First-time voters in Delhi assembly election | Photo: ThePrint
First-time voters in Delhi assembly election | Photo: ThePrint
Text Size:

There was a time, not long ago, when we used to be told about how the Indian voter is “aspirational”. The Indian voter’s expectations and aspirations were so high that most governments in power were voted out.

This phenomenon was explained with a term unique to Indian politics — “anti-incumbency”. The incumbent could run a decent government but would face a natural disadvantage in the elections by virtue of being an incumbent. And no incumbent could deliver on the Indian voter’s sky-high expectations.

Narendra Modi tapped into the Indian voter’s desire to jump through the hurdles of prosperity in 2014. The most memorable of his ideas were to bring back all Indian black money stashed abroad, build the world’s tallest statue, make the country’s first bullet train, create one crore jobs and double farmers’ income.

Only of one those dreams has come true — the most useless one, a statue.

The mystery is that the Indian voter has suddenly stopped being aspirational. The voter’s contention is that she doesn’t have a better leader than Narendra Modi to consider. That’s all very well. Nobody — not even the Congress party — is asking you to seriously consider Rahul Gandhi for the prime minister’s office. But that doesn’t explain why people don’t aspire anymore.


Also read: Dear Narendra Modi, please suspend your PR for just two years and focus on India


Bullet train to nowhere 

The best metaphor for Modi’s failure is the bullet train that’s far from becoming reality in six long years. Instead, today regular trains can’t run because Prime Minister Modi has failed miserably to curb the spread of a communicable disease that even Rahul Gandhi had issued an early warning about. When trains do run, as in for migrant labourers, they reach some place totally different from their destination.

It would be funny if it weren’t sad. What’s more bizarre than ‘lost’ trains is how the Indian voter is so content to be taken for a ride. Perhaps, the Indian voter’s aspiration was not to travel fast in bullet speed but to slow down time. Indians have lived in poverty for centuries, what’s another few decades?

Usually, the government has to make excuses for failure. In India, it is the opposite today. It is people who make excuses for the government’s failure. The more Narendra Modi fails, the more he succeeds. You can fact-check the government’s claim but how do you tell the truth to a people so willing to lie to themselves?


Also read: Mourn idea of India, but don’t forget that the idea of people is changing too


Daddy, I don’t want anything 

The Indian voter doesn’t stand up and ask Narendra Modi, whatever happened to Digital India? Where’s all that fibre optic? Where are those online clinics helping rural India cope with the paucity of doctors? How will children get online education when they don’t have smartphones, laptops, or data packs? And how will parents get them the gadgets when they are losing jobs, getting salary cuts, being pushed back into poverty?

Such people blame themselves, and sometimes die by suicide. In the BM era, Before Modi, people had the expectation that the government will solve their problems. Today people are happy with slogans, and content even when they are lied to.

It’s all very well that Modi plays a father figure to the voter, but children also have expectations of their parents. You don’t need surveys, elections or media to sense that Indians seem at peace with -23.9 per cent GDP contraction, job losses and a stand-off with China. Mere faith in Modi doesn’t explain this zen state of the Indian voter amid a historic diminution of India’s hopes. This strange disappearance of the desire to scale heights is a mystery.


Also read: Fort Modi is impregnable despite China, Covid, job losses. Only one leader can defeat him


Impossible is everything 

It is a cop-out to blame the coronavirus pandemic for our ills. Growth has been falling so consistently since demonetisation in 2016 that even data fudging can’t hide it. Not that Modi has been able to give a hisaab-kitaab of how much black money was recovered through demonetisation, either. It’s not as if the bullet train was almost complete before Covid came along.

The pandemic itself is also a great example of how Indians don’t want good governance anymore. When it became clear that speedy, widespread testing was necessary to curb the spread of Covid, Indians defended low testing rates by telling themselves that it was impossible to test everyone. In Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus originated, the Chinese government tested every single resident for Covid in May. Today, they’re partying without masks.

Indians have now replaced their go-getter spirit of the early 2000s with the word ‘impossible’.


Also read: Congress can remind voters it knows how to rule. But Rahul Gandhi must own UPA success first


Sab maya hai 

One explanation for the death of aspirations is that Modi has persuaded the Indian voter to think of the nation, not herself. How is that the Indian voter can’t see that the nation isn’t doing very well either? How is it that the Indian voter doesn’t even get offended when she is told the Indian economy hasn’t performed the worst, but only the second-worst among the major economies?

Once upon a time, the Indian voter was told that a rural jobs programme was a symbol of failure of the BM era. Today, the government is said to be planning to expand the guaranteed jobs scheme to urban India. And yet, we will all watch with rapt attention and watch Modi the performer say, ‘Sab changa si’. All is well.

How is it that the Indian voter thinks India has become a global power thanks to Modi when even brotherly Nepal is waging border disputes with India? What is the Indian voter smoking to not be so agitated when the prime minister lies about Chinese aggression, and when we don’t even know how much Indian territory China has recently taken?

When we felt the Indian voter was aspirational, we thought the aspirations were material. It turns out the Indian voter’s aspiration was merely to get a national baba delivering sermons and convincing them, sab maya hai. It is all an illusion.

The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

44 Comments Share Your Views

44 COMMENTS

  1. It is extremely amusing to witness the comical despair of a Lutyens babu. Indians just turned out to be far smarter than you bargained for. As Shekhar Gupta sums up the popular assessment in another The Print article, Indians know there are endless problems. but they understand one thing you can never understand: ” It takes time cleaning up the mess of “seventy years”.

  2. Yeah, very depressing state indeed!
    Please correct the second-worst bit. the graph you referred is incorrect. US figures are annualised making it incomparable. India has the worst figures

  3. Excellently put Shivam! Congress govts had underperformed so badly on most counts and set so low standards unfortunately that Indians seemingly are finding more confidence in BJP and Modiji. Lack of any other viable option only exacerbates this. Tend to think how
    weak our democracy and us have been that unfortunately we don’t even have 1 viable alternative . Unless BJP goofs up horribly, don’t see this change in the next 10 years.

  4. Even a cat has nine lives. Let’s see if Modi can surpass that. The tragedy is of a wasted opportunity- both for him and the country.

  5. Some more about your “aspirational” voter: “Look around the little cooperative societies we live in. In a country where even Corporates find it difficult to enforce contracts, the ability of a Cooperative Association to enforce rules and regulations is nonexistent. And since we know this, we question any and every decision of our Association’s office-bearers; we refuse to pay our maintenance charges; we refuse to contribute to the lift-maintenance or replacement costs because we live on the ground floor; we refuse to pay for a common facility because we do not use that particular facility; we will resist cleaning up after our pets if we can get away with it; we will violate architectural integrity by changing our facades, enclosing our balconies, or painting the front in every conceivable colour; we will refuse to pay fines … the list goes on. Any AGM of any cooperative society would put some of our more shrill TV anchors to shame. We know that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – that the housing cooperative societies can do against our free-loading on the system. To call them ‘cooperative’ societies is an oxymoron, for all the cooperation one witnesses therein. In short, we are a selfish people without community spirit.” Does your “aspirational” voter aspire to live so corrupt a life like this? Pity you call such people “aspirational.”

    Such unruly people, such ungovernable place! I have a few questions for you now, and I would give it straight to you.: With this kind of people, DO YOU EVEN HAVE A COUNTRY? HOW CAN YOU CALL INDIA A COUNTRY? WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF A COUNTRY?

  6. Indians have always been delusional – one just needs a “pied Piper” to convincingly bring out such mass delusion. Look at our movies – for years together we have justified them by telling ourselves that they help us forget our worldly sorrows. Delusional Indian families force gay men and women to get married to unsuspecting straight people, they kill women who dare to choose their life-partners to save so-called family “honour”. Ultra religious Indians will froth at the mouth to any slight to their religion but will lie, cheat and kill without a second thought and justify it as “protecting their God”. Deluded Indians think they can protect God! The Indian mind is a rich and fertile ground for delusion, Modi is just demonstrating his mastery over the art. Delusion makes people happy, when confronted with reality they become angry for a while till someone else comes along with more cool-aid. Relax Shivam – yahi hota aaya hai aur yahi hota rahega.

  7. “Shoe I am ” you STUPIDO. Before my regime who’s face was MAUNWRAT.

    1) Flats which costed 15 lakhs by the end of 2 tenures of my government were costing 85 to 90 lakhs.

    2) Genuine buyers couldn’t afford buying houses. But construction activities were given huge loans through PHONE BANKING. To create a fake boom in economic activities and ultimately you see how construction loans have become bad debts.

    3) I created this crisis through my Government using MAUNWRAT. Now please write how MODIJI should be blamed for our mess.

    4) We kept INDIA weak by refusing to equip INDIAN ARMED FORCES and promoting undereducated jhollawallas who destroyed real growth further by their antics. Hence now when now Chinese are aggressive we are busy criticising MODIJI as if the Chinese are fighting MODIJI and not INDIA. Isn’t it a smart move.

    3) Well continue to stay at home and write stupid articles. ” THE CHAPPAI ” is a great forum for SUPPORTERS of RIOTERS and anti HINDU fake propagandist.

    • The growth Modi has given is a continuous decline in the GDP atleast since 2018 first quarter. He has broken the back of the Indian economy by his tughlaqi decision of demonitization. He messed up the Rafael deal by reducing number of aircraft from 124 to 36. The IAF now needs to make up using older generation aircraft recently Modi ordered from Russia. Was there *any* benefit from *his* version of the Rafael deal? Not to the IAF which got the first delivery of the aircraft in the same time frame they would have got with the earlier deal. But definitely some benefit to one certain Ambani. And when at it, check the increase in the wealth of elder Ambani and Adani since the golden year of 2014. Atleast someone got to see Acche Din.

      Meanwhile do share how many smart cities we currently have, that promise of 15 lacs, the bullet train while normal trains get lost on the way, the employment scene even before the COVID issue with highest unemployment in last 45 years and the list goes on. That’s the progress your Modi has given the country. Any other PM will be better for the country since he will definitely let professionals and institutions do their job. No one can’t be as bad as Modi, who wants to run or manage everything himself – from RBI to fighter aircraft going to POK to drop a bomb.

  8. One good thing is nobody believes the trash you spew out and that’s the reason you are angry. It gives me great pleasure to see your frustration boil over. Senseless criticism while we are in the middle of the worst pandemic in living memory. We see how hard PM Modi is working and we want him to continue no matter how many lies you state.

  9. “No government could ever be good enough for the aspirational voter”, but he does get the government he deserves! Democracy ensures that there is no escaping from that! Have you ever thought why this aspirational voter is so stupid as to elect goons? Is ” ….. doesn’t have a better leader than Narendra Modi to consider” a reason to elect the goons? Can they even think? If he can’t discriminate between what is good, and what is not-so-good, and doesn’t have any sense of fairness, then why should he have a right to vote? An aspiration voter with such active ignorance is a very dangerous thing! They can destroy the country, and not even know! They gave Trump to America. India is lucky that Trump hasn’t happened to it.

    • Actually something much worse than Trump has happened to India. And you rightly stated the very weakness of a democratic system. In a country like India where 95% of the population does not even have a college degree, how do u expect a very ill informed and semi-educated voter to even vote for what’s best for the country. He will probably vote for somebody that most closely resembles him. Through into that a mix a huge marketing budget where you bombard the voter with false advertising and claim even your failures to be successes and now you have something very toxic. Ask yourself who would most Indian voters vote for- a highly educated and suave individual like Shashi Tharoor or somebody who Is constantly caught lying but is adept at fooling the semi literate Indian public like Modi . Therein lies the fault in our system.

  10. The “aspirational Indian” has been incapacitated by constantly telling her that she is ineffective unless the authorities keep feeding her with never ending benefits and concessions.

    Just saying

    • Officers in armed forces are eligible for facilities like free schooling to children, free medical facilities to dependents, Canteen facilities, loan facilities, excellent accommodation, free air tickets for you and all your family anywhere in India once in a year. Memberships to various clubs, gyms and golf courses are absolutely so cheap that they are as good as free. I guess you are suggesting that these benefits and concession have made armed forces ineffective. Just saying.

      • @ Ida . Very appropriate. Indian privileged section look at their privileges as given and a matter of right. But always bitter about basic doles to underprivileged voters . Their cheap rice, cylinders etc.

  11. What happened to the Aspirational Indian?
    Unbeknown to those mired in Congress culture, the aspirational Indian had undergone a renaissance.
    The aspirational Indians discovered that in order to help their aspirations grow they need to kick out the Congress, the Congress way of thinking and the entire baggage of useless parasites that it had spawned.
    The aspirational Indian discovered that in order to achieve any aspiration it was important to let Modi do the cleaning up.
    The aspirational Indian firmly stands behind Modi and the Modi government.

  12. Thankfully the Indian voter is more intelligent than pseudo journalists like you. For self professed intellectuals like you, its always a mystery why people do not behave how you want them to. You believe in democracy only as long as it results reflect your views.
    Keep dreaming in cuckoo land!

  13. Why is it that our media has lost its journalistic nous and now peddles the aforesaid article as journalism with an universal exception: the views stated are personal. Is it to escape the hard work of actual checking facts? It so appears from the afore-drawn article. No mention of the second round of state elections that point out that people are growing disillusioned with agenda peddled by this govt. No mention of the fact that the lack of effective opposition to PM Modi is allowing this govt to get away with a lot that it wouldn’t normally. No mention that effective opposition at state level is showing BJP it’s deficiencies in various states. Also, fall even precipitous over one quarter during an ongoing pandemic shall not rally out any of the so called ANTI-incumbency, but lack of any plan going forward henceforth or failing to implement one shall! Besides, with elections four years how does writer gauge mood of the voters to write such self-righteous article. We are furious but owing to unprecedented situation will stand by our govt … for the time being. But should this govt stoop even lower than our own resident idiot. Well, even Zail Singh made to being President of India and who can forget Rabri Devi. So pappu will have his chance to practice his Yechuri-ism.

  14. Again a very well written analysis. But I cant understand why you wrote ……even Rahul Ghandi warned…….? Why that “even”? Is he so irrelevant in India’s politics of today. I am not a RG bhakt, but he keeps the momentum on the attack of the present government and its inefficiency in dealing with many of the problems the common man faces. Being said that I agree at times he might sound a bit immature.

  15. Lost. Listless. Some of the words the New York Times is using for the Indian Dream. Fantastic, World Cup winning team that has forgotten how to score runs, take wickets. Their caps and jerseys are colour coordinated.

  16. When nothing you try to deconstruct Modi works, lets blame the voter! How elitist can you get?

    Its astonishing how somebody can dig his way to depth of silliness and still continue as a journalist!

  17. All you need to do is think rationally. People have not stopped being aspirational, but they can see government making effort, unlike the previous ones which were totally disconnected from people. There are lots of improvement in electricty, road and other basic amenties, which author seems to have ignored.

  18. The aspirational Indian is brainwashed daily by a most effective IT Cell using techniques from behavioral psychology. The constraint stream of memes; jokes on opposition members; eulogies of the leader; short lectures on patriotism, selflessness supposedly written by well meaning gurus, people from armed forces, doctors. etc; astonishingly well made short films on a revised history;and so on and so forth. It’s the classical strength of the far right and fascist forces. This whole operation works like a very well oiled machine, and one can encounter atleast one member in each group who can be counted on to share a constant stream of these forwards, without questioning or even basic attempt to verify the content of the forward.

    There are a few who do question this content or don’t buy the argument. However increasingly it appears risky for this minority to raise their opinion in the group.

    I think Shah was bang on when he claimed before 2019 elections that if they manage to win that election the BJP will be in power for 50 years.

    • Exactly. Propaganda machinery they have unleashed is simply awesome and unbeatable. Hindu Rashtra, reservationists at bay, daily WWE/ RAW show on prime time tv, what more indian Hindu’s should ask for? Acche din aa gaye.

  19. You guys just need to accept that Arnab and his ilk are the makers and shapers of public opinion. When Arnab was promoting India against Corruption, the whole nation was angry against the then establishment.
    Today, everyone hates Rhea from their guts!

    It’s not at all a mystery why people aren’t angry about GDP fall. It’s just that Shivam Vij does not want to acknowledge the power of mainstream TV news to shape public opinion. Your articles in The Print don’t matter at all.

    Jiska Arnab usika public. Simple!

  20. Another dishonest article by Vij.

    Another reason that Modi keeps winning is that his perennial critics are not just delusional but also dishonest with themselves.

  21. Sir,
    I disagree with you. Indian youth has aspirations & is disappointed.

    Par Vote kisko kare? Aapko? Kyunki congress to is layak rahi nahi

    • True sir
      Same feeling!
      Am seriously not happy with the way this government is behaving, but definitely the nation can’t go back to the left parties or congress

  22. Nice article written by someone who has obviously no understanding of how politics works in India. Lots of words written, all skimping the obvious elephant in the room. If not Modi, who? Rahul? You gotta be joking. That ain’t gonna happen till that silver spooned offspring shows some administrative and management capabilities which he can easily do by becoming a CM in any Cong ruled state. Now we all know he won’t stoop so low as to accept a CM position. So if not the Congress then who? Except the left parties none of the other parties have any semblance of inra party democracy and most of the country is against dynasts. Indian voters are aspirational, it’s the lack of political choices that this article should have concentrated more on. My suggestion to the author, do a root cause analysis before you attempt your next article trying to breakdown a problem next time.

  23. It is due to a lot of welfare schemes and numerous schemes for benefit of people and making their life easy. So his all promises did not become reality. But he has worked hard to deliver them. The tall promises being made by him is of course election gimmick which opposition also do. The voter mostly believe his promises.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here