Hats off to the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]! The Narendra Modi – Amit Shah combine has created electoral history to be the first to fight incumbency and win the General Elections over three decades after Indira Gandhi. The other political parties have to learn from them the fine art of winning elections. The party decimated the Indian National Congress nationally which didn’t win a single seat in 14 states, tamed Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, and trounced the caste combination of the Mahagadbandhan comprising Bahujan Samaj Party [BSP], the Samajwadi Party [SP] and the Rashtriya Lok Dal [RLD] in the all important Uttar Pradesh. The BJP won 62 [ NDA 64] out of 80 seats.
There were no surprises as the BJP proved that, if you have a face or brand you can market it like a FMCG product. Every event or activity involving the Prime minister was choreographed to build that face as a brand. We have seen the PM worshipping in temples, bathing in holy Ganges during the Kumbh Mela, performing Ganga Aarti, the spectacular road show en route filing his nomination in Varanasi, and interview, billed as ‘non political’ with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, the NAMO TV, sitting in a cave in venerated Kedarnath after the elections, visiting his mother in Ahmedabad last Sunday to name a few as part of this brand building and marketing. Over 22 crore voters would obviously have appreciated these spectacles on TV in their homes. Kudos to the publicity and marketing teams who have successfully projected a larger than life persona of the PM.
The whole campaign effectively connected with people and succeeded in communicating with people in the Hindi heartland. The party had perfected this technique and media was used very effectively. Their strategy was unmatched and flexible. The initial promotion of ‘Vikas’ or development and various welfare programmes like provision of tangible assets like toilets, low cost homes, Ujwala or free cooking gas scheme, increase in minimum support price for agricultural produces, distribution of money to farmers, Jan Dhan Yojana, etc. These schemes reportedly were implemented and the beneficiaries cutting across caste, religion or communities ran into many millions. Perceptible changes in distribution of electricity and improved roads added to welfare schemes. So the leaders could highlight the beneficiary programmes and the Prime minister was projected as the provider of all these and most schemes had ‘Pradhan Mantri’ as a prefix.
From ‘Vikas’ the party soon turned to strident nationalism and patriotism and used the border conflicts with Pakistan to appeal to the emotions of the people. The Pulwama massacre of over fifty Central Reserve Police Force [CRPF] jawans by Pakistani terrorists, Pakistani air attack and downing of a F16 enemy plane and the Balakot attack were all brought into the electoral discourse, notwithstanding the Election Commission’s direction not to do it. The opposition had accused the EC of bias. But who cares? “Jo jeeta vohi Sikandar’’- The winner takes it all!
Once the Prime Minister started addressing rallies across the Hindi heartland, countless beneficiaries were enthralled by his oratory. These were the same people who were victims of demonetization which was really a torturous experience. Erratic implementation of GST had further alienated a section of people. But through effectively planned programmes and communication strategies the BJP and the government succeeded in obviating the widespread negative impact and reversed the drubbing the party got in December 2018 in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Unlike other parties, the BJP workers were very active and were able to convince voters almost personally. It is also believed that the RSS cadres had fanned out to almost every village and established personal contacts with voters. The mega rallies and electoral spectacles were meticulously executed and largely attended. The national media including the state owned Doordarshan never missed them.
None of the opposition parties especially the Indian National Congress could match such a campaign and the results are there to see. From 44 seats in the Lok Sabha it has gone marginally up to 52 still eluding the 10 % of the total seats to get the position of Leader of Opposition.
The opposition after some initial bonhomie was a totally divided motley crowd of parties with diverse political ideologies and personal ambitions. The talks about ‘Ghatbhandhans’ soon turned into bitter turf wars between opposition parties cutting into each other’s votes. The local alliances in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra came to naught. The so called arithmetic of caste based Bahujan Samaj Party [BSP] and Samajwadi Party in UP was no match for Modi’s chemistry with different combinations of castes. The minority vote bank of the SP ditched them. The three states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh which the Congress won in December2018 were captured by the BJP.
It was rather amusing to see the warring opposition parties, with a sort of premonition started making a last ditch effort to come together after the elections and questioned the EVM machines and alleged malpractices. Once the exit poll results were out on 17th May predicted a comfortable BJP/ NDA victory, a confident BJP hinted ”Teen Sau Paar” or 300+ seats.
Though most opposition parties were humiliated, Andhra Pradesh’s Jagan Mohan Reddy and his YSR Congress Party won both the Lok Sabha [22 out of 25 seats] and state Assembly [151 out of 175 seats] elections. In Telangana of course, a much hyped K.Chandrasekhara Rao [KCR] of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi [TRS] after sweeping the Assembly polls six months back had to concede 4 and 3 seats respectively to the BJP and the Congress out of the 17 seats. Kerala and Tamil Nadu saw a clean sweep for Congress led UDF and the DMK led alliance. The BJD in Odisha and BJP in Arunachal retained their power.In Punjab the Congress won a majority of seats. In Sikkim Pawan Chamling, CM for 25 years lost to P S Golay of the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha.
The worst performance in the 2019 General Elections was that of the Grand Old Indian National Congress. It failed to enthuse the voters except in Kerala and Punjab and piggy backed the DMK in Tamil Nadu. The GOP was almost wiped out in the Hindi heartland- Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Bihar- Gujarat and Maharashtra. The rudest shock was the defeat of the party president Rahul Gandhi in his family bastion of Amethi. The defeat in Amethi is an abject lesson for the party and the cavalier manner in which it campaigned. People complain that Gandhi as the sitting MP made very few visits to his constituency whereas his bit noir Smriti Irani almost encamped there throughout the campaign. This is an example of the GOP neglecting its constituencies and not connecting with the people.
Unlike the BJP or the Communist parties the Congress can’t boast of a cadre on the ground. A majority of their workers are like contract labour drafted in for a few months or weeks for elections. During this election, our family of four were East Delhi voters; not a single Congress worker approached us. A neighbor knew the names of the BJP and AAP candidates but not that of the Congress. How can such a party win elections? Friends who covered the election in north Indian states said that in many places Congress did not have enough grass root workers. In the high profile constituency of Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala which the BJP was claiming to win, initially did not have enough workers. Later during the campaign the workers became very active and Shashi Tharoor who scraped through in 2014 won by a margin of almost a lakh votes.
The GOP came out with a well drafted election manifesto and a progressive scheme like the Nyuntam Aay Yojana-NYAY or Minimum Income Guarantee scheme. But for some ads and television programmes the party failed to explain these to voters. Their Chowkidar campaign was ineffective and almost boomeranged. Most voters at least in North India could not consider the Rafale as an electoral issue.
How could the Congress party lose the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh which they had wrested from the BJP in December 2018? What actually happened in MP and Rajasthan was a fight between the old guards and the younger leaders and the old guards prevailed. This in fact did not go well with the voters. The new governments have been rather lackadaisical in implementing schemes like farm loan waiver which the Congress president had promised to implement within ten days of assuming office. Then of course the two Chief Ministers got preoccupied with the election of their sons to Lok Sabha!
The aftermath of the defeat has rattled the Congress. Instead of showing resilience and resolve to fight back, its leadership seems to have gone into disconsolation. Political observers say that the leadership has acted immaturely by accusing few senior leaders in public for not being active in the campaign. Rahul Gandhi’s resignation is still hanging in the balance. Do captains abandon their sinking ships?