Proving a multitude of naysayers and faultfinders wrong once again, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a historic second term with an absolute majority by winning a bigger mandate than 2014 on May 23. With this victory, the BJP has achieved a rare feat of forming a consecutive government with a majority mandate, something the country has not seen since Indira Gandhi repeated her 1996 win in the 1971 general elections.
By winning the world’s largest election in a hard fought battle the second time around, the BJP under Modi has altered Indian politics forever. The BJP now is the most dominant party across the country, with a Saffron sweep of a majority of the states even as a marginalised Congress and a virtually decimated Left Front come to terms with their new reality.
In the past, caste arithmetic was key to political chemistry in order to win elections but this year, Modi’s chemistry has trounced all caste and regional equations. Modi’s biggest success in this election was in creating a new voter base that is defined by social and economic change rather than caste or religion.
This parliamentary election was fought like a presidential election with the entire poll campaign – of the BJP and the opposition parties -- focusing on Modi’s persona. Despite criticism, Modi has retained his image as a doer, who is incorruptible and sincere despite the opposition’s accusations of corruption in the Rafale deal.
Political pundits across the country had predicted that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government would be unable to repeat its 2014 success. Liberal commentators in the media and opposition leaders had long been criticising the government, rubbishing all talk of a Modi wave till they witnessed the Modi tsunami.
Even though all the exit polls predicted an NDA win, it took the final results for the BJP and the pollsters to be vindicated. Putting all arguments of anti-incumbency aside, the NDA increased its vote share from 38.3 per cent in 2014 to 43.8 per cent in 2019.
The NDA’s mandate is resounding given that its vote share is the highest in the last three elections for a ruling coalition and its increase is in sharp contrast to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance which only had a vote share of 26.9 per cent.
In these Lok Sabha elections, the people voted in record numbers with a combined voter turnout of 67.11 per cent, higher than the previous record of 66.4 per cent in 2014. If magazine headlines called Modi “Divider-in-Chief” before the poll results, he emerged as the Unifier-in-Chief after the BJP-led NDA seemed to have swayed the minorities.
Contrary to the popular perception about the Saffron party, the NDA received nearly twice the vote share of the Congress in constituencies that had minorities accounting for under 40 per cent of the total population or low minority seats.
The party’s evolution among majority voters too has been redefined under Modi. Once known as a party predominantly of the upper castes like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP seems to have made a concerted effort to appeal to the backward and poor in rural India which has paid off.
The NDA’s traditional vote bank consisted of traders and urban voters but has now expanded to rural voters after the efficient implementation of government schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, the Swachh Bharat Mission and the Ujjwala Yojana. These Central government schemes have impacted rural villages where some say Modi has done more than any other Central government in the past.
Modi’s win shows that 2014 election results were no aberration, and marks a tectonic shift that is taking place in Indian politics. By securing a win in the previous general election, the NDA had moved the political narrative in the country towards centre-right. In 2019, the BJP has once again shifted the ideological middle ground to the right.
In doing so, it has expanded its voter base even as the Congress struggles to compete. With no ideological vision and leadership to match the BJP and Modi, the Congress has further ceded ground to the BJP in many parts of the country.
The BJP has emerged as the main opposition party in states like West Bengal and Odisha by replacing the Congress. The party’s entry into new states, with the rout of the Left, and rise of new regional players such as YSR Congress will change the political landscape in many states, and will play a key role on the national stage as well.
Even though these elections have been praised for signalling a maturing of democracy, they also carry signs that India may turn into a country with majoritarian views. In his victory speech, Modi spoke about winning the trust of all Indians and ending the deception of minorities, a move that drew praise even from his detractors.
The reins of the country are once again in Prime Minister Modi’s hands. With great power, comes greater responsibility. It will be important for the BJP to remember that it has won the election on the plank of development, not Hindutva.
Modi has his task cut out given the farmer crisis, unemployment and a slowing economy. In meeting these challenges, he must not only display efficiency and courage, but also grace and sensitivity. Both these qualities have been found wanting in the BJP since 2014. After carving out the party’s victory, Modi has to now ensure the party is identified with development rather than religion, humility rather than arrogance. He must choose wisely.