By Mrinal Roy
The 2019 elections have broken sectarian barriers and forged a unity of purpose among the people. The idea of India and its secular values, openness and tolerance also mean that every citizen should have the same rights and responsibilities as well as be governed and abide by the same laws
The Narendra Modi tsunami has swept across India and has given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a larger majority than in the 2014 general elections. Despite the forceful anti BJP narrative drummed up by the opposition, the aura of Narendra Modi’s potent leadership and lofty ambition for India was such that the people of India in their complex diversity have emphatically belied this narrative and voted massively for him.
All the arsenal of the anti-Modi rhetoric continuously hammered in the media during months of intense campaigning cut very thin as voters from all over India in their collective wisdom single-mindedly endorsed Narendra Modi in much larger numbers for a second term in office. Despite the fact that not all the promises made were delivered by the Modi government, the large majority of India’s voters delivered a thumping victory to him. In the words of Narendra Modi in his thanksgiving address in Varanasi: Chemistry with the people has defeated political mathematics’.
In the world’s biggest democratic exercise spread over 7 phases and 39 days involving some 8000 candidates, more than 600 million voters representing a high turnout of 67.11% braved the near 40°C heat to elect 303 BJP MPs compared to 282 MPs in 2014 with the ruling BJP-led NDA alliance obtaining 353 MPs against 336 MPs in the 2014 general elections. 15 million first-time voters aged 18-19 years were eligible to vote. For the first time, female voter turnout in Indian elections equalled male voter turnout. There was a 6.5% voter swing in favour of the BJP-NDA which bestows added legitimacy to the government. The landslide victory wiped out the Congress opposition party from 18 states in the Hindi heartland states, the North, East and West India. Stock markets surged to a record high.
The adage of voters that the constituency candidate was a majboori (obligation) whereas Modi Zaroori hai (was essential) seems to have carried the day.
It must be highlighted that most of the exit polls had predicted a landslide victory of the BJP-NDA with uncanny accuracy at a time when the opinion polls of Australian organizations all got the outcome of the Australian general elections blithely wrong. It is a credit to the various organizations which carried these opinion polls to have fathomed and grasped the social, caste, religious and regional matrix of the Indian electorate in its complex diversity to model and produce credible and so accurate exit polls.
The scale of the BJP victory is such that it extended its footprint further to Assam, Odisha and West Bengal where it wrested 18 seats from the powerful Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee. In the south, it made inroads in Telangana whilst the BJP-NDA won Karnataka. The Congress Party won in Punjab with a reduced majority, Tamil Nadu in alliance with DMK and Kerala through the Congress-led United Democratic Front alliance. Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Indian National Congress Party lost his seat in his traditional Amethi constituency but was elected with a large majority in the Wayanad constituency in Kerala. Despite its large defeat, Congress won 52 seats in the Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) as opposed to only 44 seats in the 2014 elections. However, Congress once again failed to secure the requisite 10% of the seats (55 seats) in the Lok Sabha to claim the status of the official opposition party. The larger victory of the NDA was therefore largely made at the expense of the other political parties.
Despite an entrenched anti-incumbency voting culture in India, Narendra Modi became the third Prime Minister of India, who more than four decades after Congress leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, retained power for a second term with full majority in the Lok Sabha. This is yet another marker for the vibrant democracy that India is.
No to forces of division
Such a landslide victory also means that the people of India in their broad diversity have shunned identity politics, caste and vote bank politics as well as parochial interests to support good governance, leadership and development. For too long India has been undermined by identity and vote bank politics and the leveraging of identity for favoured treatment. It must also be said that despite a no-holds-barred political campaign with a narrative which pilloried the BJP, the people of India chose to foil the forces of division and stake their future on Narendra Modi’s vision of a new, resolute and empowered India. This is best epitomized by the scathing defeat meted out to the sectarian caste-based Akhilesh Yadav-Mayawati (SP-BSP) grand alliance (Mahagathbandhan) in Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest number of Lok Sabha MPs.
The 2019 elections have broken sectarian barriers and forged a unity of purpose among the people. The idea of India and its secular values, openness and tolerance also mean that every citizen should have the same rights and responsibilities as well as be governed and abide by the same laws.
Unity and inclusive growth
The Modi slogan of sabka saath, sabka vikas (collective efforts, inclusive growth) has been a potent driver of collective efforts, unity and inclusive growth. The government’s major reform agenda of providing essential existential needs such as a modern brick house , safe potable water, toilet, LPG gas cylinder, electricity and banking account for every family in India is inclusive and not based on caste, religion or region. Such policies which indiscriminately benefit every citizen of India confound the narrative of the opposition. The government has thus demonstrated that development, upliftment and progress of the people include everyone. The massive vote of the people in favour of the government is a potent endorsement of such inclusive and livelihood changing policies implemented by the government.
Modi’s ambitious vision of a new India was spelled out early in his last mandate. It included apart from the sabka saath, sabka vikas agenda, major policy initiatives such as a corruption free India, a clean India, the transformation of India into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge driven economy, the generation of 175 Gigawatt of renewable energy by the year 2022, ‘Make in India’ aimed at transforming India into a global manufacturing hub, boosting Incredible India tourism and the inclusion of India as a permanent member of the UN security Council, etc. He has mobilized the people of India to actively participate and benefit inclusively from these game changing national ventures. He has also initiated a series of profound reforms to facilitate investments and the realization of these key national objectives.
Ground rules of governance
Aware of the opposition narrative that the BJP is non-inclusive and the adverse impact of such attacks in such a complex and diverse society as India, Narendra Modi speaking in the wake of the landslide victory to the elected NDA MPs spelled out the ground rules of governance during the mandate obtained from the people. He told them to selflessly serve the people to build a better India and win the trust and participation of everyone in this important and inclusive national venture. To this end, he coined the new slogan Sabka saath sabka vikas sabka vishwas (trust). He urged party leaders to bring everyone together and stem all misgivings among the people instilled by the rhetoric of the opposition. He told MPs to keep their feet well grounded and not to have a VIP culture as people abhor it. He added that the national ambition of India cannot be compromised. National ambition and regional aspiration must go hand in hand.
In the best democratic traditions, Rahul Gandhi assuming responsibility for the electoral debacle resigned as Congress Party president and has adamantly refused to take back the post despite multiple requests and pleas from party leaders and the Congress party supporters. Similarly, several prominent Congress party chiefs from Punjab, Jharkhand, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha have resigned taking moral responsibility for the party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections. It must also be noted that it is only after the results of the elections that the NDA parties formally elected Narendra Modi as its leader. All these potent lessons of democracy are such a far cry from the appalling standards of political ethics in Mauritius.
Democratic India needs a powerful opposition. It is therefore important that the Congress party introspects with its allies to fathom the causes of their scathing electoral defeat and the drivers of today’s India. It is obvious that identity and vote bank politics have been flatly rejected by the electorate. While India’s secular values and openness remain since time immemorial the bedrock of its values there are red lines that cannot be crossed. The threats and daunting challenges facing India can no longer be swept under the carpet with vacuous platitudes but have to be dealt with head on. The sooner Congress grasps this new ground reality and defends a vision of India which reflects the psyche of today’s India and cuts loose from the culture of dynastic politics to propose a viable alternative to the people of India, the quicker it will regain a credible place in the national debate. It also needs to restructure itself to have a national reach. Democratic India needs such a Congress avatar.
India is more assertive and ambitious. It has a loftier ambition for its people and its role in the world. There is a need for strong leadership and innovative reforms and policies which carry this ambition forward. In the eyes of the hundreds of millions of voters who so emphatically endorsed Narendra Modi, he above anyone else aptly fits the bill. The world and the Indian Diaspora across the world will be watching with heightened expectations the Narendra Modi magic at work.
* Published in print edition on 31 May 2019