their
names, suggesting the idea of a connection between Modi himself and the
beneficiaries. Most flagship schemes directly provided private goods (housing, toilets, cooking-gas cylinders, pensions, cash income) rather than diffuse public goods such as education. Whether this was part of a grand vision
for welfare or careful political strategy will remain a matter of speculation,
but this choice of schemes allowed for the establishment of a convenient,
direct relationship between “Modi” and the voter. Reporting from the 2019
campaign recounted many citizens describing how they had received benefits from “Modi” rather than from the government or even the ruling party.
Modi’s ability to claim this direct connection with beneficiaries was
enhanced by improved technology. Under the UPA, the claim that technology could help India to fight chronic inefficiency and corruption in welfare programs had gained traction. In 2009, the UPA government launched
Aadhaar, a program to create a unique–personal-identification system that
would include all Indians. This, it was argued, would help to ensure that
benefits reached the right person. Aided by Aadhaar, the UPA government
in its last two years began experimenting with Direct Benefit Transfers
(DBT), a scheme designed to cut through administrative layers by transferring government subsidies straight to the bank accounts of individual
citizens. The UPA left office with these projects still in their nascent stage.
Modi is known for his love of efficiency and fascination with technology, so it is no surprise that the government he leads has embraced
large-scale technological solutions. Modi’s first term saw scale-ups of
Aadhaar and DBT. This created an opportunity to reinforce the “direct
link to the prime minister” concept, as benefits were flowing from the
national government’s coffers (or Modi himself, as was publicized) to
citizens’ bank accounts. Implementation has been far from perfect, but
beneficiaries remain more impressed by the Modi persona than disappointed by service breakdowns.
Technology enables centralization, another Modi tool. India is a federal country. Constitutionally, the responsibility for core welfare provision rests with state governments. Yet successive national governments,
run by different parties, have encroached on constitutional limits by
financing welfare schemes directly and centralizing welfare priorities.
The states, however, were responsible for implementation. State govern-
Yamini Aiyar
85
ments have long complained about these schemes, but have also recognized their political value: If a state government implements a welfare
program well, credit can be taken at election time. This is how the federal balance was maintained.
Over the past five years, this has changed. Technology not only allows the national government to deal directly with citizens, but also
allows direct monitoring of implementation, without the involvement of
state-level authorities. As welfare programs gained political salience for
the BJP, it became common for senior federal officials to monitor progress by videoconferencing with administrators on the ground. This may
be efficient, but it goes against federal practice: District administrators
answer to state governments, so by convention, direct communication
between these bureaucrats and New Delhi is (or was) discouraged.
In the year leading up to the 2019 election, this direct communication
increased. The national government sent officials to “raise awareness”
of central-government welfare schemes in different parts of the country. The prime minister himself even took part in a videoconference,
speaking personally with district magistrates (local administrators) and
individual beneficiaries. In 2018, a new program called “Aspirational
Districts” was announced. It was meant to speed up welfare-related activities in select districts, with direct monitoring from New Delhi.
In the 1980s, the Congress-led government of Prime Minister Rajiv
Gandhi had tried directly communicating with provincial-level administrators. Loud protests ensued. Decades later, the Modi government faced
muted protests, at most. One reason for this was that through much of its
first term in government, the BJP held power in a large number of states,
including many of the northern, poorer states, where welfare schemes
are most relevant. Centralized implementation proved politically effective: According to Chhibber and Verma, postelection poll data show that
Modi-era beneficiaries were far more likely to credit the central government for welfare programs than beneficiaries had been under the UPA.
The final element in the BJP’s approach to welfare was its groundlevel party organization. After coming to power in 2014, the BJP had begun expanding its grassroots presence and building agile organizational
machinery. As mentioned, in preparation for the 2019 general election,
BJP workers were deployed to “raise awareness.” This is why journalists began hearing so much at the constituency level about the popularity
of Modi’s welfare programs.
In a story gathered from different states across North India, journalist
Vandita Mishra reported that party workers were going house to house
reminding residents of Modi’s role in bringing them benefits.15 Such
mobilization activities reinforced Modi’s “brand” and built trust in his
stewardship. The BJP activists even found ways to turn tales of the corruption and inefficiency that plague India’s welfare programs to political advantage. Those who were still waiting for promised benefits were
Journal of Democracy
86
urged to “trust Modi.” If voters returned Modi to power, went a common
refrain heard by reporters, “our house and toilet” would arrive.16
As this account suggests, the Modi government’s welfare agenda and
its role in shaping voter choices need to be understood in the context of the
BJP’s grander ideological project. The welfare strategy was more than just
one of the government’s policy tools. Instead, it was carefully deployed
as part of a strategy to enhance Modi’s persona, promote trust in him, and
augment his moral legitimacy in the eyes of voters. The point here is not to
make a case regarding the effectiveness or socioeconomic impact of welfare programs—those are topics for a different essay. Rather, it is to understand the relationship between welfare and the BJP’s quest for hegemony.
Welfare politics is an important ingredient in the BJP’s unique brand of
populism and the character of the hegemony that it seeks to maintain.
The Next Five Years
Now that the BJP has been reelected, and with a bigger majority than
before, what does this new phase of India’s “second dominant party system” hold for governance and welfare politics? Given the importance of
welfare in the BJP’s political narrative, centralized welfarism is here to
stay. One of the new government’s first decisions, made soon after the
election concluded in May, was to expand the income-support scheme
for farmers to cover all farmers, not

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