India’s MODIfication: A seminal event
A second successive mandate for Narendra Modi’s government is a significant achievement in a nation as diverse as India, where the electorate gets easily swayed by petty regional politics and propaganda.
Another absolute majority ensures five more years of political stability in the world’s largest democracy that not so long ago was suffering from the scourge of coalition politics.
In many ways the 2014 election was a seminal event in the history of Indian politics. 2019 is an encore.
The 2019 general elections were the most pointless in the history of Indian politics. There was the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor, and many were aware of the outcome of polls long before the wheels were set in motion.
The results have been declared, Narendra Modi has been sworn in as the prime minister for a second straight term and the new government has indeed taken charge. The verdict, in any case was a foregone conclusion.
But whatever happened in between was as predictable as the thousands of movies churned out by India every year, if not more.
(To elaborate on this analogy it is imperative to mention that most Indian movies are so predictable than you can actually pre-empt the eventual trajectory the screenplay will take well in advance)
Let’s try and explain it in another way. This election was very similar to Indian weddings … a Big Fat Indian Wedding to be precise.
All the parties concerned knew a simple ceremony would have been enough, that most of the related events and expenditures were largely unnecessary. Yet, like an Indian wedding, there was extravagance all around as India went to the polls. Blame it on an inherent nature to show off.
There was a gamut of activities, a plethora of pep talks … with the media going overboard, and a lot of mudslinging and propaganda politics. Not to forget the huge expenditure incurred — it is by far the world’s most expensive election with an estimated US$7 million spent, beating the $6.5 million expenditure incurred in the 2016 US presidential and congressional elections.
On the positive side the 2019 elections attracted a voter turnout of over 67%, the highest ever in the history of elections in India.
The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was voted back to power with a thumping majority. While the Bharatiya Janata Party yet again emerged as the dominant party, winning 303 seats — an increase of 21 over its 2014 count — the BJP-led alliance totaled more than 350 seats, a significant share considering the total number of seats (545) in the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament).
It wasn’t all about the numbers, though. The NDA was always meant to make a clean sweep in the predominantly Hindi-speaking belt in North India — the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. It’s their stronghold, and they did win easy. No surprises there.
In fact in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the maximum number of legislators (80) to Parliament, there was a regional coalition dubbed the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) — comprising the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) — in a bid to counter the NDA.
They did make a dent, winning 15 seats. But that was just about it. The BJP despite losing nine of their seats from 2014 still won a significant number (62).
Likewise, a second successive clean sweep (26 out of a possible 26 seats) in Gujarat, Modi’s home state, was also on expected lines, as was the impressive performance of the coalition in the western state of Maharashtra (41 seats off 48) and the central state of Madhya Pradesh (28 out of 29).
What came as a surprise was the significant inroads the BJP made in the eastern states of Odisha and West Bengal, a region where it has traditionally struggled to establish a foothold. In the former it won eight (out of 21), as opposed to only one in 2014, in the process eating into the vote share of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) — its former ally.
The success in West Bengal was even more significant, especially considering the fact that it came amid allegations of violence abetted by the state government. The BJP notched up impressive figures, winning 18 — as opposed just two in 2014 — of the 42 seats, with a considerable increase (22.25%) in the vote share.
The state was a stronghold of the ruling All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) and the leader of the party, and present West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, could neither accept the reverses suffered nor take the accusations of her party fanning violence kindly, eventually opting to boycott the swearing-in ceremony for the prime minister.
Add to this the fact that the BJP built on its 2014 success in the southern state of Karnataka (25 out of 28, and 26 overall for NDA) and made some inroads in Telengana — winning four seats as opposed to one, while also doing well in the North East reaffirmed the fact that the Narendra Modi government is not just going to stay, but also have its way.
On the flip side is the fact that there will be no coherent opposition in the Indian legislature for a second straight term.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) did marginally better than in 2014, winning 92 seats. However, the Grand Old Party, as the Indian National Congress is known, couldn’t make it count. Literally.
While its total of 52 seats bettered its 2014 performance (44 seats), it still fell short of the number (55) required to become the official opposition party in the Lok Sabha. A legislature sans an opposition is obviously not good for a democracy, but India will have to make do with it for another five years.
While Indian voters were resounding in rejecting dynasty politics — the Congress (largely) being a family-controlled entity — for a second straight time, what came as a shock in particular was the result in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh.
Traditionally considered a Gandhi-family bastion, the constituency voted against Congress president Rahul Gandhi on this occasion. The BJP’s Smriti Irani, who had given Rahul a scare in 2014, led from start to finish, forcing the Gandhi scion to concede defeat — an ultimate pointer to the nadir that Congress has reached as a political party.
In the final analysis it is the BJP-led NDA government that has returned to power, armed with a bigger mandate than in the 2014 general election, and will stay in office for another five years.
With these sweeping results, Modi himself has created history by becoming the first non-Congress prime minister to be re-elected after completing a five-year term in office, and also becoming only the third PM — after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi — to be re-elected to office with an absolute majority after completing a full term.
The mandate also makes Modi the first prime minister to return to power winning a bigger vote share for the party enjoying full single-party majority in the Lok Sabha since Nehru’s win in the 1957 elections.
Back-to-back majorities in a country divided by a thousand factors, and easily swayed by emotions, petty politics and propaganda, makes Modi’s win quite an achievement.
While India remains a multi-party democracy with many influential constituents, this unanimous result not only hands the mandate to a national party but also undermines the authority of the many regional parties that over the years have come to play an irritating role in national politics. Seldom relevant at a central level, these regional parties, to their credit, succeeded in influencing people on the basis of caste, language, region and petty politics.
To further parochial interests and justify their misplaced priorities, these entities have continually to put national interests on the back burner. When they managed to make up the numbers at the central level these parties repeatedly used arm-twisting tactics to further their vested interests.
In fact when the BJP swept to power in 2014 it won by an absolute majority — the first in 30 years. The result ensured the role of its coalition partners was kept to a minimum while the influence of the many regional parties at the national level was entirely nullified.
In many ways it was a seminal event in the history of Indian politics. The 2019 results have ensured an encore.
The BJP’s second coming has been even more emphatic. It may not have entirely put a full stop to the scourge of coalition politics, but nonetheless made it redundant. By achieving an absolute majority on its own, the party has become immune to any arm-twisting tactic from either its coalition partners or any other party.
There are critics who insist that the BJP owes its success to religion-based politics, propaganda, Modi’s mastery over the art of rhetoric, winning the social-media battle, a few populist measures and, most important, the lack of a cohesive and strong opposition.
These observations may not be entirely accurate but aren’t invalid either. Some of them do make sense. Others seem a tad far-fetched. But there’s no point in being critical of the critics. Whether entitled or not, they will always make a point, sometimes fair but more often than not negative. However, ask them for a solution and they will seldom offer one.
A nation’s polity is not determined by ethical or theoretical aspects, but by pragmatism. As things stand the BJP-led NDA government is the lone pragmatic option for India, like it or not.
The Indian media and psephologists have wasted no time in acknowledging this unprecedented saffron surge across the country and labeled it India MODIfied, MODIfication of India, TsuNaMo, NDA Version 2.0 and similar phrases. Whatever the nomenclature, fact remains that this absolute majority means another five years of stability in Indian polity.
The Indian electorate has played its part. It is now up to the elected representatives to justify this thumping verdict, ensure good governance and attempt to fulfill some of the many promises made to the 1.3 billion eternally hopeful people.