How the World’s Largest Democratic Election Changed the Future of Hinduism for Decades
BY PANDIT VAMADEVA SHASTRI
INDIA IS BY FAR THE WORLD’S LARGEST DEMOCRACY. TO put this into perspective, India has a population greater than North and South America combined, while in size it is comparable to all of Europe. Because of this complexity, India’s elections take place in seven phases over a period of more than a month. The ability to regularly conduct such an enormous task is amazing and requires extensive planning and resources.
The only other country with a comparable population, China, has no similar democratic tradition. In the entire region, only Hindu-majority India has a robust democratic tradition. Many would attribute this to Hindu pluralism, which honors many paths and has built a tremendous cultural diversity over thousands of years.
Yet India’s 2019 election was monumental in many ways. First of all, it produced a clear national winner in a resounding victory. This is unusual in India, which has been dominated by coalition governments owing to its many regional political parties. In 2019 a single national party, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) won more than 300 of the 543 seats, a majority on its own. And with its alliance partners, over three hundred and fifty seats were secured, nearly a two-thirds majority.
India voted in a remarkable consensus for the sitting prime minister, Sri Narendra Modi. His first victory, in 2014—only slightly less spectacular—was a win that most felt could not be repeated. Such a one-sided national vote for two consecutive terms had not been achieved since the time of Indira Gandhi decades ago. Indian voters usually have strong anti-incumbency sentiments, but in this case the incumbent Modi gained electorally.
Lord Shiva and the Hindu Vote
The 2019 election featured the largest number of politicians visiting Hindu temples during their campaigns, including politicians who had rarely visited temples in the past. PM Narendra Modi, a dedicated Shiva bhaktar, has done this throughout his career. Recognizing this as an important factor in his popularity, the other politicians decided to imitate him. Being Hindu has become a matter of pride and respect in India, while not long ago very few politicians would call themselves Hindu without giving some apology or qualification. Clearly, the appeal to Hindu sentiments did not pay off electorally for the parties that suddenly adopted it merely as a political ploy.
The presence of Lord Shiva towered high above the election. The magnificent Kumbha Mela held in Prayagraj from January to March, the world’s largest religious festival, was attended by over two hundred million pilgrims. Shiva as Lord of the Yogis is the central Deity form in this sacred event on the Ganga. Additional Shiva and Yoga influence included PM Modi’s promotion of International Yoga Day, which he initiated in 2015 shortly after he was first elected.
Meanwhile, Modi chose Varanasi, the famous city of Lord Shiva on the Ganga, as his own constituency again in 2019, as he did in 2014. During his first term, Modi renovated the ghats at Varanasi, did much to clean the Ganga, renovated the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the famous Shiva Jyotir Linga (the most sacred site in the city), and built a corridor to the river.
At the end of the 2019 campaign, Modi traveled to Kedarnath, the main Shiva shrine and Jyotir Linga in the Himalayas, for solitary meditation a few days before the election results were counted. The picture of the PM wrapped in orange in a cave at Kedarnath went throughout the entire country. Furthermore. Narendra Modi took his dip in the Ganga for the Kumbha Mela on February 25 wearing the color black, which is only worn for invoking Bhairava, Lord Shiva as fierce protector. The next day India retaliated on Pakistan at Balakot. Modi is openly and publicly a Shiva bhaktar.
Reactions in the Media
In contrast to India’s vote, which showed a strong sense of national unity and purpose and a renewed sense of Hindu dignity, the media responses express a fear of India’s new strength and leadership. Such voices would paint gentle, yogic Hinduism as an intolerant and divisive faith, not understanding the nuances of Sanatana Dharma that embrace the whole of life and human society.
Why is the Western media afraid of a strong India? India’s contribution to the world has been yoga, not jihad or missionary conversion. It is not an economic threat like China, and it has no history of aggression and invasions of other countries. India has the greatest cultural diversity of any country in the world, and many religious groups have taken refuge in India to escape oppression elsewhere. Meanwhile, Indians worldwide are peaceful and prosperous and do not cause any problems in their countries of their residence or travel. In short, the anti-India sentiments that arose after the BJP election victory sound more like a colonial, racist hangover than any objective analysis.
The election shows that India is rising both in terms of development, which is for all, and in terms of culture, which embraces India’s great dharmic civilization and its legacy. Hindus in India are now proud of their heritage and traditions. The economy is growing, and infrastructure is being transformed. Under Modi’s administration, the poor have been given electricity, toilets, help with housing, bank accounts and national health care. Pride in culture, religion and spirituality is also growing, extending to the new middle class. In terms of foreign policy, India is now taking its place on the world stage as a global leader, reclaiming the place it has held throughout most of history. This new resurgent India owes a great deal to PM Narendra Modi. He has become a conduit for the aspiration of the people of India.
India stands strong for a new century, regaining its vital role in the world. It is time for the West to give up its missionary, Marxist and colonialist views of India and humbly approach the eternal land of the rishis, yogis, gurus and avatars in full respect for their wisdom traditions.