The seven-phase election is done and dusted. There was little doubt even before the results were announced that the NDA would return to power. Still, the scale and extent of its victory were staggering.
Though a couple exits polls had suggested 300-plus seats for the BJP and close to 350 seats for the NDA (the India Today exit poll), most others had predicted a NDA majority, though not to this extent.
A lot has been written about the BJP’s staggering victory since the results were announced last Thursday. There has, as usual, been a lot of hand-wringing in the media and among poll forecasters who had missed this huge Modi tidal wave. In fact, most media reports even during the polls suggested that this would be an election devoid of a wave.
In a high-decibel ‘Modi versus the rest’ election, the BJP ran a high-voltage campaign based largely on nationalism, aided in good measure by the Pulwama terror attack and the ensuing Balakot air strikes, which burnished the PM’s ‘tough on terror’ image. In the ghar mein ghus ke marenge message, the PM struck a chord with a large section of the electorate.
Only four States successfully resisted the Modi tsunami, and three of them – Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh — are in the south, Punjab being the lone northern State to have gone the Congress way.
What was surprising was the Congress’ abject performance in States where it had won the Assembly elections just a few months ago — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Interestingly, even States where farmers’ resentment against the Centre was running high – Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh — voted overwhelmingly in favour of the NDA. These were States that saw massive protests by farmers and even violence in the past year.
Some commentators have mentioned the crucial role the Modi government’s welfare schemes — Swachch Bharat, Ujwala (LPG scheme), Jan Dhan Yojana, PM Awas Yojana and PM-Kisan schemes — played in the NDA’s victory. Though these schemes did have a positive impact on the target population, they are unlikely to have swung the election in the NDA’s favour. Also, the PM hardly spoke about these schemes in his election speeches, dominated as they were by a hard-edged nationalism.
So clearly, the BJP did not run a campaign on its record over the last five years, especially in the economic sphere, which was at best patchy. So why did the people vote for it in such large numbers? The analysis of the election will be an ongoing process as more data pours in, but two factors that can be discerned now.
One is that a large number of people were willing to overlook performance and placed their faith on the PM’s intent; so, in that sense, it was a vote for the future. Second, and more disturbingly, the BJP’s hyper-nationalistic, jingoistic, polarising, muscular Hindutva message had many takers in the country. The PM and the BJP had unleashed ‘weapons of mass polarisation’, as one senior journalist put it. The fact that Pragya Thakur Singh won with such a huge margin in Bhopal tells its own story.
For the Congress, from 44 in 2014 to 52 in 2019 was hardly a consolation . Its defeat was resounding. Rahul Gandhi ran a hard and earnest campaign but, in the end, he was no match for Modi. The Congress’ poll strategy will be dissected threadbare in the days to come, (the process has already begun). The ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ campaign flopped miserably. The NYAY scheme was hastily put together and was seen as too little too late. Also, it was poorly communicated and many commentators have noted that the bottom 20 per cent, for whom the scheme was meant, were unaware of it. And crucially, as veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta mentioned in his recent column, NYAY’s awareness was highest among the middle-class and the rich!
As US-based academic Ashutosh Varshney remarked, in an election where the middle-class agenda was at the forefront, a scheme for the bottom 20 per cent was unlikely to have resonated with the voters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in 2014 was seen as a business-friendly, pro-reforms politician, has successfully appropriated Congress’ pro-poor agenda. This huge mandate gives the NDA an opportunity to put the economy back on the rails. Whatever may have been the election hype, there are a plenty of things on the economy front that need fixing – falling investments, jobs, the bad loans mess in the banking sector, agrarian distress and falling consumption.
One hopes the government gets cracking on these issues in right earnest. This time, along with ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, the PM has added ‘Sabka Vishwas’. This country can surely do with a healing touch.