India's mandate

A caste- and region-divided Opposition can never challenge BJP

It is a decisive win for PM Modi, BJP, and NDA. Modi government 2.0 is on the anvil and we need to explore the reasons. In the Congress-led UPA side, situation by 12 noon showed that it is relatively stronger this time around though far from a win. Regional parties are on a decline except for YSR Congress in Andhra, BJD in Odisha, TRS in Telengana, and DMK in Tamil Nadu (largely in South India). The Left is totally left out of the ensuing Lok Sabha.

What explains the opposition campaign fizzling out?

The critical strong points of Congress challenge were all mistimed. The appreciable manifesto and its core proposal of NYAY were late in the day, and could not be communicated well to the grassroots by the party which was always dependent on mass media to do its talking, when the media in this election was not willing to, being heavily influenced by those in power. Priyanka Gandhi coming late did not help beyond enthusing UP Congress cadre. Her not contesting and not even campaigning in states where Congress just came into power (MP, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan) was a crucial mistake. Even MP strongman, Jyotiraditya Scindia being engaged largely in Western UP campaign due to Kamal Nath's antagonism towards him was a poor strategy. A collective opposition to communal politics and polarisation of BJP could not be forged by the opposition forces. Congress floundered badly in forging an alliance in Bengal (with Left or TMC), Haryana (with JJP and AAP), Delhi (with AAP) and UP (with SP-BSP). The need was for everyone to combat BJP and not restrict each other's sphere of influence. Absence of a single face of the opposition and lack of a coherent national strategy of all anti-BJP forces was evident in the total tally. Leaving the three critical newly-won states of Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh purely to the local satraps and being away from a national strategy of the joint opposition was a crucial mistake on Rahul Gandhi's part. Congress did not work to consolidate its strong points and was wobbling to fight in the weaker pockets, except for Kerala.

What explains the clear win of BJP-led NDA?

Surely, a new set of social coalitions has been evolved by the Sangh Parivar which also involves the Dalits and OBCs contrary to the expectations before the elections. The UP fiasco of the opposition shows that transfer of votes between SP and BSP did not happen and BJP could garner a large part of the votes of non-Jat Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs. BJP could also polarise a large part of the Hindu voters in Bengal and central India irrespective of castes either on local issues against the chief ministers there or on issues of nationalism and Modi's leadership.

Needless to say, no single opposition face for the PM position, no coherent opposition national strategy coupled with mobilisation of the entire Sangh Parivar nationally and blatant religious polarisation on majoritarian identity grounds helped BJP ride the tide of a critical economic situation and failure on macro-economic fronts with joblessness, farm crisis, lower GDP and per capita growth than pre-2014 times, negative impact of demonetisation and GST, etc., writ large on the nation's face.

What lies ahead hereafter?

While the de jure constitutional system of Indian polity is British parliamentary type, in effect and de facto, India is turning into a presidential form of policy (if still not so in governance) more like American type. This may further be consolidated. We may find constitutional amendments galore, with regard to Articles 370, 35A, the form of government, the goals of socialism and secularism in the preamble of the Constitution, etc. There can be newer laws regarding triple talaq, temple construction, NRC and citizenship, sedition et al. These may divide society as well. As for the opposition, regional parties shall have a setback with consolidation of the forces behind and around Congress. Though the lead of Congress is still limited to South India by and large, it is obvious that caste- and region-divided Opposition can never challenge BJP on its own.

Even within NDA, BJP will usurp the politics of Shiv Sena both hinging on Hindutva, and of JD(U) as Nitish Kumar's personal pull and effectiveness have come down drastically and it is BJP which is raring to go and be the leading partner in Bihar and Maharashtra by a long shot.

Now that political consolidation of power is almost complete across most of India for BJP, the theatre of political high drama next shall be in south India, where BJP is expected to replace the Left as the main opposition in Kerala, work in tandem with YSR Congress in Andhra and TRS in Telengana, and aim to oust the Cong-JDS government in Karnataka by fair or foul means. Also in Tamil Nadu, AIADMK will further degenerate and play second fiddle to BJP going ahead for its limited relevance. Even BJD in Odisha will come to a broad understanding with BJP in the interests of the state, for now.

Further, Delhi and Bengal will be theatres of high drama too with state elections around the corner within a year or so. Expect a bigger round of violence in Bengal with competitive violence and communalism of both the incumbent TMC and challenger BJP not willing to give an inch to each other. Expect AAP to go for a pitched battle for the mind of Delhi electorate with its governance track-record vis-a-vis BJP pledging central support if elected to power.

Also, it is expected that the Modi government 2.0 will have a much different composition of its council of ministers. And, it will be interesting to note the new set of ministers who are expected to be younger on one side and more pliant to Modi-Shah leadership on the other.

(The author is a media academic, columnist and political analyst in television news debates. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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