By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Colombo, May 27: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the Indian parliamentary elections and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi went kaput.
A variety of reasons are given for Modi’s stunning victory, and Rahul’s dismal defeat. But the fundamental reason is that the utterances and deeds of Narendra Modi had found resonance among the majority of Indians, while the issues raised and the overall approach of Rahul Gandhi to the problems on hand did not.
The image of himself that Rahul projected, the issues that he highlighted, and his approach to those issues, though eminently reasonable, found no resonance among the people, as these were not what the electorate in North, West, Central and East India wanted to see or hear at this point in time.
The image of reasonableness that Rahul represented, his advocacy of peace as opposed to war, of love as opposed to hate, did not synchronize with the public mood in most parts of India.
In most of North, West, Central and East India, the yearning was for a leader with aggression and unconcealed animosity towards two quintessential “others” in India, namely, Pakistan and the Muslims.
Any candidate or party not showing aggression towards these two hated objects had little or no chance of winning. It would not have a difference if somebody other than Rahul had been pitted against Modi if that somebody did not match Modi in the politics of hate, or if he spoke of accommodation, love and understanding.
National Sense of Power
In 2019, India’s ethos is suffused with a sense of power. India sees itself as a regional power and is aiming to be a world power, competing with China in Asia and Africa. It is wanting to sit at the High Table in the UN Security Council as a permanent member on par with China.
Modi’s record number of visits abroad and his highly publicized camaraderie with world leaders, may not have resulted in concrete gains for India, but they helped enhance, in the common man’s mind, India’s image as a world power and Modi as a key player in world affairs.
Modi’s “surgical strikes” inside Pakistan as a riposte to Pakistan based terrorist groups’ strikes against military bases in India, and his air raid against a terrorist camp in Balakot in answer to the killing of 40 odd Indian servicemen by a Pakistan-inspired suicide bomber at Pulwama in Kashmir, strengthened his macho image.
Modi’ s muscular actions gave confidence to Indians who, for years, were watching helplessly as cross-border terrorists kept hitting at strategic targets in India with no response from the Indian Establishment.
Indeed, the terrorist attack at Pulwama in Kashmir was a shot in the arm for Modi’s election campaign, and he had no compunction about putting it to partisan electoral use.
However, a distinction has to be drawn between North India and South India. While the North and the East still bear scars of the partition of the Indian subcontinent into a Muslim Pakistan and a largely Hindu India in 1947, the impact of the division was light on the psyche of the South.
While animosity towards Muslims is entrenched in the North, it is virtually non-existent in the South. In the North, the Muslims are seen as descendants of foreign conquerors, but in the South they are seen as descendants of peaceful traders, albeit from Arabia.
While Modi’ s anti-Muslim utterances sharpened the existing communal divide in the North to the BJP’s benefit, in the South, they made no impact. Other issues engaged the Southern mind rather than the issues raised by the BJP regarding Pakistan or the Muslims.
Apart from the North-South division, there was a Nation-Province division. Voters in the North distinguished between a “national need’ to have Modi at the Center, and the “State-level” need to have someone else because the issues were different.
Before the parliamentary elections, the Congress party theoretically appeared to be giving the BJP and Modi, a run for their money. The BJP-NDA had lost three North Indian strongholds, namely, the States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In South India, Karnataka had slipped out of its hands. And the Congress was the gainer in all.
The quiet and unsure Congress leader Rahul Gandhi began to gain confidence. He toured the country attacking Modi on bread and butter issues, on Modi’s lackluster performance on the industrial, economic, and agricultural fronts. Economists pointed to the failure of Modi’s “Make in India” project and slammed jobless GDP growth. The famer suicides issue was gaining traction. These plus the lynching of Muslims by BJP’s cow vigilantes and the attacks on the downtrodden Dalits by pro-BJP elements led analysts to conclude that a good chunk of India was turning anti-BJP.
The State Assembly and parliamentary by-elections in Uttar Pradesh had showed that the BJP could be trounced if the opposition parties only got together. In fact, a “Mahagathbandhan” or Grand Alliance was formed in Uttar Pradesh just prior to the elections, though the Congress had kept out of it.
But these developments were of no consideration when it came to voting in the parliamentary elections. The electorate’s considerations in most parts of India were very different. In most of North, East, West and Central India, and Karnataka in the South, the vote was for BJP, irrespective of the quality of the candidates put up by the parties. Even patently bad candidates won if they were BJP, and good candidates lost if they were from Congress or any anti-BJP party. Actress Hema Malini who got no audience when she campaigned, eventually won. So did Pragya Singh Thakur, a suspect in a terror case, who brazenly hailed Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as a nationalist.
In short, the voters had just one objective: to propel Modi to power again and block Rahul Gandhi.For this, parliament had to be packed with BJP-NDA members.
There is a widespread opinion that Rahul Gandhi failed because he was incompetent, that he failed to present Congress’ case in a clear and unambiguous manner, and that he did not exploit the anti-BJP sentiment in a vast section of the Indian population including the North.
Yes, he did not tie up with other non-BJP parties; did not join the Grand Alliance in Uttar Pradesh. He opposed the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and the Telengana Rashtra Samiti in Telengana.
But the fact is that, the voters rejected most of these anti-BJP parties also. The Grand Alliance failed in Uttar Pradesh, the Telugu Desam failed in Andhra Pradesh. The Aam Aadmi Party came a cropper in Delhi. In Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal retained power in the State Assembly elections, but conceded a lot in the parliamentary elections.
Therefore, given the fact that in most parts of India, the election was all about who and what kind of person should be Prime Minister of India and what kind of policies and approach he should follow as India’s leader, the net result would not have been different if someone other than Rahul was put up against Modi if he that someone did not match Modi in aggression, jingoism and communalism.
On the other hand, Rahul, the Congress and other anti-BJP forces did well in the South because the concerns and the mood of the voters here were vastly different from the other parts of India. Parties and persons were judged differently. Rahul, who lost badly in Amethi in North India, sailed through in Wayanad in Kerala.