“It was never expected”, “How could this happen?”, “Are the EVMs rigged?” – these were some reactions of the students who participated in the discussion organized in NEHU on the Elections Verdict 2019. Not just the students, even the panellists admitted that they never expected BJP would come back to power with such a thumping majority, vanquishing its opponents in more than half the states. The scholars in academia are breaking their heads to explain the election verdict. Even here one comes across two simplistic interpretations of the outcome – one attributing Narendra Modi’s victory to EVM manipulation, and the other to the success of Modi’s welfare policies. Both these versions are defective. Although there are allegations of EVM hacking, none of these allegations have been proved yet to the satisfaction of all. In the absence of reliable proof, it will be difficult to convince the people that there has been a calculated rigging at national level to bring Modi back to power. The other interpretation which says that Modi’s developmental policies have benefitted crores of people and brought him back to power is also problematic. If we accept the logic that the beneficiaries of central welfare schemes voted for Modi, then by that logic, even Chandrababu Naidu should have come back to power in Andhra Pradesh. For no BJP government has successfully implemented as many development schemes as Naidu did. Again, by the same logic, the UPA regime should have been in power, since they had introduced many schemes like MGNREGA which benefitted lakhs of poor villagers. As such no single cause can explain Modi’s return to power. It is therefore necessary to look for a more comprehensive political analysis.
From the very beginning of the electoral battle of 2019, BJP had certain advantages over other parties. The opposition parties, including Congress, are no match to BJP when it comes to the resources. BJP is the richest and the most organized party in India. Taking advantage of the decline of Congress, BJP has spread its organizational hold all over India with the help of its cadres and RSS volunteers. Further, the party attracts enormous funds from industrialists, businessmen and NRIs. It is now a known fact that BJP has received over 90 percent of the income from the electoral bonds. The corporate sector which always looks for political stability and reliability for its own growth naturally views Modi as the most trust worthy ally, and offers publicity to him and to his party through its print and media channels. The aspirational professional class in India who benefitted from the process of liberalization and always looked forward to keeping one foot in some foreign countries started identifying itself with Modi and his ideas of making India a powerful nation in the world. Likewise, the conservatives among the Hindus, who repose faith in the imagined greatness of the Hindus of ancient India and dread the idea of minorities dominating them, are another group that support BJP at all times.
In contrast, other classes like the unemployed, industrial workers, peasants, small traders, Dalits and minorities have gained little from Modi’s rule. Yet being unorganized and unrepresented, these marginalized groups could not emerge as autonomous forces capable of challenging the ruling regime. During the elections the ruling party with the help of corporate media was able to deflect the attention of these people from real issues like poverty, unemployment, growing intolerance, etc., by invoking emotional issues like Ram Mandir and threat of Muslim migrants. But the Pulwama massacre and Balakot strikes came as blessing in disguise for Modi, who effectively manipulated people’s sense of insecurity, fear of terrorism, sense of national pride and urge for revenge. The overwhelming public support that BJP could not gain with its Ram Mandir agenda could be achieved by whipping up nationalist sentiments and branding all its critics as anti-nationals and supporters of ‘tukde-tukde’ gang!
Apart from BJP’s own strength, what facilitated the easy return of Modi is the pathetic state of the opposition parties. Over the years, Congress, the main opposition party, has lost its credibility and has confined itself to fewer states. Organizationally, in many states the regional parties have become more powerful than Congress. Congress which was accused earlier for minority appeasement, has started projecting itself as a soft Hindutva party, and indulged in public display of its religiosity. Although its policy of Nyay indicated the party’s return to welfarism, it found only a few takers among the rich as well as the poor. Rahul’s fight against Rafale deal also failed to evoke the required public support, probably because of several allegations of corruption against Congress during the UPA regime. Because of its own incompetency, Congress failed to retain its hegemony over the people even in the three northern states where it formed governments few months back. Rahul Gandhi’s aspirations to emerge as consensual candidate of the opposition parties was marred by the opposition from regional satraps who also had considered themselves fit for the post, although their political influence hardly extended beyond their home states. Dejected by their response, Congress fielded its own candidates in Delhi and UP although they have little chances of coming to power on their own strength. Preponderance of personal and party interests prevented effective prepoll alliance of the opposition parties in key states like UP, Bihar, Delhi, etc. All opposition parties started fielding their own candidates and competed with one another.
The role of the Left parties was no better. In the elections, the once influential Left who gave support and credibility to the first UPA regime ceased to be a political force. They were ignored by both Congress (in Kerala and West Bengal) and the regional parties (in UP) opposing the Modi regime. Their marginalization in West Bengal by Trinamool made them so bitter that the left cadres in Bengal virtually supported BJP candidates to teach a lesson to their arch rival, Mamata Bannerjee. Modi effectively exploited the lack of unity and incompetency of the opposition parties and projected them as a bunch of corrupt people aspiring to become PMs. Unlike the opposition parties, BJP has effectively negotiated with its own allies and came out with an effective pre-poll alliance of all parties supporting Modi’s leadership. Naturally, despite all the complaints that the masses have against the ruling regime, people could not find a better alternative to Modi as the PM.
Further, the Election Commission added to the problems of the opposition parties by acting more as a second arm of the ruling regime. Modi and Shah’s blatant violations of Model Code of Conduct were ignored. On its part, the corporate media, through orchestrated interviews and TV debates, influenced the viewers by presenting a positive image of Modi. In its quest for Hindu votes, Congress hesitated to project itself as a secular force, while other opposition parties like SP, BSP and Trinamool tried to attract the Muslim votes in the name of secularism. In contrast, BJP leaders openly, consciously and effectively played the Hindu card by invoking the threat of Muslim immigrants and Islamic terrorists. The sum total of all these factors and events – economic, political and emotional – has converged in favour of Modi, bringing back NDA with a thumping majority.
H Srikanth (email@example.com) teaches Political Science in North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. His areas of research interest involve Political Economy, Ethnicity and Identity Politics and North-East India. His articles are published in reputed Journals like Economic and Political Weekly, Man and Society: Journal of Northeast Studies, etc. He has authored two books and edited three volumes.