BJP-led NDA takes an unassailable lead with 353 out of 543 seats in the Lower House of the Indian Parliament; Congress, the only pan-India party, has been relegated to insignificance, writes Devashish Chakraborty
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done it again, much to the chagrin of the Opposition in India. The Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has delivered a stupendous victory, brushing aside factors such as anti-incumbency, rising unemployment, mounting agrarian crisis, the demons of demonetisation and a hasty rollout of Goods and Services Tax. That this should happen at a time when an effort was on to forge a strong and credible alliance of various opposition parties, both before the polls and in its aftermath, must be perceived as a show of gigantic proportions by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with the Party crossing the 300 mark in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament. Such a strong show by the BJP may not have been dreamt of even by the staunchest of the Party’s supporters.
But, besides the Party’s reaching the empyrean heights so far as electoral win is concerned, it is the decimation of the grand old party, the Indian National Congress, which is equally worthy of hitting the headlines of newspapers across the world. After a strong performance in certain states, particularly the Hindi heartland in the Assembly Polls in December last year, the fortunes of the Congress seemed to be reviving at a crucial time when the 2019 General Elections were round the corner. However, despite Congress’ best efforts to project Rahul Gandhi as a Centrist-leader who would work assiduously for the well-being of all sections of the society, irrespective of the denominations of caste and religion, it cut no ice with the majority of voters.
A host of factors combined to hand out a victory to the NDA, while robbing the Congress and other Opposition parties of even a semblance of hope for forming the next government. People across the political spectrum, post the election results, are stunned by it. Some have now begun to contend that the Modi-wave of 2014 resurfaced or perhaps an undercurrent of the wave persisted throughout the five years of his governance. This, however, is a naïve assessment of what is being increasingly hailed as Modi’s colossal victory, larger and more convincing than the one he managed to achieve in 2014. The mandate of the electorate is loud and clear, people want Modi at the helm of affairs in the country. Rahul Gandhi does not even feature in the imagination of the majority as a possible alternative to Modi, who is perceived as a “protector of the country and its people”.
BJP’s winning strategy
BJP has outwitted the Opposition on all fronts, just as it managed to do so in the last elections in 2014. While the Opposition this year did its utmost to play the caste card, they could not mobilise the voters enough on a rhetoric that no longer enthuses or motivates the electorate to the extent it did even half-a-decade back. If the Opposition, especially the grand alliance forged by Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party, both former Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, attempted to polarize the voters on the basis of caste to negate Modi’s influence, the BJP projected itself as a pro-development party that considered only two divisions in the society—- the haves and the have-nots. If the Congress tried to rake up Modi government’s dismal performance in creating jobs and in addressing the agrarian distress, the BJP turned the tide in their favour by highlighting the government’s commitment to first ensure national security on a firm footing and by projecting Modi as the one who ‘when he is at the helm, all is well’.
The BJP deliberately peddled nationalism as a credible poll plank, equating it with inclusive development. The entire BJP election campaigning revolved around Modi’s persona as the man who alone could usher the country in the era of progress and development, as also the leader who walks the talk. The Balakot airstrike in Pakistan by the Indian Air Force, post the Pulwama attacks in Jammu and Kashmir by terrorists on a CRPF convoy, was profusely highlighted to reap rich harvest in terms of mobilising voters to cast their votes in favour of a leader who was prepared to risk even his political fortunes for the sake of his country and its people.
Besides building a general narrative in the country that it is only Modi and his government that has the prowess to take on any adversary, even the mightiest ones from across the border and elsewhere, the BJP was able to divert public attention from the core issues concerning the failure of its government to deliver on the economic front. This could also be stated as one of the glaring failures of the Opposition, particularly the Congress, the only pan-India party in contention to confront the BJP. That the incidents of sectarian violence which cropped up recently in the name of cow vigilantes in certain states was not raised to the extent it should have been, could also go down as one of the strategic failures of the Opposition. The BJP’s rhetoric of ‘inclusive development through cooperation with all’ seems to have resonated with the electorate across the country.
This time around the BJP has also strengthened its presence at the grassroots level in most of the states, including West Bengal and Odisha, where their performance in the last general election in 2014 was unremarkable, to say the least. The four-pronged approach for reaching out to the voters worked perfectly for the BJP in most of the states. While the Party workers worked relentlessly in communicating to the voters the achievements of the government and what lay ahead for them if they chose to vote for Modi, the Party’s electoral candidates carried forward the NDA agenda with a slew of promises. BJP president Amit Shah and his rallies and road shows created the much-needed momentum in favour of the BJP. Then on top of it, Modi’s rallies and road shows further fortified people’s conviction that Modi is the man who would deliver the goods for the well-being of the people.
BJP’s stellar performance in key states
The most remarkable and noteworthy performance of the BJP-led NDA in these elections has been in the state of West Bengal, where the BJP had managed only two seats in the 2014 general elections. This time around the BJP has won 18 out of a total of 42 seats in the state, with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) winning 22 seats. The Left parties have drawn a blank and this may be the beginning of the end of communism in India, Kerala being the only state where it is still flourishing. That the BJP could weather the storm of Mamata’s vitriolic attacks and her goons’ violence unleashed against the Party’s candidates and supporters, is suggestive of the fact that the BJP has emerged as a force to reckon with in West Bengal. Mamata’s pandering to the minorities at the expense of the aspirations of the majority has cost her several seats in these elections, much to the delight of the BJP. The majority in Bengal live under a constant fear of demographic imbalance following Mamata’s policy of appeasing the minority community. The last Panchayat elections were an indicative of the rising dissent in the state against Mamata’s rule. This simmering social dissent was what the BJP was waiting for, as it had been trying to make inroads into Bengal for a while. But the surprise element was that no one could have foreseen BJP winning 18 seats in a state where the local party (TMC) had seemingly a firm hold on the voters’ pulse and head by following a policy of carrot and stick.
In Bihar, the erosion of support for the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) meant that the BJP had a good chance of winning a significant number of seats in the state. BJP’s ally in the NDA, the Janata Dal (United) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also benefitted in terms of the number of seats it won in the state. Of all the factors behind the RJD and the Congress biting the dust in Bihar, the absence from the political scene of Lalu Prasad Yadav, the RJD stalwart now behind bars for his role in the Fodder scam, is also crucial. It was Lalu Yadav who had ensured that the BJP lost in the last assembly elections in the state. The Congress was more or less a nonentity in Bihar in the 2019 General elections, though they had forged an alliance with the RJD for a possible revival of their fortunes.
In Uttar Pradesh (UP), the BJP had lost vital seats in the by-polls after its stupendous success in the 2017 assembly elections. This time around the BJP was expected to lose many seats in the state after the forging of the grand alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. But the caste card played by the grand alliance did not bear fruit along expected lines and the alliance could win only 15 seats. This was owing to BJP’s well-thought-out and calibrated planning to reach out to the voters and appealing to their wisdom to cast their votes for a man who has worked selflessly and tirelessly for the whole country. Modi was positioned as a brand of Nationalism and was projected as incorruptible. Though the voters in many constituencies in the state did not have a particular liking for the BJP candidates in the fray, they voted for the BJP because they wanted to see Modi as the next Prime Minister. Modi himself has won in Varanasi with a big margin of more than 4.5 lakh votes. In all, the BJP-led NDA has won 64 seats in UP, which is a further confirmation of its entrenchment in the state, cutting across caste and religious divisions. The highlight of UP elections, barring Modi’s own performance and that of many others, is the defeat of Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, which was till now considered to be a Congress bastion. Smriti Irani had lost to Rahul Gandhi in the last elections, but now she seems to have avenged her defeat quite handsomely.
In the Northeast of the country, the NDA has seemingly doubled its tally of seats and is now a force none can ignore and its footprints are expanding ever since the Party won the Assam state assembly elections in 2016 and Tripura elections in 2018.
In the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, the NDA has repeated its sterling performance of the 2014 general elections, with BJP making a clean sweep by winning all 26 seats in Gujarat. In Maharashtra the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has risen above their differences to handout defeat to the Congress. Voters of Madhya Pradesh (MP) seem to have gone back to their favourite leader in Narendra Modi, as they have voted quite differently from the way they did in the last assembly elections. The electorate in MP has reposed faith in the BJP, ignoring the Congress, which is in power in the state. The BJP has won 28seats as against one seat going to the Congress in the state. All in all, the winning back of the key states of the Hindi heartland has boosted the numbers of the BJP-led NDA to a tally of 353 seats.
Modi’s charisma v/s Rahul’s naivety
It is now irrefutable that Prime Minister Modi has anchored himself as a charismatic leader in Indian politics. His personality and demeanour in public are unmatched among other leaders across political parties in the country. His words resonate with the masses and he is perceived as a leader who has risen from the grassroots, unlike the Gandhi dynasts who had a silver-spoon upbringing. Even the picture of Modi’s mother draped in a sari with folded hands catches eyeballs as it highlights the humble background of the Prime Minster. In contrast, Rahul Gandhi inherits a political dynasty spanning decades and who belongs to the Cambridge-educated elite section of the society. In fact, Rahul Gandhi did himself no favours when he intentionally distorted Modi’s slogan of “I am a watchman” and made it into a Congress Party slogan “The watchman is a thief”. It has boomeranged on the Congress as the voters perceived it as an insult to their honest leader and by extension to every honest worker who ekes out a living by perspiring day in and day out.
Overall, Rahul Gandhi is perceived as a much improved leader than he was in 2014, but many feel he is still inexperienced in the arena of politics and he is a leader for the future. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress general secretary and Rahul Gandhi’s sister has not been able to check the downward slide of the Congress. She may have entered active politics five years too late.
Modi’s economic schemes’ outreach
While the various schemes started by the Modi government such as the Ujjwala scheme for providing LPG connections to the poor families, schemes for ensuring toilets in every rural household, rural electrification and drinking water facilities may not have been implemented with complete success, the people in rural areas, especially women, are thrilled by the fact that these schemes have at least reached them and are no longer inaccessible to the poor. Farmers’ distress in terms of low minimum support price of their produce and absence of financial securities have also been issues against the Modi government, but an attempt has been made by the government to redress some of their grievances by transferring funds directly to their accounts. The amounts transferred may not be sufficient to help them tide over the difficult situation they face. However, they seem to have reposed faith in a Prime Minister who has given them some fodder to survive with the hope that he will do more if voted back to power.
In contrast, the Congress’ NYAY or minimum income scheme has proved to be beyond the comprehension of the poorest of the poor for whom this scheme was conceived. Moreover, the potential beneficiaries of the NYAY scheme seem to have preferred what they are already receiving from the present government than look for the benefits of a scheme which is rather esoteric to their liking.
Young voters’ fascination for Modi
Significantly enough the young voters in the country, who comprise a sizeable proportion of the population and were voting for the first time, have grown up watching Modi as their Prime Minister, in whom they find an echo of their aspirations. The Modi government, through a programme such as Mann ki Baat, hosted by the Prime Minister himself and broadcast on All India Radio and Doordarshan, a state-owned TV channel, has effectively communicated its core messages to the masses, including the youth of the country. Addressing the youth before and after their school examinations and post their examination results keeps a channel of communication open between the Prime Minister and the youth, which elevates Modi to the status of a leader whom the youth across social denominations admire and adore. A few have written letters to the Prime Minister apprising him of their distress and its causes and their leader has not disappointed them. Such gestures go a long way in winning the hearts and minds of young voters who may vote going against their family leanings. Currently, no other leader in the country has managed to catch the imagination of the young voters to the extent Modi has.
After all is said and done, if the leaders of the Opposition had been able to shed their Prime Ministerial ambition and focus instead on forging a strong alliance against the BJP-led NDA, the Indian democracy would have been better served, as a strong Opposition is indispensable for a democratic country. The final figures for the NDA may be heartening for all supporters of the BJP alliance, but as the citizens of a democratic State we have much to worry about with more than half of the Opposition wiped out from the Lower House of the parliament. This is a dangerous scenario for a progressive democracy, and more so for a country as culturally diverse as India is.