Arjun Kulkarni was not a first-time voter when he went to his local polling booth in Pune in April 2014. In the 2009 general elections, aged 20 at the time, he had voted for “a neighbour” who represented Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, because “he looked solid and promising”. The candidate, whose name Kulkarni now does not recall, lost to Suresh Kalmadi from the Congress.
Five years later, Kulkarni voted for Anil Shirole of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The vote, however, was not cast for Shirole, and neither was it for his party. Kulkarni said he voted for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, in the 2014 general elections. “The BJP happens to be his party, which is a coincidence, but that was not the most important thing,” he said.
So, why Modi? “The number one reason I voted for Modi was because of the lack of a credible alternative,” said Kulkarni. “Rahul Gandhi was not an option. Arvind Kejriwal was not an option. What was the alternative? NOTA? And then what? Waiting for a cycle of uncertainty is not something I’d do. You’re just going to be stuck in a circle of no results. Rather than that, you take incremental results that Modi offers.”
The MBA graduate did not care about Modi’s controversial past as Gujarat chief minister when he went to vote for him. “It’s like this: I also fall in a vote bank. If you draw my map, I am a Hindu, upper-class, urban, service-class man. I am someone who does not care for the political side of the politician’s game. I care about what I get out of this deal. Modi gave me, individually, the more favourable deal. Just like some religious or caste-based communities have a right to be selfish about who they vote for, so do I. That’s what unfortunately it has come down to. Nobody seems to care about the entire country as a whole, which is sad,” he said.
The vision thing
Kulkarni added that it was Modi’s economics, and not his politics, that made him vote for him. “If you see the other candidates, none of them spoke a language that was interesting," he said. "Economics-wise, I think Modi’s vision was more interesting than anyone else’s.” This is why, now working as a sales executive at a multinational IT company in Mumbai, Kulkarni said he was extremely disappointed with the Union Budget 2016-’17. He went on to call it “the lowest point of this government”.
“This budget seems to grossly misunderstand how this country is structured," he said. "Either that, or it’s an indication that ‘we are not interested in changing things.' Either way, it is disappointing."
He added: “The budget made me feel marginalised. Today, I am in the same tax bracket as Anil Ambani, which is ridiculous. I am at the start of the tax bracket, while Ambani is at the fag-end, but I still pay the same tax percentage as him. There are no sops, no jobs, no schemes for me. So, I feel like a marginalised class.”
Two years into the Modi government, is Kulkarni happy with what the prime minister and his government have done? “I am not unhappy,” he said. “The leading indicators are good if you look at the numbers. The pace of getting things done has improved. There seems to be an uptick in activities and, eventually, I think the results will come. The fact that results are not visible yet is a sad outcome of the fact that efforts are being put in. Achche din are partially on track.”
The Modi government has seen its fair share of controversies in the last 24 months, the overlying theme of which has been rising intolerance in the country. However, Kulkarni has no qualms about it.
“Which political party does not engage in this type of activity?" he said. "I think the Congress had a lot more unhappy people under its government. Creating a divide between two ideologies or religions is more natural in our country than corruption. It’s easy to divide the country into Hindus and Muslims. Now, as long as they don’t fight, as long as they coexist, it’s okay. There is a structural divide in our country that you have to come to terms with. But if there is a widespread discontent where everyone is unhappy with the government, that is a problem that needs to be fixed.”
The intolerance debate
The 27-year-old executive believes that the level of outcry about divisions in society is higher now than it was before Modi came to power. “There is intolerance, but the reason for it is not the same as you would like to believe so," he said. "People are now more aware of the fact that there is discrimination. That’s not a bad thing, the realisation, but it’s just not existed as much as it does earlier. Intolerance has always existed.”
Asked what the government could be doing better, Kulkarni said, “They are not able to bring the people of this country together – that is a problem. They should also try and quell those divisive voices within the party – all those yogis and sadhvis.”
He added that he would give the Modi government a five on 10 in its two-year report card. However, if the elections were to be held again this year, Kulkarni was in no doubt that he would vote for Modi again.