May 23 saw the Narendra Modi-led NDA storming back to power in a landslide victory, with the BJP getting more than 300 seats on its own. This is the highest number of seats won by any party after the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress won 400+ seats in 1984, riding on the sympathy wave following Indira Gandhi’s death.
The mandate came as a surprise to many, except the BJP itself, which was confident. The moot question now is how did the BJP and NDA receive a bigger mandate than 2014 despite the unemployment rate being the highest in 45 years, widespread rural distress and agrarian crisis across the country, weak economic growth, dilapidated institutions, and increase in hate crimes against the Dalits and minorities.
The Modi factor
The mystery behind BJP’s success is, however, not that difficult to understand. The biggest reason is Modi himself.
The opposition has accused Modi of encouraging crony capitalism and alleged that he cares and protects only the rich and not the common person or the poor. There were allegations of corruption levelled against him in the Rafale deal with the Congress raising the rather (in)famous slogan “Chowkidar Chor Hai”; it, however, failed to convince the people.
Modi, and the BJP, was also said to have been spreading hate in the country. And yet, the common people, especially the poor, saw him as a ray of hope who would solve all their problems.
Modi was quite successful in manifesting his “humble upbringing” and the fact that he belonged to the OBC community. He is still viewed by many as a tea seller who rose to prominence because of his hard work, not because of his surname.
People saw him as one amongst themselves, a “selfless leader”. The BJP took full advantage of this in the elections. The party told the people that every vote for the BJP was for Modi, so much so that in many constituencies, people were told to ignore their local MP candidate and vote for Modi.
The slogan “Modi hai to mumkin hai” further helped to establish the notion that the PM is a one-point solution for all of the country’s crises.
The development agenda
The NDA government had started various welfare schemes during its tenure; direct benefit transfers, such as LPG and kerosene, in bank accounts, most of which were opened under the Jan Dhan and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna; the Ayushman Bharat scheme, which provides free medical insurance benefits to families below the poverty line; Skill India and Startup India; Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Abhiyaan; and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, despite their moderate success, delivered the message that the government cared about the economically weaker section (EWS).
Meanwhile, the promise of Minimum Guaranteed Income of Rs 6,000 annually to farmers under the PM KISAN Scheme and the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna wooed the farmers.
Among the biggest successes of the NDA government was the Rural Electrification Programme. The Centre has also constructed over 9 crore toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, while the construction of highways and roads in rural areas has happened at a significant pace.
Electricity and proper roads have always been close to the hearts of people, and the government’s success in these areas earned it many political points. It also brought a law to overturn the decision of the Supreme Court issuing guidelines with respect to certain provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities Act and gave 10% reservation to the EWS; both these measures were seen as an attempt to appease different sections of the society. The haste with which the EWS quota was implemented showed that the government was in no mood to let go of the possible political mileage.
Not that the UPA government had not started welfare schemes, but the BJP outsmarted the Congress by effectively communicating its schemes and their benefits to the masses and creating a perception that it alone had the poor’s interests at heart.
There can be debates about the success and failure of these schemes, but when it comes to voting, it’s the perception that matters.
The national security card
The retaliatory surgical strikes against terrorists across the border in the aftermath of the attack on an army camp in Uri in 2016 and the air strikes in Balakot after the Pulwama attack strongly established Modi’s image as a leader who can take stern action against terrorists and Pakistan.
It is a fact that there has been a significant reduction in terrorist attacks on civilians under Modi; this along with the cross-border strikes gave people the assurance that the government was committed towards national security. This was often perceived in stark contrast with the previous UPA governments, under which India not only witnessed major terrorist attacks but also government inaction with respect to retaliatory measures.
Raising a Hindutva tide
Then, of course, the Hindutva shouts worked wonders for the BJP. The party liberally awarded tickets to many Hindutva hardliners and raised the issue of illegal immigrants from the minority community in Assam. The BJP was depicted as the only party that cared about Hindus and the Opposition as minority appeasers at the cost of the majority community.
The election campaigning started on the Hindutva turf, so much so that Rahul Gandhi had to start a temple run of his own. The consolidation of Hindu voters, breaking of caste barriers, especially in UP, helped the BJP to gain significant poll advantage over its rivals.
The Left ideologues were given the title of “Urban Naxal”, and several other dissenters were openly called “anti-nationals”. The government was portrayed as striving hard to save the country from these “Urban Naxals” and ani-nationals, who were trying to “break the country”.
The Opposition debacle
The Opposition has no one other than itself to blame for its defeat. Throughout the election, opposition parties remained diverted from the on-ground issues. They failed to make various grass-roots problems their election agenda, unnecessarily focusing on superficial issues that had nothing to do with the masses.
They failed to put forth a concrete vision or promising schemes to counter those on BJP’s manifesto. Even Rahul Gandhi’s pet scheme NYAY failed to move the people. Though they raised many crucial issues, in an election, pragmatism on what issue to prioritise to get votes is vital. The lack of a strong alternative from the rival camp was another reason Modi gained. The common question was “If not Modi, then who?”
Similarly, the lack of unity among the opposition parties and their divided vote share worked in BJP’s favour. Many election pundits have said that the BJP was quick in wooing its allies and entering into coalitions wherever needed. The Opposition failed to do the same.
A new hope
So now, let us hope that this government strives towards inclusive growth.
After so many years of independence, several parts of the country still lack basic amenities; therefore, we need a government that strives towards social justice and is committed to social welfare measures. Similarly, a lot of reforms need to be undertaken in the education sector, which is in a shambles.
Healthcare, widespread agrarian crisis, rising unemployment, stagnating economy, and availability of basic amenities in every village and home are the other issues that need addressing. Also, there are certain long-term structural reforms that need to be introduced for the betterment of our institutions and economy.
Modi 1.0 showed its commitment towards introducing long-term reforms by implementing GST, the Insolvency Code, the National Skill Development Board, and the like. Let us hope Modi 2.0 meets the expectations of the people, who gave him a second mandate, and strives towards enhanced socio-economic development of the country.
Prabudh Singh is a Delhi-based lawyer.