Kolkata : The much-awaited Lok Sabha poll results are out and Narendra Modi-led BJP is back in power with a thumping majority. With this, Modi becomes the first non-Congress Prime Minister to come back to power with a resounding majority in two successive elections. It is now a high time to dissect the results both for the politicians as well as keen political observers to understand what worked and what did not across the country.
One thing that underlined these elections, at least in the heartland, was polarisation on the lines of caste and religion. This combined with the BJP’s successful campaign of TINA (There Is No Alternative) to Modi and the latter dishing out an image of Hindutva and an India ready to give militarised response to its enemies as he went around seeking votes in the name of Pulwama and Balakot.
But to begin with one needs to understand what went right for Modi and the BJP’s national president Amit Shah, for which these leaders as well as their team, deserve the victory.
To begin with, Shah once again demonstrated the organizational skills required to pull off an electoral victory on this scale. The manner in which he went along stitching alliances is a lesson in poll management as the BJP even went on back foot in some states accommodating its allies with more seats. This demonstrated that the party leadership was very clear of its objective.
Secondly, the party was very clear in its aim of fielding winnable candidates. The leadership did not even flinch while denying tickets to even the sitting members and even ministers like Vijay Sampla in Punjab and Dalit leader Udit Raj in Delhi. The party also went ahead to ‘retire’ old leaders and bring in new faces.
The leadership was well aware of its failures to deliver on various fronts in the last five years. Its leaders knew that demonetization was a blunder and so was the shoddy implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). They realised they could not create jobs and talking of Vikas (development) would have been futile.
Hence, they effectively weaned the people away with a narrative that was nowhere near to the promises made in 2014. They fell back on polarization on communal and caste lines to the extent that they even fielded candidates like terror-accused Sadhvi Pragya who queered the pitch to new levels by eulogizing Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi.
The BJP also raised noise on its brand of nationalism which basically means raising the bogey of Pakistan and its sponsored terror at every opportunity available while playing up the Balakot air strikes that had followed the Pulwama attack. This was also spiced with references to the ‘surgical strikes’ that had followed the Uri terror attack.
All this was consistently stoked by tit bits coming in the form of a feature film on Modi which despite the postponing of its released served its purpose like the NAMO TV channel which quietly vanished from the set top box after the polls.
The party also kept on its rhetoric against the Muslims, knowing that there is a large segment among the middle classes that would ignore the Modi government’s failures just for having showed Muslims ‘their place’.
It must also be acknowledged that Modi has shown exemplary communication skills, albeit one way, among majority of the Prime Ministers in the recent decades. For that matter the BJP has been good at managing media, particularly the mainstream media that much to its satisfaction failed to generate constructive debates on demonetization, GST, politicization of the defense forces, lynching and unemployment to name a few.
The BJP also very effectively succeeded in presenting the polls as a contest between the personalities of Rahul Gandhi versus Modi, something like the Presidential polls in America. On the ground, the party had gone out seeking votes in the name of Modi and this has ensured a victory for some of the most unpopular BJP candidates.
The Congress, on the other hand, failed on several fronts. The results once again raise multiple questions about its functioning and the changes it needs to make at the earliest. Its attitude towards joining hands with the other opposition parties was a major drawback. Its leaders need to ask themselves that with a tally of 44 seats were they ever in a position to dictate the terms of alliances and display the pomposity that they have. It is high time the party comes out of the notion of bagging victory just by default as it used to happen in the past.
The most important cause of its defeat lies in its inability to cash in on the victories it had secured in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan along with the good performance it had come up with in the Gujarat elections. The top leadership needs to introspect whether the choice of chief ministers in the states where they won was correct.
Secondly, did their governments go on the fast track to deliver and instill confidence among the voters for the Lok Sabha polls. There are pointers on the failure of the Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan on the issues pertaining to the minorities and Dalits.
In fact the Congress cannot take on the BJP in a game where the latter is a master. It needs to stick to its core values instead of dabbling in soft Hindutva.
The grand old party also needs to do away with the leaders that are tainted and those that are deadwood. Succumbing to the demands of the likes of Sukh Ram and the tantrums of the octogenarians would do it no good.
One just needs to analyze how the polls went in some of the key states. For the opposition, the results in Uttar Pradesh proved to be the biggest disappointment where the Mahagathbandhan with Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) as key components took on the BJP even as the Congress contested on its own. The results where the BJP once again did exceptionally well pose multiple questions like did the exchange of SP and BSP votes actually take place mutually or one way, did Congress spoil the chances of BSP and SP led front, did the people actually buy the episode of these two sworn enemies joining hands for electoral benefits ?
Punjab and Kerala are the only two states that went against the tide and voted for the Congress. In the case of Punjab, the failure of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) which is the BJP’s ally to revive following its loss in the 2017 polls along with the persisting anger among the people on the issue of instances of sacrilege of holy books meant that the Congress under Captain Amarinder Singh went into the polls with an upper hand.
In Haryana, it was the caste polarization that followed the Jat reservation in agitation of 2016 along with the popularity of Modi that ensured a complete whitewash of the Congress with even the former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda biting the dust.
Gujarat continues to be the BJP citadel where despite a good showing in the 2017 assembly polls, the Congress could not make any inroads in the Lok Sabha polls. It is one of the states where the state organization needs a complete overhaul.
The regional forces have done well for themselves in their respective fortresses. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), Biju Janata Dal (BJD) have done well in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha.
While the Trina Mool Congress (TMC) managed to lead in West Bengal, it is the BJP that has managed to make strong inroads into the state which was till recent a Left bastion where TMC was in the opposition. The BJP has done more than what was being expected of it.
This was one of those elections where the parties had depended largely on social media and television to campaign. These were the polls where people’s issues stood relegated to the backdrop and the BJP mainly succeeded in making the emotional issues the narrative.
These were sadly the polls where people openly supporting bigotry and hate were fielded along with those who have in the past lied on oath about their educational qualifications. These were the polls where the reputation of the Election Commission of India (ECI) took a strong beating. These were the elections where political discourse hit a new low almost everyday during the campaign. It went to the extreme of leaders openly using expletives against their opponents. These were the elections where hate was openly spewed. It was an election where Gandhian ideas were targeted.
In the victory of BJP and its allies India stands battered. One only hopes that the new regime moves on a path of correction that is wedded to the ideals of the Constitution so that the democracy survives in real sense. An electoral victory should mean a victory of Indian democracy. The question to be asked is where does India stand in BJP’s victory?
(Rajeev Khanna is a freelance writer. The opinions expressed in the article is his own opinion).