Posted by: John Elliott | May 24, 2019

Modi promises a ‘New India” after his massive general election victory

Congress routed as Modi uses hope and nationalism to win the youth

Rahul Gandhi loses Amethi and sister Priyanka has little impact

Narendra Modi won a massive general election victory yesterday that returns him for a second term as India’s prime minister and gives him a fresh chance to show that he has the executive ability to push through urgent changes in India’s economic development while also reining in the divisive aspects of his party’s Hindu nationalist agenda.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has defied almost all forecasts by winning 303 seats in the Lok Sabha, up from 282 in 2014 [figures updated May 25]. This has boosted its share of the vote from 33% to 37.4% (more than 50% in the Hindi heartland states) and has increased its clear majority. Its coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), has won a total of 353 seats with 45.5% of the vote, underlining Modi’s powerful parliamentary position.

Modi will be sworn in, and the new government will be formed, on May 30, with fresh faces expected in senior ministerial positions. This will be quickly followed by a series of new policy announcements in a 100-day action plan covering the economy, industry, education, health and other areas. Modi was criticised for not doing this when he became prime minister five years ago.

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Narendra Modi and Amit Shah arrive for the victory rally at BJP headquarters

Addressing a victory rally in Delhi last evening, Modi struck a moderate nationalist tone saying, “If someone has won, it’s Hindustan that has won, it is democracy that has won, it is public that has won.”

The victory raises questions of how far Modi and Amit Shah, his chief ally and the BJP president, will drive their authoritarian Hindu nationalist agenda which, in the past five years, has weakened institutions, made many Muslims fear for their safety, and led to restrictions on personal and media freedom. There are specific fears about constitutional changes in Kashmir and the treatment of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh.

Modi countered these fears yesterday when he said that the BJP was committed to the constitution and to federalism. “The spirit of our democracy and constitution gives us the responsibility to run country by taking everyone along,” he declared.

The result is devastating for the Gandhi dynasty and its Congress Party, which increased its seats by just eight from 44 to 52, far short of the minimum 100 that it had been hoping for and not enough to be automatically named the opposition party in parliament. Its United Progress Alliance (UPA) has won only 91 seats with 27.1% of the vote, bolstered in southern India by the DMK in Tamil Nadu, winning 23 seats, and Congress defeating its traditional Communist rival in Kerala.

Rahul Gandhi has lost his seat in the family’s traditional Uttar Pradesh (UP) constituency of Amethi to Smriti Irani, a formidable television star-turned-politician, though he won in Kerala where he was also a candidate. The only Congress victory in UP, which has 80 seats and was once the party’s stronghold, was won by Sonia, Rahul’s mother.

His charismatic sister, Priyanka, who was expected to rescue the party by boosting votes, having formally entered politics for the first time, had no visible impact. She appeared to be successful at electioneering but failed to turn this into votes.

Congress’s defeat is unlikely to change the Gandhi’s dynastic role at the top of the party because there is no potential leader with the nerve to challenge Rahul or the ability to lead – the family holds the party together but also prevents it moving forward. [On May 25, Rahul Gandhi offered his resignation, which the party leaders rejected, but Gandhi was reported to be insisting he would step down].

Congress candidates were roundly defeated in the three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh that the party won in state assembly elections last November. It has also lost badly in Karnataka where it is in power. The BJP can now be expected to try to unseat the Congress governments in these states. It will also build on a powerful position it has achieved in West Bengal in advance of the state’s assembly elections in 2021.

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Rahul Gandhi acknowledges the BJP victory and concedes his seat loss in Amethi

Modi has proved himself to be a savvy as well as a powerful politician.

The victory is primarily due to that and to the organisational abilities of Amit Shah, who has been elected as an MP for the first time and will now play a bigger role in the direction of the government, either as a minister or from the party headquarters. He is 14 years younger than Modi, who is 69 in September, and will be seen as Modi’s heir apparent, or maybe even eventually his rival.

In counts for state assembly elections that took place alongside the general election, the BJP has had less success. It has been defeated heavily in Odisha by the state-based Biju Janata Dal (BJD) winning 112 seats against its 23 and Congress’s 10. This will be the BJD’s fifth consecutive term in power under its chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

The BJP has lost  three seats and won none in Andhra Pradesh, where Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the son of a former controversial chief minister, led his relatively new YSR Congress to an unexpectedly large victory. YSR has won 152 seats against 22 secured by the Telegu Desam Party (TDP), headed by Chandrababu Naidu, a veteran politician and the outgoing chief minister. In the north-east of India, the BJP is winning overwhelmingly in Arunachal Pradesh, but failed to secure seats in Sikkim.

There will be many debates about how Modi has managed to achieve almost nationwide personal support after being widely criticised for leading a divisive government and for failing to provide jobs and address other economic issues. Maybe referring indirectly to his disastrous demonetisation of bank notes in 2016, Modi said today that he may “have made mistakes”, but he did “not do things with bad intentions”.

He has also been criticised for conducting a brutally scare-mongering election campaign that demonised Pakistan and used a terrorist attack, and India’s military response, to galvanise patriotism that fed into the BJP’s Hindu nationalism.

Pavan Varma, a former senior diplomat and now a prominent politician belonging to a BJP ally, explained on a television discussion last evening how this approach appealed. He said that Modi understood the aspirations of India’s youth, with 65% of the population under 35. The youth, he said, “identify with Modi’s nationalism” because they wanted prosperity and “a country of which they could be proud”.

Rahul Gandhi, though some 20 years younger than Modi, has failed to understand this and has therefore not been able to galvanise the young with his softer all-inclusive non-nationalistic approach.

When he was elected five years ago, Modi said he wanted ten years to implement change. He has now won his second five years and has a big enough parliamentary majority to build what he described today as the “New India”.

This is something that many people fear will end tolerant secular traditions, but voters have nevertheless given it their support. It is now for Modi to show that what he plans is good for the country.

The new “Modi” edition of my book, IMPLOSION: India’s Tryst with Reality”, analyses the record of Modi’s past five years. It is available in Indian bookshops and here – Amazon India https://amzn.to/2HldJQ3 . Amazon US  https://amzn.to/2CmQwZE  Amazon UK https://amzn.to/2FinQTm


Responses

  1. Seldom are Elections won, they are usually lost by the stupidity of the losing party, in this case Congress, who based their campaign on a farrago of lies and deceit, coupled with their arrogant belief that the common man was gullible and would believe whatever Rahul Gandhi and Scindia, plus other Congressmen told them.


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