Elections 2019 show that 2014 wasn’t an outlier
BJP’s win raises the question of whether India is moving into a post-Mandal phase of politicsUpdated: May 23, 2019 23:40 IST
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) triumphant return to power, with 303 seats (leads and wins at 10 pm) as compared to 2014’s 282, shows that the latter wasn’t the outlier or black swan everyone considered it to be. In 2014, the party won 171 of 185 seats in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Gujarat. No one thought that number could be repeated. Not even senior leaders of the BJP. In 2019, the party won 158 of these 185 seats. But it did something better.
In 2014, the party won just 111 seats of the 358 seats outside these states. This year, it won 142.
Also in 2014, the party won 86% of its head-to-head contests against the Congress, according to political analyst and HT columnist, Neelanjan Sircar. This year, he points out, it actually managed to improve this strike rate to 93%.
The biggest factor behind the BJP’s win was Prime Minister Narendra Modi: nothing else can explain why, across states, stalwarts from the opposition bit the dust. And nothing else can explain why the BJP swept states where the Congress won assembly polls as recently as December 2018.
Left stranded in the wake of the BJP’s win are Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, both of whom staked their political future by forging an unlikely partnership to take on the BJP; Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress has suffered significant losses in West Bengal; even Naveen Patnaik, whose Biju Janata Dal, while holding its own in both the assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Odisha, has ceded ground to the BJP.
The Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP’s) N Chandrababu Naidu, one of the prime movers of a possible alliance that actually thought it may have a chance to form the government, finds himself in political wilderness, although it is Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP and not the BJP that is responsible for this.
The only winners in these elections, apart from the BJP, are the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK’s) MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu, YSCRP’s Mr Reddy, and the Congress’ Amarinder Singh. The first, by winning his first big electoral battle after the death of his father and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi; the second by sweeping aside the incumbent Mr Naidu-led TDP government in Andhra Pradesh apart from registering a landslide win in the Lok Sabha elections in the state; and the third by ensuring the Congress did well in Punjab.
At the level of the two main national parties, the result of these elections poses two questions, one to each.
For the Congress, that question is simply whether it is time to look beyond the Gandhis. Three Gandhis (one of whom didn’t campaign much) couldn’t win it this election or even help it improve its performance significantly over 2014. Former party president Sonia Gandhi was succeeded by her son Rahul Gandhi. And her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, although just one of the party’s several general secretaries, is effectively No 3. The Trinamool Congress’ Ms Banerjee and YSCRP’s Mr Reddy are both former Congress leaders who have thrived outside the party. Punjab’s Mr Singh has managed to create space for himself in the party, but he is one of very few leaders that have managed to do so. The party has to indulge in some serious introspection on this.
For the BJP, that question is about what it needs to do in terms of governance and administration to ensure that it can win an election where people are electing their representatives and not the prime minister. While the party’s focus on reaching out to the 220 million beneficiaries of the government’s welfare programmes did help its cause, it was its ability to present the contest as a presidential style one with Mr Modi as its candidate that helped it drown out very real issues such as the agrarian crisis and unemployment.
At a larger level, the BJP’s win in these elections raises the question whether India is finally moving into a post-Mandal phase of politics. The BJP may have helped accelerate this with its move to reorganise the Other Backward Classes by looking at subcategories. The poor performance of the SP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal could perhaps be indicative of this. While an answer to this question will require more research, if this is happening, it will mean that after three decades, Indian politics has definitely moved into a new epoch.
Which is only in the fitness of things: the BJP’s new India will also see a new wave of politics.