The elections to the 17th Lok Sabha has been done and dusted, and the voter has delivered his verdict in a clear and unambiguous manner, leaving little room for debate or any kind of interpretation. The National Democratic Alliance( NDA) and its main constituent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had secured a comfortable majority in 2014, have in 2019 bettered their own performance, going past the 350 mark with the BJP alone accounting for 303 seats, vis a vis the 282 that it clinched in 2014.
If the runaway success of the BJP has been the hallmark of this election, on the other side is the decimation of the entire opposition including the Indian National Congress which had to settle for just 52 seats, a mere addition of eight seats from the all-time low of 44 that it chalked up in 2014. The only parties that survived the BJP onslaught were the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the BJD in Odisha, the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh, and the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti in Telangana. While the BJP as expected swept across the Hindi heartland, it ventured into uncharted territories and gained significant victories in West Bengal (18 seats as against 22 for the TMC), and Odisha (10 seats).
Modi struck a chord
More than anything else, this election turned out to be a referendum not just on the performance of the NDA government, but on the acceptance or otherwise of the Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. Strangely, he was not only the main focus of his own party and its coalition partners, but for the opposition as well. Crisscrossing the country, clocking more than a lakh and a half kilometers and addressing around 125 rallies, the PM campaigned with a great deal of zeal and vigour, not only espousing the ideals of his party and highlighting his government’s achievements in the five year span, but also tearing the opposition parties to shreds, picking holes in their performances when they were in power. The PM whose monthly talk over the radio Mann Ki Baat had been a huge success and had enabled him to strike a chord with the voter at large not just in cities and towns, but also in the remotest hamlets of the country, raised his oratory to the optimum, to convey to the entire country that their interests were safe with him and his party. The BJP President Amit Shah played a very significant role in churning public opinion in the BJP and NDA’s favour.
One factor among a host of others that worked to the advantage of the BJP was the entry into the electoral mainstream of millions of new voters who instantly placed their faith in Narendra Modi, as they believed in his administrative skills, fierce sense of patriotism and pragmatism, his grit and determination to take bold decisions even if they were initially unpalatable, avowed intention to tackle terrorism from across the border, and his vision of an India that would be a global power on par with the advanced countries of the world. His identification with the common man on the street whose welfare ranked paramount in his government’s priority list was another trait that endeared him to the voting masses.
Welfare economics was in fact the cornerstone of the Modi administration in its first innings, and a plethora of schemes to benefit those below the poverty line. The ‘Jan Dhan’ scheme wherein it was envisaged that every family in the country would have a bank account was an outstanding success, and also paved the way for the direct transfer of funds under various schemes like MNREGA to the respective accounts.
The Ayushman Bharat Yojana scheme brought medicare to the doorsteps of the poor and the downtrodden who derived direct benefit through medical insurance, and for the first time had access to hospitals. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan which aimed at a clean, disease free India witnessed among other things the large scale construction of toilets across the length and breadth of the country. Cent percent electrification of all the villages was another achievement that added a feather to the government’s cap. Provision of cooking gas, monetary assistance to the agrarian sector, too went a long way in providing succor to the underprivileged section of society.
What worked for the NDA
On the external affairs front the government worked extensively to foster better relations with all countries, and the Prime Minister’s trips abroad to market the country to the world with a slogan ‘Make in India’ too had a positive effect on the electorate. The muscular response to the terrorist attack at Pulwama came in the form of the surgical strike at Balakot in Pakistan where Indian fighter jets razed terrorist camps in a short but highly successful operation. This proved in ample measure that the Modi government was committed to ending extremism from across the border. The lack of even a murmur of protest for the strike from countries across the globe was an indication that the world stood as one in India’s fight against terrorism.
The opposition parties on the other hand cut a sorry figure and the only other national party in the fray, the Indian National Congress ran a highly negative campaign with party President Rahul Gandhi’s continuous refrain Chowkidar chor hai alleging that the ‘chowkidar’ as PM Modi christened himself had indulged in corrupt practices in the Rafale fighter jet deal with France to help his capitalist cronies, turned into a cacophony of sorts. The ultimate reversal for the party was however the defeat of Rahul Gandhi in the party pocket borough Amethi, at the hands of the feisty and hardworking union minister, Smriti Irani. Amethi had been a Congress bastion for three decades. His decision to fight the election from Wayanad in Kerala proved to be a wise one, as he romped home quite comfortably. In fact, the only two states that the Congress tasted success in large measure were Kerala and Punjab. The party’s only solace in the state of Uttar Pradesh was the victory of its Chairperson Sonia Gandhi who retained her Rae Bareili seat. The nomination of another Gandhi scion, Priyanka as a party General Secretary and her intensive campaign thereafter, fetched the party no dividends whatsoever.
The coming together of two caste based outfits, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj in a mahagathbandhan was expected to significantly impact the BJP and reduce its tally from 71 in 2014, but the move met with little success with the BJP ending up with 61 seats. The complete sweep in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, Maharashtra and in smaller states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and the NCR Delhi too, boosted the BJP and NDA’s tally. Ironically, the Congress which is in power in Rajasthan drew a blank in the state, and managed to win just a solitary seat in Madhya Pradesh, where too its government is holding office.
The task at hand
The election campaign for the 17th Lok Sabha was highly acrimonious, and no party was above board when it came to indulging in calumny, name calling, vilification of the dead, some of them martyrs, dragging in the armed forces and so on. The Election Commission which initially turned a Nelson’s eye to the repeated transgressions of the Model Code of Conduct had to be goaded by the Supreme Court to initiate action. Here again, the opposition parties raised Cain, alleging that the EC’s acts of omission and commission clearly betrayed a deep rooted bias towards the ruling party. Even the staggering of the election through seven phases came in for criticism from former Election Commissioners who opined that the whole exercise could have been wrapped up in three phases.
The NDA and the BJP have their work cut out for them for the next five years, and there should be a marked emphasis on tackling unemployment, attending to agrarian distress, streamlining of the GST, tackling terrorism, restraining the fringe elements, etc. Prime Minister Modi in one of his post-mandate addresses has observed that there are only two castes in the country, the poor and those who wish to serve them. The government should provide an inclusive administration taking all sections of society along, irrespective of caste, creed and religion.