Election 2019: Few takeaways that define India
There is a delicious sense of expectation in the air before the general election results are declared. Will the Modi Sarkar get the numbers to be back in power or will there be a dramatic upset? Will the results bear out the exit polls? Whichever way the numbers go, whatever the colour of India’s next government, this election will be a watershed and determine the country’s socio-economic-political trajectory for decades.
In Mumbai as in the rest of Maharashtra, an overwhelming mandate in favour of BJP-Shiv Sena will be half the battle won for them; the other half is the Assembly election five months away. A good show now will give the saffron coalition a head start but that’s if they continue their alliance. Should the BJP-Sena get fewer than 30 of Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats, it would reflect some discontent against the state government too.
Will Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena be part of a broader coalition or run independently? What role will the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi play? And what really is the difference now between the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party? The former has a number of regional satraps without a visionary state leader holding them together. If Congress gets more Lok Sabha seats this time than the two it did in 2014, it would be credited to individual candidates and overall messaging in Rahul Gandhi’s campaign; state leadership was hardly in the picture. The latter has leaders and needs a cadre.
Beyond Mumbai and Maharashtra, this election has redrawn India’s electoral paradigm in at least six ways. Firstly, regional parties have re-discovered their relevance in opposition to the BJP and could reshape federal relations. How they translate their electoral performances into a pan-India rainbow coalition – or not – and what the Congress party’s relationship with them will be is likely to define India’s political landscape in the near future.
Secondly, this election cemented the trend – which the BJP started in 2014 – that an election is about perceptions and performances more than issues. Despite a poor economic record, nationalism and Hindutva became the mainstay of the campaign. The more event-driven a political campaign, the more gladiatorial a leader’s performance, the greater the binaries and polarisation created, the better it was supposed to be. This passed off as Modi-Shah’s strategy. This forced the opposition, especially the Congress, to play the game. That Gandhi did not stoop to that level of polarisation is creditable.
Thirdly, this election more than any in recent past called the independence and impartiality of the Election Commission into question. This reflected the Modi Sarkar’s politicisation or domination of other democratic institutions, undermining their autonomy. Electoral bonds skewed the level playing field. This cannot end well for India.
Fourth, with a few exceptions, the mainstream media’s willingness to jive to the government’s tune, present it or BJP in an uncritical manner – the vast difference in quantity and quality of time/space given to Modi and Gandhi for example; news channels showed Modi for 722 hours and Gandhi for 252 hours in April, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council – greatly undermined the plurality and vigour of India’s free press.
Fifth, there are now alternate universes within India in which different groups believe starkly opposite ‘facts’ about a range of issues – from Gross Domestic Product, surgical strikes, previous governments’ records to Rajiv Gandhi’s holidays. These have been assiduously created by obfuscating truth, manufacturing ‘fake news’, falsifying history, all spread via targeted delivery on social media platforms. In doing so, the BJP has dented scholarship and respect for facts.
Sixth, this election saw a terror-accused person, Pragya Singh Thakur, as a proud candidate of the ruling party. She eulogised Nathuram Godse as a patriot. That the BJP expects her to win defines the India and its election of 2019.