A clear vote for â€˜nationalismâ€™, and signalling an end to caste politics?
The verdict of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections clearly indicates an expanding support base of the BJP. In spite of regional variations in the support base of the BJP, this verdict clearly indicates that the BJP is far ahead of its nearest rival, the Congress, both in terms of popular support and the electoral verdict. While geographically we talk of the big North-South divide in India, but the verdict of 2019 indicates that politically the India of 2019 has three distinct regions — the North and West, where the BJP performed as well in 2019 as in 2014 and the East and Northeast, where it made huge inroads, clearly visible from its electoral performance in states like Odisha, West Bengal and Tripura. Though the BJP performed very well in Karnataka, winning 25 of the total 28 seats in spite of a Congress JD(S) alliance and managed to win four Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, the other parts of southern India still remained beyond the reach of the BJP. The split verdict in states like Odisha and Telangana where seats got split between various parties, Mamata Banerjee’s ability to hold on to her support base in West Bengal to a great extent and the DMK’s excellent performance in Tamil Nadu indicate, despite many factors nationalising the campaign, state-level choices still remain an important factor.
The verdict of 2019 clearly indicates that the issue of nationalism aroused in the country post Pulwama and Balakot triumphed over local issues — which was a visible concern of the voters in the Hindi heartland states in early 2019. The verdict also indicates an endorsement for the various development works done by the BJP government during the last five years, but I would slightly hesitate to give the entire credit of this victory to only the welfare programmes of the government. In my opinion, this is much more of a vote for nationalism, for the hope and the faith which people have in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The hope is that Mr Modi is the man who could take the country on the path of development and he is the one who can hold firmly and fly the Indian flag higher in international forums.
The Opposition did try to raise the issues of unemployment and rural distress which was an issue in many parts of India but they were unable to establish any dialogue with the voters on these issues as Mr Modi stood firmly in between these issues which were a concern amongst a section of voters and the Opposition’s campaign on these issues. Mr Modi was more at the centre of the 2019 Lok Sabha election compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha election. This election was contested only and only in the name of Mr Modi. Those who voted for the BJP voted largely for Mr Modi and those who voted for the Opposition also largely voted to oppose Mr Modi. The different choices the voters of Odisha made for their Assembly and for the Lok Sabha even when they voted at the same moment is a clear indication of how voters were attracted towards Mr Modi in these elections, with only a few states being exceptions. The poor performance of the Congress in the Hindi heartland states and regional parties, in spite of their forming alliances in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and a few others, clearly indicates that many of these regional parties failed to establish a connect with the people in their states, though there are a few exceptions.
The BJP won 303 seats and polled 36 per cent votes, improved upon its performance of 2014. Along with the allies, the tally of seats for the NDA went up from 335 seats in 2014 to 352 in 2019. Its voteshare also increased from 38.9 per cent in 2014 to 43.6 per cent in 2019.
The positive swing in terms of votes in favour of the BJP indicates that while the BJP held on to its traditional support bases amongst the upper class and upper castes, it managed to hold on to its new supporters of 2014 — the dalits, advasis, the lower OBCs, the young and it also managed to make further inroads amongst the upper OBC voters. The poor performance of the SP-BSP alliance (38.8 per cent votes) indicates there has been some erosion in their support base amongst their traditional supporters — the Yadavs and the dalits. The extremely poor performance of the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar (29.1 per cent) also indicates an erosion in the support base of the RJD among Yadavs and Muslims. The bad showing of the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra (33.9 per cent) and of the Congress-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka (41.4 per cent) is an indication of these parties losing support amongst its traditional supporters. These political alliances looked formidable in the way they could have helped build a social coalition of voters across castes-communities, which has largely happened in the past, but the poor performance of these alliances raises a bigger question: Is this the beginning of a decline in the political electoral arithmetic of caste-community?
The poor performance of the Congress raises the question not only about the future of the party, and also about the leadership issue within it. Losing 2014 badly was understandable, as the Congress faced huge anti-incumbency at the backdrop of corruption charges against many ministers, but there was no anti-incumbency against it in 2019. The Congress should have improved upon its performance of 2014, especially after winning the Assembly elections in three states last year, which it failed to do. I am sure many within the Congress, if not openly, may hint towards the failure of the party leadership. The way the BJP managed to consolidate the majority in its favour in many states indicates that large numbers of people still have a huge trust deficit for the Congress, especially with regard to the party’s approach towards the majority and minority communities. The verdict in Bhopal is only an indication of that.
These results also indicate the limitations of a negative campaign which the Congress had launched against the BJP by raising the slogan of Chowkidar Chor Hai to convey to the voters that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is corrupt. Certainly, it did not seem to have gone well in the minds of the voters. The issue of corruption in the Rafale deal was hardly convincing for the people. Finally, the Congress did come up with a positive message of “Nyay”, but the party failed to convey this message to the voters effectively as it lacked the communications skills.