A landslide decoded

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By Eshwar Sundaresan

The sixteenth of May, 2014, will be recorded in Indian history as the day when politics underwent a radical transformation. Exactly a quarter of a century after coalition politics became the norm while forming the Central government, the Indian public once again offered a clear mandate to a single party – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the inimitable Narendra Modi. This astonishing story unfolds below.

Facts

  • This election gave a nationwide landslide to the BJP – from Assam in the east to Gujarat in the west, and Himachal Pradesh in the north to Andhra Pradesh in the south.
  • It was marked by sweeping mandates for regional parties in three states where the BJP has not done well. These states are Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Orissa where the AIADMK, TMC and BJD have claimed the laurels respectively. The only states that have not given a clear mandate to a single party are Karnataka, Punjab and Kerala.
  • This is the first time that a non-Congress government has a simple majority in the Lok Sabha (lower House). In fact, the BJP on its own (without its allies in the National Democratic Alliance) has a simple majority.
  • The largest Opposition party, if it has at least 10% of the total Lok Sabha seats, chooses the Leader of the Opposition. Alas, the second largest party is the Congress with 46 seats. 10% of the total strength (543 seats) is 54.
  • Remarkably, many important regional parties have not won even a single seat in this Parliament. These parties include the DMK (Tamil Nadu), BSP (primarily Uttar Pradesh) and MNS (Maharashtra). An even bigger number of regional parties are tottering in the single digits. These include SP, RJD, JD (U), JD (S), JMM and even the two communist parties put together.
  • The Aam Aadmi Party – the new kid in the block which stunned everybody with their remarkable performance in the Delhi Assembly elections in late 2013 – made an insipid debut in Parliament, winning only 4 seats in the Punjab although it contested in more than 400 seats nationwide. AAP Leader Arvind Kejriwal himself bowed to popular intra-party opinion to directly battle Narendra Modi in the holy town of Varanasi. Needless to say, he lost his seat.

Interpretations/Analyses

Presidential style campaigning (read: a campaign driven by Modi’s personality) has worked like magic for the BJP. It was almost as if the voter’s first task was to decide whether he was pro- or anti-Modi. In other words, did he see Modi as decisive or divisive? One wonders whether this neural sequencing translated into unbelievably high vote shares through the length and breadth of the country.

The nation has rejected dynastic politics this time. This applies not just to the Congress party, which is the virtual fiefdom of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Other dynasty-led parties like the DMK, RJD, NCP, JD (S) and SP have also been decimated. The only exception to this trend is Naveen Patnaik of the BJD in Orissa. His clean image and proactive measures have given him a third straight term in the State Assembly, in addition to helping him win the most Parliamentary seats from his state.

However, since dynasties have in the past shrugged off electoral debacles as temporary setbacks, one doesn’t expect much revamp at the top of any of these parties.

At first glance, it seems like no party has been able to consolidate the minority/marginalized votes. For instance:

  • In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati’s BSP relies on the lower castes (dalits) to support her in overwhelming numbers. The fact that this powerful lady won zero seats tells us that her support base abandoned her and distributed its loyalties elsewhere.
  • Again, in Uttar Pradesh, the SP brags about the loyalty of their Muslim voters. They won 5 seats in a state that’s worth 80 seats. Even if the Muslims wanted to vote against Modi, they seem to have not voted for the SP. This is just one example of how the Muslims across India have not really congregated behind any particular anti-BJP party.

Is it fair to conclude that, for the first time in decades, the majority vote (read: Hindu) got consolidated with the BJP? If yes, then is this a repeatable trend? Frankly, it’s too early to answer these questions, but one needs to get to them asap. Historically, it is assumed that the Hindu vote will always splinter, so wooing minorities made sense. But if the assumption is proved wrong, will more parties want to woo the Hindu majority? If yes, then what impact will this have on the secular fabric of Indian polity and society?

The saddest election story for progressives comes from the backward state of Bihar, where the BJP is enjoying a landslide victory. Its erstwhile ally, the Janata Dal (United) led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has barely any presence left in the Parliament. Nitish broke off his alliance with the BJP once the latter anointed Modi as their Prime Ministerial candidate. Another side-effect of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. Although Nitish is not as popular as a few years ago, one expected his pro-development policies and excellent law-and-order track record to hold him in good stead. Unfortunately, he suffered the same fate as his corrupt predecessor Laloo Prasad Yadav, who allied with the Congress. A three-horse race ended up being a gallop for one horse.

The Aam Aadmi Party paid the price for three major mistakes following its powerful performance in the Delhi Assembly elections. They are as follows:

  • Firstly, it forged an ill-advised and self-doubting alliance with the Congress to form a government in Delhi. It thus became part of the establishment but continued anti-establishment actions include the staging of roadside protests (dharnas). Also, the manner in which the government dissolved itself left many doubts in the minds of voters regarding the capability and patience of AAP.
  • Secondly, for a party without proper structure and a brand new support base, the AAP spread itself too thin by contesting over 400 seats. The party made a mark in Delhi in December 2013 due to the untiring sacrifices of volunteers. But it just didn’t have sufficient volunteers to create the same impact over 400 seats. Also, regional heads have reportedly been imperious around these very unpaid volunteers.
  • Thirdly, the direct Kejriwal versus Modi battle in Varanasi meant that the AAP leader would not be available for campaigning elsewhere during the last month, which he spent in Varanasi to try and win his own constituency. How much more would have been the AAP vote share had Kejriwal been available to make rousing speeches in swing seats, especially in the metros?

Despite these setbacks, AAP should have done well since it was vehemently opposed to corruption and crony capitalism. Nobody is in any doubt that these were significant issues in this election since the nation was fed up of the mega scams unleashed by the Congress-led UPA government at the centre. How then does one explain AAP’s bad performance? Did Modi successfully convince the nation that he was as passionate about fighting corruption as AAP, if not more? Well, one is hard-pressed to find any other explanation. This explanation also accommodates the fact that AAP increased its vote share in Delhi since the assembly elections and yet lost all the seats therein!! The BJP’s vote share increased by a much higher percentage. To summarize, when the previously pro-Congress voters split their vote, more of them preferred the BJP.

Around 1.1% of the nationwide voters chose the new option available this time – NOTA or None Of The Above. It remains to be seen whether the NOTA vote was higher in constituencies not contested by AAP. An initial analysis suggests this connection because Tamil Nadu, for instance, which did not have many AAP candidates in the fray, has a higher NOTA vote share of 1.4%.

The key factor

From the above analyses, the following points become clear:

  • Caste was not the decisive factor – if it was, then the BSP, RJD, DMK etc would have done well.
  • Religion was not the decisive factor – if it was, then the Congress, RJD, SP, JD (U) etc would have done well.
  • Development was not the decisive factor – if it was, then AAP and JD (U) would have done well.
  • The anti-Congress sentiment was strong, but not the decisive factor – if it was, then dozens of parties would have done better.

The fact is that the BJP won because of its trump card. Narendra Modi. A few weeks ago, party insiders began claiming a Modi wave. More recently, the phenomenon was described as a Modi tsunami. And since Narendra Modi is affectionately called NaMo, the phenomenon got termed tsunamo!

And that’s exactly what hit India in the 2014 Parliamentary elections. These results will be discussed with awe decades from now, irrespective of India’s internal political situation or international standing at that time.

What remains to be seen is this: what will NaMo actually deliver during his tenure? The nation has given him carte blanche now. Will he encash the mandate wisely? Will he carry every segment of society along, as he has thundered during his acceptance speech? Will he also find a balance between corporate needs and welfare measures?

For once in modern Indian politics, the Prime Minister will have nobody to blame if things go wrong.