A Brief Analysis on India’s Elections

At the outset, let's understand the setting for the 2019 General Elections for the 17th Indian Parliament that commenced on April 11 and ended on May 19.

A Brief Analysis on India’s Elections
Photo : Dr Ram Shankar

At the outset, let's understand the setting for the 2019 General Elections for the 17th Indian Parliament that commenced on April 11 and ended on May 19.

NDA under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was completing its 5 years term of an India that is rapidly modernizing and has “global ambitions” to be respected as an international power. In part, Modi's victory in 2014 was due to this aspiration that India badly wanted to shake off the casteist, communal and underdeveloped tag. There was a simmering discontent with the UPA’s corrupt ways. Riding on the peoples anti corruption movement of Anna Hazare in 2012, the NDA swept the polls quickly filling up the political space vacated by the family driven Congress.

Modi's aggressive brand of leadership peppered with liberal doses of anti corruption, rejection of family fiefdom and forward-looking development oriented governance caught the country’s imagination. All this, coupled with his tough posturing against terrorism, compounded to create a heady mix of public euphoria that Modi rode to power with unprecedented public support not seen in recent history.

Five years down the line the revolution of rising expectations was bound to give way to a more sedate and sceptic support that has left the once unassailable Modi in a twilight zone.

The 2019 elections hold special significance for the country and are a far cry from the development-oriented aspiration that existed in 2014. It is time to count how many chickens have actually hatched. Indian public is ruthless in its evaluation. To be fair, the problems are humongous. And efforts, although substantial, always fall short of expectations. Modi, BJP and NDA today find themselves in the unenviable situation of payback time. Their situation could have been far worse had the opposition in India been able to evolve a substantive alternate narrative whether with regard to vision or implementation. Compounding this crisis of political alternative is the archaic family based political culture of the other main national party - Congress. All it could project as an apology of public leadership was a reluctant political leader in Rahul Gandhi. And the confused narrowly focused leadership of the regional parties has never emerged as a credible alternative.
The motley conglomerate of regional parties that have rustled up this 'Mahagathbandhan' (alliance of opportunistic parties) is primarily driven by Modi hate and an exclusivist policy that hits at the very roots of democratic culture. In India, there is this theory of 'vote banks' and 'vote transference' on which these regional parties are clutching as the proverbial last straw. The Congress, having been singed during the last general elections,  has been pursuing an overt policy of 'soft Hindutva' with its leaders on a temple hopping spree through out this long drawn elections. However, the public perception of the Congress as a minority appeasement party persists as an undercurrent with loose cannon, motor mouths from the party compounding matters. The underpinning of Indian elections has always been primordial loyalties like caste, community, region and language. The BJP, over the past several years, has been positioning itself as the vanguard party of majority Hindus while the Congress emerged as the minority appeasement party. The change of tack is hardly going to change public perception. Congress was forced to abandon it's overt policy of minority pandering because the regional parties like Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar the three most populous states have usurped the original moslem clientele of the Congress leaving it struggling for support.

 

Perhaps the one thing that these elections will be remembered for is the pungent acrimonious campaign by all the parties. Modi appeared to be at the receiving end of most of these jibes ranging from 'chowkidar chor hai' (keeper is a thief) to 'neech' (low down creature). Motor mouths like Manishankar Aiyer and Navjot Singh Siddhu from the Congress to the aggressive Mamta Banerjee (of West Bengal) calling for 'slapping Modi' to his 'ouster from India'. It befuddles one as what constituency is being addressed by these vituperative politicians. Is it a sign of nervousness regarding the electoral outcome?

In any case, the outcome of all this has been to make these elections Modi centric, thereby reducing it effectively into a presidential type of contest. This is something that the opposition should have avoided like plague. This is manna from heaven for the BJP because it weaned the focus of these elections away from uncomfortable economic issues like unemployment (an all time high with significant depression in job market), agrarian distress (increasing farmer suicides), and plummeting industrial production (minus 0.1 % during last quarter) to huge government debts (30 lac crores over the past 5 years).

These issues never gained prominence as the opposition had no alternate narrative to offer letting the BJP and Modi off the hook. The much-hyped Nyay Scheme (of giving every low income household 6,000 rupees a month) in the Congress manifesto is an ill-conceived dole out sop without any sound economic grounding. The already over burdened middle class taxpayer became wary knowing fully well that it will have to shoulder the burden.

It has to be understood however that the Indian voter is not only ingenious but discerning also. The aspirations raised in 2014 are giving way to scepticism. Great on optics but low on delivery, the BJP led government has much to worry about. There are though flash points of tackling terrorism, foreign policy achievements, crack down on corruption, and GDP growth rates of 7.2% even during global depression that are feathers in Modi's cap.

All in all, if the government wins, it will be an out and out Modi show. Will it transform Modi into an autocrat as some asserted? This will not be a healthy sign for a democracy. We will wait and see. India needs to wean away from charismatic based personality politics. 

This is a watershed election that could spell doom for many regional parties. The Congress too could be in for a major overhaul with serious thinking of alternate leadership strategies. With this new term, Modi could go full throttle on the Jammu & Kashmir problem, Corruption of the high and mighty, and Ram mandir – issues that the majority of the population would like to see resolved.

 

*Dr Ram Shankar is head Department of Political Science at Jabalpur University, (Madhya Pradesh)