Second historic victory: A moment for Narendra Modi and BJP to savour

I wrote recently in these pages, “In the parliamentary elections…, one candidate, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is fighting… in 543 constituencies,” (“Modi: From pariah to messiah?Business Standard, May 7, 2019), a refrain since picked up by many others.  Mr Modi was the issue.  Such has been his command over the electoral discourse and imagination (evident even last December when the BJP lost three state elections), his victory was foretold, and the party was bound to repeat its 2014 performance.  Exit poll after exit poll indicated this five days ago, and the results announced yesterday confirmed that it had done even better.  Mr Modi had made this claim in his last campaign rally, but most of us treated it as mere propaganda hyperbole.

This victory also signals the near-certain end of some long-running political shows.  N Chandrababu Naidu’s agitprop shenanigans as the electoral process reached its finale were clearly born out of a desperation caused by defeat in both assembly and parliamentary elections looming large, but the complete wipe-out of the Telugu Desam (TDP) was not expected.  It would be a matter of time of what is left of it finds safer havens in Jagan Mohan Reddy’s party, with the BJP always waiting to accommodate all comers.  Navin Patnaik has won a fifth term in Odisha, but he never appeared to relish much the brutal battle of the ballot.  Given concerns about his health and there being virtually no second rung, this regional party could also meet the same fate as the TDP.  

If, as widely expected, the tottering Karnataka coalition collapses in the aftermath of the BJP national victory, the father-sons proprietary concern of the Janata Dal (Secular) would be yet another casualty.  And the crew of the leaky ship of the Nationalist Congress Party would start thinking of abandoning its master, Sharad Pawar.  Some have already done so.  Without the glue of power, the mahagathbandhans of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will wither away, and the family firms of the two Yadav patriarchs, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, will not be able to withstand fissures within the family, not to speak of outside influences.  The two doughty ladies, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee, have rather more loyal bands of followers, but their aura has much diminished, possibly grievously, at the reverses they have been handed out by the Modi juggernaut.

 
The biggest loser of them all is India’s grand old party, the Congress, now reduced to a Gandhi family fiefdom.  It may have improved its tally a bit from 2014, but possibly not enough to claim the position of the leader of opposition.  This improvement is confined to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab, in all of which its central leadership – read president Rahul Gandhi –played no role.  Wherever the Congress faced the BJP one-on-one, it fared pathetically, winning seats fewer than fingers on one hand in each state.  Rahul Gandhi may have displayed much energy and strained his vocal chords, but his narrative of the Modi corruption, bordering on the vituperative, found no purchase at all in the campaign.  His possible loss in the family pocket borough of 40 years, Amethi, says it all.  The Congress was supposed to be seeking revival rather than survival, but since it has not quite revived, its survival may have been put at risk.  Yogendra Yadav has provocatively called for the Congress’ demise.  

Another set of losers are the pundits who engaged wildly in whataboutery during the campaign.  Coomi Kapoor wrote two days ago, “When it comes to elections, experts … often tend to wear blinkers” (“Unseeing the wave,” The Indian Express, May 22, 2019), something with which I whole-heartedly agree.  Some experts have already begun explaining with alacrity what they could not foresee.  Crows in the vicinity of media centres are endangered!

For the BJP, winning the election was the easy part, with all due appreciation of the effort — and the money! — spent.  It faces many challenges — slowing economy, disappearing jobs, distressed peasantry — that are only too well-known.  More immediately, it has a major mountain to climb to get its business done.  Last five years have shown that small numbers of the opposition can often exacerbate difficulties in passing the legislative agenda.  Since neither the winners nor the losers are likely to show grace, we should be prepared for noisier and more frequent parliamentary disruptions.

But, in the end, as Brinda Karat had said after the Left bounced back in 2004, this is the moment for Mr Modi and the BJP to savour their famous victory.
The author is an economist



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