New Delhi: After a fevered campaign, months of opposition negotiations and seven phases of polling, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has won the 17th Lok Sabha elections comfortably. It is currently leading in 351 seats. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is leading in 89 seats.
In the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, the BJP is set to win all Lok Sabha seats. It has also gained in West Bengal and Odisha, though it is still second to the Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal respectively. The BJP has also made inroads in Karnataka, and is leading is almost all seats in Jharkhand.
It also looks as though the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal has failed to curb the BJP’s influence in Uttar Pradesh. The saffron party is far ahead in the polls.
In the last two months, 543 constituencies across 29 states and seven union territories voted in the 17th Lok Sabha elections. In what was a gruelling process for both the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the political parties in the fray, the 2019 general elections will go down in history as one in which national security concerns cast a big shadow over material concerns of the poor.
Cross-border terrorism dominated the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign at the cost of its 2014 slogan of vikas or development. The opposition parties, on the other hand, hedged their bets on picking up issues like rising unemployment and rural distress to cash in on possible disenchantment against the union government for not fulfilling many of its poll promises of 2014.
Only five months ago, the saffron party was reeling under severe pressure having lost three important north India states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – in the assembly polls. It seemed that opposition’s criticism of the Narendra Modi government on the failing state of economy and the controversial Rafale scam was picking up.
But the saffron party attempted to turn around the anti-incumbency against the Centre by foregrounding national security matters in its glitzy, expensive political campaign. Immediately after it conducted Balakot airstrikes, following the militant attack on a CRPF convoy in Kashmir valley, the BJP raised its pitch against Pakistan and projected itself as the only party which can adequately and promptly respond to terrorism.
“Hum ghar mein ghusenge bhi aur marenge bhi. Yeh Naya India hai (We will enter your house and also kill you. This is New India)” – the slogan became the motto of the BJP that wanted to be seen as the only force capable of delivering a strong state under the leadership of Modi.
It ran a presidential style campaign. Although India is a complex parliamentary democracy, the BJP made each vote for a BJP candidate as a direct vote to elect Modi. As it projected the elections as a referendum for Modi, the ground-level workers gradually worked the party’s jingoistic campaign into an anti-Muslim political narrative, in a way giving its Hindutva ideology a new colour.
However, the saffron party’s attempt to consolidate Hindus in its favour was challenged by multiple regional parties and the Congress, which came together to forge a common ideological, if not electoral, platform.
Never in the history of India have the diverse opposition forces come so close to each other. They have often fought, bargained for power, but the way the last few months saw them coming together to strategise a BJP defeat was unprecedented.
The election will also be remembered for the prime minister declaring in his speech that India will not hesitate to use its nuclear weapons if it is attacked. While this may sound like war-mongering to many, the BJP justified it as its cry to defend the nation.
In 2014, Modi advertised his “Gujarat Model”, became a development icon, promised “acche din” to the Indian people, and shined as an anti-corruption crusader.
In 2019, when he is seeking a second term, he has pushed those messages to the backburner, and projected himself as an irreplaceable masculine leader that he thinks India needs.
Its principal rival Congress, however, offered a better state economy, a financial support scheme called NYAY, and critiqued the BJP’s “hate politics”.
With so much polarisation, the faith in public institutions have dwindled in India. The elections saw many opposition parties complaining against the ECI’s alleged partisan approach towards parties. They indicated that the BJP leaders were being let off easily by the poll body for making hateful statements did not help while the opposition leaders were meted out strong punishments.
Throughout the campaign, the poor handling of EVMs by the poll body in many constituencies became a talking point. The allegations may not be true but the reticence shown by the ECI to respond promptly and directly to them did not go down well with many observers, including some former election commissioners.
The 2014 results
As the results come in, it will be interesting to see how these parties perform. In 2014, the BJP had secured a simple majority after many years of coalition governments at the Centre. It won 282 seats with a 31.34% votes, although its share was much higher in the northern states where it won more than 95% of the total seats.
The Congress tally had fallen so much that its numbers were comparable to a few regional parties. It won only 44% with a 19.52%. Parties like Trinamool Congress had won 36 while the Tamil Nadu’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had 37.
The exit polls has already shown a 300+ majority for the incumbent BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. However, data analysts have shown that even a three percent swing in the estimated vote shares projected by the exit polls will significantly impact the results.
For polling nerds: I compared NDA vote share estimates of CVoter and My Axis India for 23 states. In 12 states, the difference between their projections is greater than 3% points. Note that a swing of 3% can have a significant impact on the verdict. @YRDeshmukh @PradeepGuptaAMI pic.twitter.com/u0xVP8z4i8
— Samarth Bansal (@PySamarth) May 21, 2019
Nonetheless, if the exit polls turn to be true, then the BJP attempt to project Modi as a US-style presidential nominee will be seen as a novel political strategy in a parliamentary democracy. If not, then it may come as a lesson for many that the Indian electorate still prefer their representatives to address their immediate livelihood concerns over anything else.