The public appeal of Narendra Modi coupled with the maverick organisational skills of Amit Shah makes a killer combination – one that has today decimated the very conceptualisation of an opposition
Amid deafening chants of 'Modi, Modi' and 'Jai Shree Ram', Narendra Damodardas Modi announced his unprecedented victory for a second-term as "dedicated to the people". Indeed, denying every critic and naysayer, people across classes, castes, regions and religions were united in their mandate for the Modi magic. They unilaterally rejected an undefined coalition in the favour of a powerful single party. This landslide mandate has cleared all misconception – Hindustan is more than willing to embrace her Ram.
BJP's success has been borne of a number of factors, primary still being Narendra Modi and his wave that has refused to rescind. But, beyond the 'Modi factor', BJP conceals a tediously organised institutional machinery that is relentless in its engagement with people and is currently spearheaded by among the most shrewd, calculative and hard working politicians our country has ever witnessed, Amit Shah. Like them or despise them, Modi and Shah will not let you ignore them.
From 17 crore Indians in 2014, 22 crore pressed in favour of the lotus this time – despite jobless growth being a lingering concern and unemployment hitting its 45-year highest; despite NPAs paralysing the banking structure and ill-thought policy measures like demonetisation crippling the rural economy. The government's failures may be many, but its astounding success in securing 303 seats alone and 353 seats with its allies drowns every cry of dissent. And, this is not a mere culmination of luck or manipulation. It has been nurtured with concentrated effort to build an ideology, pursue it relentlessly, choose a message of unification, ensure that the message reaches the masses and ultimately, present a potent face of robust leadership that can assure the public that its woes will be wiped clean by this messiah who has risen from the streets to destabilise the rotting system responsible for India's pathological poverty.
Today, the Bharatiya Janata Party is among the richest political parties. Additionally, it garners the required political acumen to translate resources into effective outcome. Whether in investing in a robust communication strategy or in physically approaching masses to deliver the message of Narendra Modi – they have left little scope for regret. Advertisements with the Prime Minister's optimistic smile will greet you across roads and bus stands, every television interval will provide a sneak glimpse into 'New India' and the radio service, still most effective in remote rural areas, will religiously telecast speeches and precious takeaways from Modi's sarkar. In rural areas, its aggressive beneficiary outreach campaign, exhaustive chain of phone relays announcing successful policies and promising many more in the next five years, and nascent updates inciting the fervour of national security added up to produce a bonanza. Their communication, irrespective of its ideological motivation, has been crisp, meaningful and backed with effective implementation. Moreover, people were not forgotten after a few rallies by glitzy leaders – dedicated booth workers stayed back to ensure that the tide never waned. The public appeal of Narendra Modi coupled with the maverick organisational skills of Amit Shah makes for a killer combination – one that has today decimated the very conceptualisation of an opposition. While that spells many laurels for them as a party, what it means for India's democratic fabric is to be seen.
The opposition seems to be dismayed by an engulfing cloud of depression and defeat – but today, it is actually in a most profitable position. Given the unthinkable losses it has endured, now, it can only rise and must rise to the occasion of bringing back an active democracy made of critique, dissent and creative confusion. The opposition has failed 2019 and to ensure there isn't another such failure, they must deeply introspect on their very many shortcomings.
For starters, they miserably failed to build their narrative even till the last day of polling. The slogans of 'Chowkidar chor hai' and aggression against Rafale did not resound with the people. The opposition, it seemed, was growing and consolidating on a mere plank of being united in their angst against BJP. An anti-incumbency narrative can only gain momentum when people are presented with a viable alternative. Here, the opposition appeared entirely delusional. Though several regional skirmishes were kept aside in their effort to consolidate, the shared discomfort of quarrelling parties (Congress-AAP or TMC-CPIM) was all too visible to the discerning viewer of today's time. Further, when traditional enemies become friends to simply gain a declared end, the integrity of their friendship becomes deeply suspect – Akhilesh and Mayawati may have had the numbers but they dented voters' faith by coalescing simply because there appeared a greater force to overcome.
When such a fragmented group is met with the gravitating force of an organisation that is bound both ideologically and in practice, only dedication to the mandate can help it stay afloat. Chandrababu Naidu held passionate meetings with regional leaders and declared his bid to form a federal front – but TDP's performance in Andhra Pradesh shamed him. It only indicates that Naidu never knew what his people wanted. The same possibly applies to all regional parties and Congress that are meagre dwarfs in comparison to BJP's gigantic election machinery. A federal front cannot be built by the mere agreement of disagreeing parties – it first has to secure people's mandate. This thought seems to have evaded the leaders' minds. Their criticisms of the government, no matter how fair and firm, never reached the people. Ultimately, all the ordinary voter heard was them bickering and complaining – where was the vision to combat Modi's seemingly promising 'New India'?
You can decide whether you prefer the apple or pear once you've tasted both. The ordinary Indian voter tasted BJP's apple – albeit little sour but still nutritious. On the other hand, it only saw fleeting images of the opposition's pear dangling from a very distant tree. It seemed to be a trick of the sun's rays, almost elusive. When the apple falls willingly on the voter's lap and the pear seems unrelenting, can we blame the voter who chose to settle for the apple?
The opposition has spent enough time looking outward and critiquing BJP. Now, it must look inward to realise its aberrations and make desired fixes. Congress worked well in Kerala, a state still unfamiliar with BJP, but it failed miserably elsewhere. Today, the grand old party represents a group of unmotivated workers who are absent from the ground and have no true allegiance to their party's ideology. The rejection of NYAY should provide some markers. Because NYAY wasn't really rejected, it never reached people's plate for them to make a choice of acceptance. The Karnataka debacle should provide more signals. Congress has to let go of its old brass and welcome the new, invigorated spirit that is passionate about making a change and adheres to the ideology of this once magnificent party. The opposition may complain that BJP has better access to resources, that institutional autonomy has been demolished or that EVMs have been manipulated. But, none of this will help win an election. It has to move beyond bickering to take on the challenge, no matter the cost. Remember, that which peaks must also collapse – and today, the opposition which is in embers, can only rise.
For BJP, this pulsating success must be followed by defining a new vision for India in 2024. Failed economic policies need revision while India's inclusive fabric has to be aggressively preserved. There have to be checks on fringe groups that have spread panic and the mass that has been empowered to take the law into its hands. While jubilations abound, BJP also must remember that its emphatic rise is most ripe for a tragic fall. But knowing Amit Shah's fierce devotion to work, he is possibly already preparing a roadmap to grab the 150-odd seats that were left out of his kitty this time.
This election has provided some important indications about India's mercurial electoral graph. For one, two plus two will not always equal four. The failed SP-BSP alliance is living proof. Individual vote shares may have indicated success for them, but voters are not robots that will remain firm in their allegiance. When their party swerves, they too could sway another way. Second, there exists a vast difference between Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. Congress seems to have been complacent after its victories in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, believing that the people would opt for it just like it did in the Assembly polls of 2018. But the voter knows well to distinguish between the state and central polls. The most potent example is in Odisha where BJP made successful inroads with 8 of 21 Lok Sabha seats but BJD managed a thumping victory, yet again, in the Assembly. Third, and most significantly, there remains no Left in the country which has now been reduced to five seats. They voted in mass for Congress in Kerala, saving Rahul's face; and, in Bengal, they voted entirely for BJP to express their angst against Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. Karl Marx is trembling.
Finally, this election has told us that nationalism, no matter how ill-defined or misused, is the chant of the day. This is not just in India, but globally. Liberalism has failed everywhere and conservatism is on the rise. Liberal politics has failed domestic economies, their outward-looking stance have only birthed unemployment and rising inequality, and their complete lack of ideologically-bound workers has caused an internal degeneration that is difficult to mend. Alleging BJP for practising divisive politics is not yielding benefits – India's overpopulated streets and congested ghettos have always witnessed deep difference and a consequent fight for the survival of the fittest.
All said and done, if the opposition desires a resurrection, Mission 2024 must begin now.