Indian voters have spoken out in clear and unambiguous terms. It is an unmistakable pro-incumbency wave for the BJP-led NDA, which has stormed to power for a second term with greater strength. With the saffron party on its own crossing the 300-seat-mark and the NDA inching closer to 340, the scale of the victory has very few parallels in the country’s electoral history. As one political observer succinctly put it, this was an election that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi being in the fray in all the 542 Lok Sabha seats. It was virtually turned into a presidential-style campaign with the entire narrative being centred around him while all other public issues, including unemployment, agrarian crisis, failing economy and social disharmony, being relegated to the background. As a result, the mandate must be seen for what it is; a resounding endorsement of Modi’s leadership, his charisma and credibility. The credit for scripting a swashbuckling win across the length and breadth of the country, barring a few southern States, must go to the indefatigable Modi-Shah combine who turned the BJP into an indefatigable war machine. The significance of this landslide victory lies in the gains that the party made in West Bengal and Odisha, besides the North Eastern States. This helped the party more than make up for the marginal losses it faced in Uttar Pradesh because of Mahagathbandhan, an alliance of the SP, BSP and the RLD. No doubt the 2019 elections saw one of the most polarised campaigns but the verdict has a clear message: the people look for a strong and decisive leader who can act fearlessly in the interests of the country. Call it Tsunamo or Modi wave, the Prime Minister continues to hold sway over voters and is seen as someone who is incorruptible and who can take tough decisions. The country’s youth, who constitute nearly 60% of the electorate, connected with Modi’s life journey and his message and saw him as an aspirational role model. He has now become the first non-Congress Prime Minister to have steered his party to victory for a second successive term. None of the issues highlighted by the opposition — Rafale deal, joblessness, rural distress, demonetisation, GST glitches and institutional tinkering —could find traction among the voters. The TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor worked to the advantage of the ruling alliance as the opposition failed to present before the people a credible alternative, both in terms of the socio-economic agenda and the prime ministerial face.
Soon after the electoral reverses in the Hindi heartland States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh last year, the BJP was on the back foot but the Congress fell into a complacency mode and failed to consolidate on its gains and craft a credible strategy to take on the saffron party. The Balakot air strikes came as a turning point that helped the BJP convert the negative spiral into a positive one and take over the narrative completely by harping on muscular nationalism with ‘Majboot Neta versus Majboor Sarkar’ as the key theme. The coming together of a disparate group of opposition leaders, bound by their common hatred for Modi, was dubbed as ‘Maha Milawat’. The BJP won the 2014 elections by tapping into the public anger against the then UPA government’s omissions and commissions and repeated the winning streak in 2019 because there was hardly anyone in the opposition who could forcefully articulate the NDA government’s failures and emerge as a viable alternative. In effect, this was an election where there was no alternative to Modi and the idea that he represents. It is time the Congress did a serious introspection and looked beyond its first family. One of its glaring drawbacks has been its failure to promote strong regional leaders and give them operational freedom. The high command culture that reeks of feudalism and the politics of patronage have robbed the grand old party of its pre-eminence and its ability to act as a rallying point for an alternative formation at the national level. The opposition parties must realise that their coming together merely on a staple diet of anti-Modi rhetoric, without offering any alternative policy agenda, will not work. The non-BJP political formation needs to re-imagine and recalibrate its strategy to stay in contention in future.