If one looks beyond ‘mangalsutras’ and ‘X-Rays’, this election is turning out to be one of guarantees — ‘Modi ki guarantee’ versus Congress guarantees. It’s interesting to see how the BJP’s poll rhetoric on governance and economy has changed in the last 10 years.

In 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first bid for power at the Centre, the BJP’s election message was all about ‘minimum government, maximum governance’, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, second generation economic reform, etc. The Gujarat model was held up as a template and Modi was expected to replicate it nation-wide.

But in 2024 it’s all about guarantees. In one sense the governments in India — both at the Centre and the State levels — have turned into ‘handout’ states. The ‘handouts’ — whether it is foodgrains, gas cylinders, bicycles for girls, smartphones for women, cash, free bus rides for women — are all closely tied to the leader’s image. In one sense, Indian political leaders have turned themselves into benevolent providers of ‘welfare’.

This is truly a unique ‘Indian’ model of the welfare state. The Western conception of welfare state hinges closely with the state’s ability to provide public goods such as education, healthcare, infrastructure and justice. But in India it has taken a different hue, where the state provides ‘private’ goods to the people. One can argue that this is a reflection of the Indian state’s failure to provide quality school education and healthcare and, perhaps, that is true.

But this unique Indian model of welfare is also reflection of Indian politics, which is susceptible to personality cults with voters showing a strong preference for ‘strong leaders’. This ‘welfare model’ was perhaps birthed in Tamil Nadu, which has had a plethora of ‘Purtachi Thalaivar, Amma and Kalaignar’ schemes — ranging from school meals, health insurance and subsidised canteens. This is also a State where cinema stars became chief ministers and are still revered by the people.