Clean sweep: India gave Modi a decisive mandate



Elections here were held over the first three phases, before the BJP’s power duo shifted gears, boosting the party’s campaign firepower. As counting neared, there was near unanimity, except among those at the top of the BJP’s pyramid, that this state along with Kerala and Punjab, would be outlier states — those the Congress party would hold. With a hinterland insulated from regions most liable to get swayed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalistic pitch inlaid with Hindutva, there was virtual consensus that these eleven seats would follow the trend of December’s assembly polls. The BJP was then defeated for the first time after the state’s formation in November 2000. The Congress polled 43% of votes, winning 68 of the 90 seats, compared to the BJP’s 33.12% and 15 seats tally. It was expected this trend would be maintained. This was borne by CSDS data, which showed 21% of those who voted for Congress made up their mind before campaigning began. The BJP responded with shock therapy: changing all candidates who contested in 2014 — ten of them sitting MPs. The decision was preceded by Amit Shah’s pep talk: “the Congress may have won, but we have not lost.” Before the Lok Sabha polls, he identified the reason for the defeat — high anti-incumbent sentiment against the Raman Singh government. The Lok Sabha was thereby fought with all party candidates as mere Modi proxies. The ploy worked and the Congress is left clutching a tally of two. Voter sentiment here should have acted as the AWACS for the Congress, signalling the rising Modi tsunami (BJP vote share 50.7%, the Congress down to 40%) but its leaders continued living in an echo chamber.

Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan

With winds of reversal blowing from Chhattisgarh, half the BJP’s battle was won here. For the remaining part, the Congress aided the BJP substantially by providing unsure governments and presenting a divided house. These fatal weaknesses of the Congress was worked on by the BJP which sourced its confidence from the wafer thin victories the Congress enjoyed. The BJP harped on the fact that assembly defeats were not actual losses: In MP, the BJP’s vote share was actually a notch higher than the Congress’ while it was the reverse in Rajasthan. In contrast, the Congress took comfort in its majorities in the state assemblies. MP is also the state where the Sangh Parivar’s organisational network is most deeply entrenched — its capacity deducible from Modi’s decision not to campaign for Hindutva trophy candidate, Pragya Singh Thakur. The BJP in Rajasthan is leader-dependent. In the early years of BJP’s charge, it was Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and thereafter Vasundhara Raje took charge. But with her declining popularity, it was Modi all the way. It was in Churu where Modi, a day after Balakot, said he had sensed that the people’s josh was different and that the nation was safe in his hands. The narrative of militarist nationalism (ghar mein ghus ke mara — entered their home to strike) was first expounded here and submerged everything, including caste. Moreoever, the Congress believed they had won these states before the campaign even began while for the Modi-Shah duo the battle was not won till the last vote was cast.

Delhi, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh

After the Haryana assembly polls in 2014, the BJP promoted non-dominant communities. Eyebrows were raised at the non-Jat Manohar Lal Khattar being made chief minister. Despite questionable performance, he hung on and eventually the BJP narrative submerged everything. In Himachal Pradesh, too, the BJP appointed a political newbie in Jai Ram Thakur as chief minister after the victory in 2017. Backed by the Modi narrative, the state government received a shot in the arm sweeping the state, rendering every challenge inconsequential, including Sukh Ram’s decision to rejoin Congress and putting up his grandson from his old hunting ground, Mandi. The elections in Delhi were preceded by the ‘will they, won’t they’ story of the Congress and AAP. In the end, the BJP charged through Delhi, and Haryana ensured that chemistry would have trumped mathematics even if the opposition was more pragmatic with alliances. BJP vote shares in HP, Haryana and Delhi, respectively, are testimony — 69.1, 58 and 56.6%. That’s what one calls a definitive strike!

Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir
In the 2017 assembly elections in Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh had led the Congress back to office winning 77 seats or 65% of the 117 assembly constituencies. Since then, the Aam Aadmi Party further imploded. With the SAD yet to recover from the loss and the Captain going strong despite Navjot Sidhu’s distractive presence, the Congress was expected to touch double digits. But the BJP did remarkably well by chipping into AAP’s Hindu vote and almost doubling its vote share from 5.39 in 2014 to 9.63%. It retained the two seats it won in 2014 as did the Akali husband-wife duo of Sukhbir and Harsimrat Kaur Badal. But, the Congress should feel let down, with the final tally of eight — elections are all about causing political upsets. Modi’s handling of Kashmir was important in efforts to consolidate the BJP’s core constituency elsewhere and eyes were on if the party would retain Jammu, Udhampur and Ladakh to ensure continuation of the state’s bifocal mandate. In the event, it did with much greater margins for Jitendra Singh and his party colleague. This will have an influence on Modi’s Kashmir policy here on!

The Congress believed they had won MP and Rajasthan before the campaign even began while for the Modi-Shah duo the battle was not won till the last vote was cast.

Bihar and Jharkhand

This is the state which gave Modi possibly the biggest strike word — Mahagathbandhan. After 2014, after being sidelined by the Modi-Shah combine, political strategist Prashant Kishor egged Nitish Kumar to bury the hatchet with Lalu Yadav. The ploy worked and the BJP was humbled in Bihar by a coalition which confirmed its paper viability on ground. Kumar eventually left the alliance but the name stayed on, providing Modi with a weapon to delegitimise the opposition. The verdict in these states underscored the triumph of chemistry over mathematics. A deeper message from the BJP’s vote share in Jharkhand (51%) shows a strategic opposition alliance that what theoretically appears good, can be vanquished by a bigger idea. Here again, the BJP experiment with a non-dominant community and defeat of JMM leader Shibu Soren shows that it has now cemented its position in Santhal Pargana, symbolising shifting tribal loyalty. Despite talk of Mandal finally making space for Mandir, the concessions Modi made to Nitish Kumar by giving up five sitting seats to retain him in the NDA, coupled with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP being handed six tickets for the seats it held, indicate that Bihar has not yet moved on from Mandal politics. This will be reinforced in time with the rise in the number of upper caste MPs — chiefly from the BJP — elected from the Hindi heartland. Consequently, the BJP must remain alive to the subliminal message of the voters expressed through the NDA partners’ vote shares: 23.6% for the BJP, 21.8% for the JD(U) and 7.86% for the LJP. These are not the last stirrings of a passing era. State assembly elections are due in 2020 and local BJP leaders will demand more. Time was when BJP was the ‘senior’ partner in Bihar, but it conceded the place to Nitish Kumar because it did not have a ‘face’. With the only face that matters with them, BJP street warriors would pressure Nitish Kumar. But if he is forced to walk into the sunset, one can only expect him to revive exploring other options. In this lies the possibility of the Modi Sarkar-II tempering its Hindutva spirit and upper caste belligerence despite a higher tally. Surprisingly, the Congress vote share went up marginally between 2015 assembly polls and now from 6.66 to 7.7 but this made no difference to its seat tally. The RJD vote share declined, indicating that even the core Yadav constituency deserted the party, for once at least. But, an OBC reconfiguration cannot be ruled out due to upper castes becoming a social hegemon again. Despite being painted as the symbol of anti-nationalism, or personification of the tukde-tukde gang, Kanhaiyya Kumar polled 2.7 lakh or 22% votes, way below Giriraj Singh’s 6.87 lakh votes but higher than the RJD candidate’s 1.96 lakh votes. The other result which holds portents for the future is Kishanganj, the Muslim majority (estimated at 85%) constituency. The AIMIM featured prominently for the first time and its candidates bagged almost 2.95 lakh votes. The lone victory for the Congress or MGB candidate came from here (3.67 lakh votes) with the JD(U) nominee, also a Muslim, coming a close second. But the AIMIM’s showing coupled with its victory in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, is a pointer to Muslim electoral choice in the future. Will the BJP leaders rub their hand in glee?


Gujarat and Maharashtra

Modi did not have to remind people of his Gujarat no dikro (son of Gujarat) status, they willingly ‘atoned’ for the ‘transgression’ of 2017 when people made him sweat for victory in the assembly polls, bringing down the BJP’s tally below 100 for the first time since the party’s ascendance in 1995. The ‘cent percent’ showing in Gujarat is the result of hard work over 2018, weaning legislators from Congress, redirecting government energy to areas of people’s concern. The re-energised BJP campaign also trimmed Congress vote share in 2017 from 42.97 to 32.1% and buoyed BJP’s share from 49 to 62.2%. The Gir lion has roared with assistance from the crafty fox. Maharashtra once again provided an instance when Modi took one step backward with intention to conquer in future. The alliance was struck with Shiv Sena days after Pulwama. Yet, Modi-Shah were still ‘generous’ with a petulant partner. In 2014, the BJP on its own won 57 seats from western India and the Sena won another 18, making it a total of 75. This time, the total is down by two — one from Goa and the other from Dadra and Nagar Haveli. But with the NDA warding off the challenge from the Congress-NCP combine and decimation of Congress in Modi’s home state, the westerlies clearly blew in BJP’s favour.

MPs to watch out for


Pragya Singh Thakur, 49




Thakur, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, enters Lok Sabha as the new Hindutva icon, wearing her ideology on her saffron robes. Her veneration of Godse as a “deshbhakt“ was met with outrage across the nation. But she scored a massive win over Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. What will she say next?


Smriti Irani, 43




She is the giant slayer, having defeated Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. Her equity in the BJP would rise manifold. Her oratory skills, connect with the masses, experience in handling textiles, I&B and HRD ministries combined with this thumping victory should see her getting key responsibilities in the new government.


Kanimozhi, 51


CONSTITUENCY: Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu


When she first came to the Rajya Sabha in 2007, she was the soft-spoken literary heir of Karunanidhi. By the time she was elected for the second term, she bore the scars of the 2G spectrum scam, of which she was later acquitted. As one of the 23 DMK MPs in the new Lok Sabha, she could do some hard talking against the NDA.


Abhishek Banerjee, 31

PARTY: Trinamool

CONSTITUENCY: Diamond Harbour, West Bengal


West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew was singled out by PM Narendra Modi as an example of nepotism. But he has retained his Lok Sabha seat and with the size of Trinamool contingent in the Lower House reduced to 22, his presence will be akin to having his aunt’s ears and eyes in the 17th Lok Sabha.

(The writer is a political analyst)

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