The BJP’s emphatic victory in Lok Sabha elections earlier this year not only was a milestone in democratic India, but also an indicator of the evolution of the Indian voter from a passive onlooker to an aware and assertive player.
It was only the second time in the country’s post-Independence history that voters re-elected the same party to power with a bigger majority to the Lok Sabha. With 303 seats in its kitty and gaining 21 seats over its 2014 tally of 282 seats, the BJP’s total vote share stood at 37.4 per cent, a jump of over six percentage points from 31.34 per cent in 2014.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance bagged 353 seats and secured a vote share of 45 per cent, as against 38 per cent in 2014. In contrast, the vote share of the main opposition, the Indian National Congress, with 52 seats remained stagnant at 19.5 per cent. The grand old party-led United Progressive Alliance won 91 seats while other parties and alliances won 98 seats in all.
Narendra Modi became the first Prime Minister in history whose government was re-elected with both an increase in the total percentage of votes along with a full majority. Rahul Gandhi, who was projected by many as the Prime Ministerial candidate, contested from two constituencies, winning from Wayanad, but losing from the family bastion of Amethi where Smriti Irani of BJP trounced him with a convincing margin.
The election campaign marked a new low in Indian politics, with the Opposition led by Gandhi making personal attacks on the Prime Minister, particularly over his alleged proximity to top industrialists and alleged corruption in the Rafale deal. If undermining democratic institutions, corruption, demonetisation and GST were among the critical issues raised by the Opposition, BJP’s invocation of national security in the backdrop of Pulwama attacks and the consequent Balakot surgical strikes paid dividends as a sizeable section of the electorate preferred a strong Government at the Centre which can deal effectively with major external and internal security threats.
The successful implementation of innumerable welfare schemes rolled out by the Modi Government including Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjwala, Mudra Yojana, Swachch Bharat including toilets for all, rural electrification, farm insurance and infrastructural development also tilted the balance heavily in favour of the party.
Displaying a high level of maturity and putting national unity, security and development (Vikas) over petty considerations of caste, creed, religion and language, the Indian voter gave a decisive mandate to the BJP. Of course, the promises in the manifesto pertaining to the abrogation of Article 370 and the booth level micromanagement and electoral strategy of BJP President Amit Shah too contributed immensely to the landslide win.
Elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim were also held alongside the general elections. In Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party won the polls by winning 151 seats out of 175 seats at stake defeating the incumbent TDP led by N Chandrababu Naidu.
In the North-Eastern border state of Arunachal Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies led by Pema Khandu scored a landslide victory while in Sikkim Prem Singh Tamang a.k.a P.S. Golay was sworn in as the Chief Minister after his party Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) won 17 of the 32 Assembly seats. Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal was re-elected Chief Minister of Odisha after winning 113 of the 147 seats at stake.
The Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as the single largest party and formed the government in a post-poll alliance with the Jannayak Janta Party and seven Independent MLAs following the Assembly elections in October. BJP’s Manohar Lal Khattar and JJP President Dushyant Chautala were sworn in as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively of the alliance government.
However, the election verdict in Maharashtra brought to the fore a new low in alliance politics wherein Shiv Sena, the oldest pre-poll ally of the BJP and its junior partner in the state scuttled formation of the alliance Government by demanding rotational Chief Ministership following the emphatic victory and thereafter joined hands with an opportunistic opposition in pursuance of its political ambitions. Uddhav Thackeray became the first Thackeray to become the Chief Minister of the state by entering into an unholy alliance with the ideologically opposed NCP and Congress and thereby betraying the mandate for a BJP-led Government in the state.
The December elections in Jharkhand too failed to bring any good news to the ruling BJP with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led alliance winning at the hustings and thereby not only reducing the party’s political footprint across the country but also giving an opportunity to the critics to attack its policies and performance both at the state and national level.
Another game-changering political decision of Modi Government was the unexpected amendment to Article 370 of the Constitution as also the bifurcation of the state with Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as new Union Territories. While there were countrywide celebrations, both the Opposition led by the Congress party and Pakistan vehemently opposed the move. The special status carried discriminatory provisions against women, migrants from PoK, Gorkhas and Dalits. The incarceration of the state’s political leadership and the communication clampdown were criticised both within and outside but Islamabad found hardly any support for its stand even among Islamic countries, thanks to a proactive diplomatic offensive launched by India.
In another historic decision, on July 30, 2019, the Parliament declared the practice of triple talaq among Muslims which gravely undermined justice, gender equality and secularism as illegal, unconstitutional and made it a punishable act from August 1, 2019, raising eyebrows among the hardliners of the community as also the proponents of divisive appeasement politics.
A long-standing demand of the majority community was fulfilled when the Supreme Court on November 9, 2019 ordered the disputed land (2.77 acres) at Ayodhya to be handed over to a trust (to be created by Government of India) to build Shri Ram temple. The Court also ordered the government to give an alternate 5 acres of land in another place to the Sunni Waqf Board for the purpose of building a mosque. While it was a judicial decision, the same would not have been possible without the proactive perusal of the Union Government. The verdict was widely welcomed by the nation irrespective of religious, political and ideological affiliations except for some communal leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi.
The end of the year witnessed orchestrated protests leading to violence across the country including university campuses over the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act by both Houses of Parliament.
It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 by facilitating Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities fleeing persecution from the Islamic Republics of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Sensing a political opportunity, opposition parties and civil society groups sought to create apprehensions in the minds of the people, particularly the youth and minorities, by alleging discrimination on the basis of religion towards Indian citizens, which was far from the truth. The protests led to violence in many parts of the country prompting many to take to the streets in support of the Act as also the Government to come out with clarifications to dispel the fake narrative and propaganda unleashed globally by the critics of Modi 2.0 Government.
Thus, 2019 proved to be a mixed bag for the BJP and the Opposition. If the BJP secured a convincing win in the Lok Sabha elections, the subsequent months also saw the revival of the Opposition in many states. With Rahul Gandhi stepping down as Congress president following the Lok Sabha poll debacle and Sonia Gandhi once again taking charge as the interim President, the party is making an all-out attempt to revive itself and garner resources agreeing to play second fiddle in most states.
The developments in Maharashtra and Jharkhand are likely to embolden both the Opposition and even some of the allies of the ruling party in the coming year with Assembly elections due in Delhi and Bihar. The decline in many states would also reflect on BJP’s strength in the Rajya Sabha. The Opposition has realised the potential of coming together to beat a formidable BJP. Modi remains the most popular leader at the national level but BJP would have to revisit its strategy to regain the confidence of the voters for the state Assembly elections. Any arrogance on the part of the leaders or disconnect with the electorate should be dispensed with forthwith. The party needs to motivate its cadres, strengthen its core constituency, enhance its outreach with existing and potential allies and shed any lethargy in the year ahead. The Government on its part too needs to communicate more effectively with the youth, students, farmers, workers, women and downtrodden sections with regard to its intent and programmes as also to counter the propaganda by its opponents.
(The author is a senior journalist and political commentator)