As I write this piece from Berlin --- detached from the hype and hoopla that marks the declaration of any election result --- the main question that comes to my mind is this: Does this result set the stage for the general elections in 2019? The answer is no.
Here’s why I say this: The BJP has won UP and Uttarakhand convincingly. The Congress has retained Punjab and has emerged as the single-largest party in Manipur and Goa. The AAP has to cope with a sense of disappointment for they were hopeful in Goa and sanguine in Punjab.
Now, let us now rewind to 2002. That year no party got a clear majority in UP. The Congress won Punjab and Uttarakhand and was the single-largest party in Goa and Manipur.
Did that election set the stage for the 2004 general elections? No. The riots in Gujarat in 2002 did. This fact was admitted by none other than former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee after he lost the 2004 Parliament elections.
Similarly in 2007, the BSP won in Uttar Pradesh. The Akali Dal-BJP alliance routed the Congress in Punjab. The BJP won Uttrakhand. The Congress which won Manipur was the single largest party in Goa.
Did this election set the stage for the 2009 parliamentary polls?
No. The Indo-US civil nuclear deal did. It helped the Congress catapult from 145 seats to 206.
Again in 2012, the SP won UP. The Akali Dal-BJP alliance retained Punjab and won Goa. The Congress won in Manipur and emerged as the single-largest party in Uttarakhand.
Did this election provide the platform for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls? No. What provided the focus was Narendra Modi’s anointment as the prime ministerial candidate in Goa in 2013. It helped the BJP resolve its internal contradictions that had befuddled it for nine long years and unite under the leadership of Narendra Modi.
Is the 2017 result is also an amalgamation of diverse state-level impulses?
While data would have to be crunched to analyse why the poll numbers have once again defied exit poll calculations, this result does provide headroom for Modi to try and address the two fundamental challenges that plague India: The first is India’s relationship with Pakistan, and the second, the faltering economy, notwithstanding the creative statistics that have been put out by the Central Statistical Organisation.
Would Modi be willing to pick up the threads in India’s relationship with Pakistan that has been on the rocks since the Uri attack or will he wait since Pakistan is scheduled to go for national assembly elections in 2017?
If he chooses the latter, it means that the zero-sum game between the two countries will continue till the May of 2019.
Coming to the economy, the fact remains that we have entered an era of jobless growth. Given the youth bulge in our demographics, this is a potentially dangerous portent that can have long-term implications for social stability and cohesion.
Modi’s real test will be in Gujarat later this year. In the meantime, this amalgam of state-level factors at work gives him a chance to refocus on governance.
As far as the Opposition is concerned, they should focus on finding a presidential candidate who commands credibility across the widest spectrum of forces hostile to the current dispensation.
Then only would it be back in the game.
(Manish Tewari is a former Union minister and national spokesperson of the Congress. The views expressed are personal