NDA Win Decisive, But Questions Remain
It is a decisive win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). And a Modi government 2.0 is on the anvil. And we need to explore the reasons too.
On the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) side, the situation by 12 noon has shown that it is relatively stronger this time around though far from a win. And regional parties have suffered a setback except for YSR Congress in Andhra, Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, Telangana Rashtra Samiti in Telangana and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham in Tamil Nadu (largely in South India). The Left has lost in its strongholds and has failed to make headway elsewhere.
What Explains the Opposition Campaign Fizzling out?
The critical strong points of the Congress challenge were all ill-timed. The appreciable manifesto and its core proposal of NYAY (Basic Minimum Income for the marginalised) were late in the day and could not be communicated well to the grassroots by the party. The party has little in the form of an organised grassroots apparatus and is always dependent on mass media to do its talking, which the media in this election was not willing to, being heavily influenced by those in power.
Second, Priyanka Gandhi coming late did not help much beyond enthusing the Uttar Pradesh Congress cadre, with she not contesting and not even campaigning in states where Congress just came into power (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan). This was a crucial mistake. Even MP strongman Jyotiraditya Scindia being engaged largely in the Western UP campaign due to Kamal Nath's antagonism towards him, was a poor strategy.
Third, the collective opposition to communal politics and polarisation of BJP could not be forged by the opposition forces. Congress floundered badly in forging an alliance in West Bengal (with the Left or Trinamool Congress), Haryana (with Jannayak Janata Party and Aam Aadmi Party), Delhi (with AAP) and UP (with Samjawadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party). The need was for all to combat BJP and not restricting each other's sphere of influence.
Fourth, the absence of a single face of the opposition and lack of a coherent national strategy of all anti-BJP forces are so telling in the total tally today. Leaving the three critical newly won states of Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh purely to the local satraps and away from a national strategy of joint opposition, was a crucial mistake of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Congress did not work to consolidate its strong points, and was wobbling to fight in the weaker pockets, except in Kerala.
What Explains the Clear Win of NDA?
Surely, a new set of social coalitions has been evolved by the Sangh Parivar, which also involves the dalits and other backward classes (OBCs) contrary to the expectations before the elections. The UP fiasco of the opposition shows that transfer of votes between SP and BSP did not happen and BJP could garner a large part of the votes of non-jatav dalits and non-yadav OBCs.
BJP could also polarise a large part of the Hindu voters in Bengal and central India, irrespective of caste, either on local issues against the chief ministers there or on issues of nationalism and Modi’s leadership.
Second, the use and abuse of the Election Commission with selective measures against opposition leaders, of the Enforcement Directorate with raids only in the homes and offices of the opposition leaders while far larger amounts were being spent by the ruling party and its candidates, the CBI with investigations at crucial times against selected opposition leaders, the valour and sacrifice of the Army during Pulwama and the Balakot episodes, selective denial of facts as seen in case of an Indian Air Force’s mistaken attack on its own aircraft, killing soldiers and destroying the aircraft, spread of several fake news and videos, to the extent of attempting to manage the election process with faulty EVMs at many places and alleged change of EVM machines also paid off for BJP. These criticisms cannot be totally brushed under the carpet in the moment of NDA glory for the sake of the future of Indian democracy (and, for record, let me note, Indira Congress did manipulate elections grossly during its heyday in the past, too).
Needless to say, no single opposition face for the PM position, no coherent opposition national strategy, coupled with mobilisation of the entire Sangh Parivar nationally and blatant religious polarisation on majoritarian identity grounds helped BJP ride the tide of a critical economic situation and failure on macro-economic fronts with joblessness, farm crisis, lower GDP and per capita growth than pre-2014 times, negative impact of demonetisation and GST etc, writ large on the nation's face, which have also been mentioned by BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP, Subramanian Swamy, in his latest tweet, even while congratulating the party for the win.
What Lies Ahead?
While the de jure constitutional system of Indian polity is parliamentary a la British type, in effect and de facto India is turning into a presidential form of a policy (if still not so in governance) a la American type. This may further be consolidated. We may find constitutional amendments galore with regard to Articles 370, 35A, form of government, the goals of socialism and secularism in the preamble of the Constitution, etc. There can be newer laws regarding triple talaq, mandir construction, national citizens' registry and citizenship, sedition et al. These may further divide the society as well.
As for the Opposition, regional parties may suffer a setback and there may be consolidation of forces behind and around Congress. Though the lead of Congress is still limited to South India, by and large, that a caste and region-divided Opposition can never challenge BJP on its own, is obvious.
Even within the NDA, the BJP will usurp the politics of Shiv Sena both hinging on Hindutva, and of Janata Dal (United) as Nitish Kumar's personal pull and effectiveness have come down drastically and it is BJP which is raring to go and be the leading partner in Bihar and Maharashtra by a long shot.
Now that political consolidation of power is almost complete across most of India for BJP, the theatre of political high drama shall be South of India next, where BJP will gear up its efforts to dislodge the Left in Kerala, work in tandem with the YSR Congress in Andhra and TRS in Telangana, and aim to oust the Congress-Janata Dal Secular government in Karnataka by fair or foul means. Also, in Tamil Nadu, AIADMK will further degenerate and will play second fiddle to BJP going ahead for its limited relevance. Even Biju Janata Dal in Odisha will come to a broad understanding with BJP in the interests of the state, for now.
Further, Delhi and Bengal will be theatre of high drama, too, with state elections round the corner within a year or so. Expect a bigger round of violence in Bengal ahead with competitive violence and communalism of both the incumbent Trinamool Congress and challenger BJP not willing to give an inch to each other. Expect AAP to go for a pitched battle for the mind of Delhi electorate with its governance track-record vis-a-vis BJP pledging Central support if elected to power.
Also, it is expected that the Modi Government 2.0 will have a much different composition of its council of ministers. And it will be interesting to note the new set of ministers who are expected to be younger on one side, and more pliant to Modi-Shah leadership on the other.
The writer is a media academic, a columnist and a political analyst on television. The views are personal.
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