The politics of vishwas: political mobilization in the 2019 national election

The politics of vishwas: political mobilization in the 2019 national election

Contemporary South Asia, 26 May 2020

In this article, I develop a model of the politics of vishwas (trust/belief). This is a form of personal politics in which voters prefer to centralize political power in a strong leader, and trust the leader to make good decisions for the polity – in contrast to the standard models of democratic accountability and issue-based politics. I argue that two factors lead to the BJP using the politics of vishwas to dominate Indian politics. First, like much of the world, there is an increasingly strong axis of conflict between those who believe in a unitary (Hindu) national identity for India and those who view India in ‘multicultural’ terms. This obliges supporters of Hindu nationalism to support political centralization to stymie federalism, which would require negotiation across regional, linguistic, caste, and religious identities. Second, the BJP’s control of media and communication with the voter, in tandem with a strong party machinery, give the party structural advantages in mobilizing voters around the messages of Narendra Modi. I find that this change in Indian politics is reflected in voter turnout behavior in India.