New Delhi: Ten things are becoming apparent in the 2019 election season, as India goes to the polls to elect its 17th Lok Sabha.
- “Ab hamari asli identity reveal karne ka samay aa gaya hai. Sadhvi Pragya ka nomination ‘Hindu terror’ ke Congress ke bayan ke khilaf ka hamara ek satyagraha hai. (This election is the time to reveal our original identity. The nomination of Sadhvi Pragya is our Satyagraha against Congress’ use of the phrase ‘Hindu terror’),” said a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, explaining the essence of the Lok Sabha elections.
By nominating Sadhvi Pragya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have taken a non-nuanced position in these elections after seriously challenging the Congress in many ways including by taking on Nehru’s legacy, by appropriating Sardar Patel, by diminishing JNU’s influence as a centre-point of the secular system, etc.
In 2014, Prime Ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was a “good cop” talking about aspirational India, which was desperate for vikas, while Amit Shah was the bad cop, who was pointing a finger at Pakistan and at Congress’ “Muslim appeasement”.
But in 2019, Modi himself is talking about how Congress and Pakistan are working in tandem. He is talking of Wayanad’s demographic profile and is defending Sadhvi Pragya.
Also, now, Shah has his own “bad cop” in form of Yogi Adityanath, who talks of “Ali and Bajrangbali”. In short, BJP under Modi and Shah has placed all its cards on the table. This is happening for the first time since 1980, when this new avatar of saffron ideology was born.
This development can be interpreted in many ways. One: that Modi and Shah are desperate and lacking in confidence to win, so instead of talking about employment, economy and education they are back to square one and are talking about radical Hindtuva, nationalism and Pakistan. But the counter argument to this by BJP backers is that nowhere in developing societies the party in power fights elections on the basis of its performance, because in developing countries, even an excellent performance is not good enough to being a party back to power, as actual development takes decades to materialise. So elections tend to be all about emotions.
The proverbial mask of moderation that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had donned has been junked. Modi and Shah have presented BJP in its raw form. That makes this election much more important than 2014.
2: Since 2014, Modi has used his absolute power as Prime Minister as a “special purpose vehicle” to reach out to Indians he wanted to cultivate. The various schemes under Swachh Bharat mission have sent his photographs all over the villages. That’s how myths are built. Demonetisation too helped him to reach out to every Indian. Every hand that dealt with money, got to know Modi. And the rest is done by relentless covert and overt WhatsApp messages. Ground reports coming of the elections seem to suggest that Modi has found stunning success among his targeted audience in creating a “Hindu class” to back him.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was established in 1925. It has taken almost a century to find a formula to carve out sort of a “Hindu vote bank”. The 2019 elections will give definitive evidence of this to the nation. In this context, the electoral outcome, either victory or defeat for the BJP, is less of an issue than the vote percentage that it gets all over India.
A New Delhi based scholar who teaches political science at a prestigious Indian university says, “We are witnessing upper caste consolidation to a level not seen before. Plus enough non-dominant OBCs (non-Yadavs) and non-dominant SCs (non-Jatavs in Uttar Pradesh) are voting as Hindus for Modi (in UP). Modi has ensured that this coalition of extremes remains together, by (a) pandering to SCs-OBCs through better implementation of existing reservations for them; (b) pandering to upper castes through the new upper caste quota; and (c) pandering to both Hindu groups by consciously excluding and demonising Muslims, Pakistan, and the ‘anti-Hindu’ Congress.”
This strategy will bring about an era of the Hindu vote bank, which is likely to support BJP in all seasons, with or without reasons.
Apoorvanand, educationalist and secular activist, says, “Yes, I agree. A permanent Hindu vote bank has been created by BJP-RSS by telling Hindus that ‘don’t shed your caste, for you can transcend your caste’. BJP is making them anti-Muslim, while keeping their caste identity alive. It is the BJP formula since 2014.”
Here, Mandal is not at clash with Kamandal. Both have been integrated by Modi and Shah.
One astute political observer says, “Modi-Shah ne UP-Bihar ke social justice-walon ko unki hi game main haraya hai ( Modi, Shah have defeated leaders who were engaged in politics of social justice in their own game).”
3: The university professor who wants to remain anonymous and has been quoted earlier, claims, “Modi’s charisma certainly helps in building this Hindu vote bank, but this coalition will likely persist long after Modi disappears, provided the new leadership continues to cater to both upper castes and OBCs in a smart manner, just as Modi is doing.”
4: If this Hindu vote bank is getting sturdier by the day, then the question that arises is: is it getting visible on the ground?
Brijesh Shukla, a Lucknow-based senior journalist who has extensively travelled in UP’s towns and villages, claims, “Upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs ki majbut golbandi hui hai. Second, Modi naam gaon, gaon main percolate ho gaya hai (There is socio-political polarisation in favour of BJP of upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs. Second, Modi’s name has percolated right down to the village level).”
A Singapore-based Indian journalist recently travelled to a village near Allahabad, now known as Prayagraj, where he was horrified to see a housewife keeping Ujjwala gas stove in her bedroom and not outside in the open or in her kitchen. He was told, “It’s very precious to her.”
Here is the crux of the election. In spite of lots of real issues including poor people’s miseries, Muslim insecurities that Congress and Modi critics are raising, still people talk about him in a manner as if these stark issues of their daily lives are not connected to him. This is due to the bombardment of WhatsApp messages to people who often tend to watch videos, but are not comfortable reading or writing on their mobile phones. The perception about Modi has changed so much and so fast. At time, Modi is now perceived as almost a surreal figure. The Modi government has not performed excellently in all sectors to deserve another 2014-like sweep, but this Modi factor has made these elections interesting and confusing for analysts. Can the Modi factor override the anti-incumbency against sitting MPs?
At one level there is the buzz that “Aana to Modi ko hi hai (It is Modi who is returning).” At another level, the loss of seats in UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh is quite certain for BJP. The failure of demonetisation or the non implementation of the smart cities programme are there for all to see, but still poor men and women, even in villages, without a decent job or any prospects of a good life are chanting, “Modi, Modi”.
No wonder even those analysts who say BJP won’t get more than 180 seats, admit that BJP’s dominance of and prime position in Indian politics is here to stay.
The new BJP headquarters at 6A Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg will be the new address of power, whether BJP is in power or not.
There are many reasons for this, but one reason is after 2014, Congress has shown flexibility and has played a soft-Hindutva card. The sensitive, sensible and civilised Hindus, the soft Hindutva-walas, the hard Hindutva guys and those Hindus who are using crass terminology these days , all are likely to remain in the centre of political discourse. Indian Twitter users’ tweets are all about or by the above mentioned categories of Hindus.
6: The story of election 2019 cannot be written without the heroic efforts of Rahul Gandhi’s struggle for his party and its fundamental ideals. The voters view him in a wide range of ways. He is seen as foolish, as a boring leader, a childish Twitter user, a victim of BJP’s propaganda machine to a struggler playing Goliath.
Just like Modi, he too has changed over the last five years. He knows his party is getting lower votes than the BJP is likely to get, unless Indian voters are in a violent mood and upturns all believable political perceptions. He knows Congress is not in top gear as far as the management of elections goes. He knows that Modi’s fight is for the future of RSS and its ideology, while his fight is for survival today and now. His temple visits and talk of pluralism and “idea of India” tastes like diet food compared to BJP leaders’ chaat puri. But, he and his sister Priyanka are sticking to their ground. But if they lose badly, what next? If Congress gets 100 seats and above, then Rahul Gandhi will have a psychological advantage. Rahul’s big disadvantage is that Karnataka gives no hopes for Congress’s ability to lead the coalition in New Delhi. Still, in all kinds of circumstances, Rahul Gandhi will remain on the radar of Modi and Shah and that’s a part of the real national game.
- In 2004, Congress had 145 seats; in 2009, Congress got 206 seats. After 15 years, BJP isn’t untouchable anymore except for Congress, SP and Left parties. If the Congress of 2004 could stitch a coalition why not Modi with the help of Shah? That’s the logic behind the widespread buzz that “by hook or crook BJP will form government”. This buzz, partly substantial and partly superficial, does give advantage to the BJP to tackle a politically savvy idea like the Mahagathbandhan in UP. Most political analysts believe that BJP must get 220 seats for Modi to remain PM. The idea behind the argument is that Modi is divisive and an autocratic force so when he looks around for allies there is a possibility that all the state satraps will gang up against him. The regional political heavyweights will like to dump Modi given a half chance. However, this “no Modi at any cost” will gather steam only if the Congress gets more than 125 seats, which also explains why Modi and Shah are single-mindedly targeting the Congress and the Gandhis.
8: So, is everything pretty for the BJP? No. In the Hindi heartland, the negative nature of the politics played in the last five years on issues that touched the Muslim community, has created a silent but intense anti-Modi-Shah wave. In western UP, the date 23 May, when the counting of votes is done, is etched in Muslim hearts. If BJP wins then 24 May will be “qayamat ka din”, said a landowner and hotelier near Shamli in west UP.
Since 2014, Muslims of the Hindi heartland have been largely quiet even though deeply anguished but they will turn angry and tense if BJP wins convincingly.
9: Read all the reports emanating from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There is a surge for “Brand Modi” even there. However, BJP will not gain much from here because right now it is the season “to sow seeds” for them. As a BJP supporter explains: “Our trained horses aren’t on track, yet.”
10: How’s the josh for winning?
Right now, all political leaders are nervous. Privately, when Congress leaders get nervous they say, “This election is so strange. Either BJP will be 165 or cross 300. Nothing in-between.”
When BJP leaders feel nervous they claim privately, “We won’t get fewer than 220-230 seats.”
Both sides are unable to claim, even off the record, any certain figure of seats they will win.
That’s the victory of democracy and the system set up by the Election Commission of India.