Indian Election 2019: Narendra Modi bounces back
by Ashok B Sharma on 29 May 2019 1 Comment

The results of the elections in the world’s largest democracy have confirmed the effective poll strategy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah. The BJP alone bagged 303 seats in the Lower House of Parliament, surpassing the magic figure of 272 needed for a simple majority and the tally of 282 scored in 2014. This makes BJP eligible to form the government alone, but it will respect the mandate for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The strength of NDA is 353 in a House of 543 (plus two Members who are nominated).


Modi’s headache began when the three caste-based parties – Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) – united to challenge BJP in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 seats. In 2014, BJP won 71 seats from UP and its ally Apna Dal won two. In fact, in 2014, BJP came to power by winning 190 seats out of 225 in the Hindi heartland comprising Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.


However, the Modi-Shah duo was able to circumvent the opposition forces and win a handsome 177 seats in the current polls in the Hindi heartland, losing only 13 seats as compared to 2014. This limited damage of 13 seats was mainly due to the loss of nine seats in UP. The party made up this loss with new gains in West Bengal where it won 18 seats, and in Odisha where it won eight seats for the first time. In the prime minister’s home state Gujarat, the BJP won all 26 seats. It made new gains from the northeast and the southern state of Karnataka where it won 25 out of 28 seats.


The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, could improve its tally from 44 to 52 seats, and fell short of the required number to win the post of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.


In UP, in 2014, the BJP got 42.3 per cent votes, while SP, BSP and RLD together polled 42.5 per cent. This time the BJP’s vote share rose to 49.56 per cent, while that of SP-BSP-RLD combine fell to 38.89 per cent. The SP’s tally remained the same at five seats as in 2014, while the BSP which scored nil in the last elections got 10 seats. The RLD scored a duck.


The BSP chief, Mayawati, did not contest this time and campaigned for her candidates. While the BSP got the benefit of transfer of the vote bank of SP, the latter did not benefit. The castes represented by these parties were at loggerheads most of the time. The Jats did not pull on with Jatavs and Jatavs were not comfortable with Yadavs. Modi in his electioneering mocked at the alliance, terming it the “Mahamilawati” (unworthy combination).


The BJP wooed the non-Yadav backward classes of the Samajwadi vote bank, who did not favour Yadav domination. Then there was an internal division in the Yadav clan. Similarly, the BJP wooed non-Jatavs of the BSP vote bank. The Jats were uncomfortable with the alliance with BSP and the majority of them did not even vote for the RLD supremo and his son. Thus while the loss of seats in the Hindi heartland could be contained, the BJP could garner more seats in new areas.


Modi was the sole campaigner for the BJP as well as its alliance partners. The feeling among the common people was for him rather than his party. They wanted to see him as prime minister once again.


Modi attempted several experiments on the campaign trail. He began with promising sops in the interim Budget for the year and to complete his unfinished task. He spoke of his development agenda and the achievements of his government. But this did not go down well. People were reeling under the impact of demonetisation, farm distress, joblessness and the adverse impact of the introduction of GST.


Finally he had to resort to projecting himself as a “strongman” who can defend the country’s sovereignty. After the terror attack in Pulwama, India’s air strikes at a terrorist hideout in Balakot in Pakistan came handy and boosted his image. The earlier surgical strike and recent testing of anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) have also raised his image in public perception. The BJP brought “nationalism” to the fore to counter the opposition charges.


The Congress on the other hand stuck to the alleged “irregularities” in the Rafale deal. The Congress president Rahul Gandhi went to the extent of calling Modi “Chowkidar chor” (thief), which did not go down well with the people who perceived the Prime Minister as exceptionally honest and upright.


The Congress failed to concentrate on the positive agenda of its election manifesto. It should have focused more on the adverse impact of demonetisation, sudden introduction of GST, joblessness, farm distress and the unfulfilled promises of the Modi government. The party’s negative campaign gave Modi a handle. The Congress and other opposition failed to project a viable alternative or even to name a candidate who could take over from Modi as the next prime minister. Thus, the people felt that a “strong man” like Modi could best deliver the goods in the interests of the country.

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