Friday, May 24, 2019

Headline of the day


The day after the results brought the expected front-page splash. There were no references to Modi waves or tsunamis. But the newspapers were just as creative this time around. Our favourite: ‘Chowkidar’s Chamatkaar’.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The massive Modi mandate

The BJP has returned to power, and with a bigger majority than 2014—proving Modi supporters and exit polls right. More than the final tally, the sheer expanse of its victory—extending right across India—is truly remarkable.


The verdict: The BJP has thus far won 304 seats—a gain of 22 seats from 2014. In stark comparison, Congress, which was reduced to a total of 43 five years ago, has only won 53 seats. The UPA total is a scant 83.


A near sweep of North India: The party is set to win all the seats in Haryana and Delhi. It ceded a paltry eight seats in UP, and swept Congress aside in Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh—states where Congress had won state elections barely four months ago. And yes, the infamous Pragya Thakur defeated Congress’ Digvijay Singh in Bhopal. The only exception to this trend: Punjab, where Congress successfully kept the BJP and AAP at bay by winning 8 out of 13 seats.


The much-hyped Mahagathbandhan: between Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav turned out to be a damp squib, scoring only 15 seats in UP.


The rout of the Gandhi family: Rahul lost to Smriti Irani in Amethi—a shocking defeat in a ‘safe’ dynastic bastion of the Gandhi family. The result is also a huge blow to Priyanka whose entry into UP politics was touted as the “earthquake”. Congress scored only one seat in UP: Sonia Gandhi in Rai Bareilly. That said, Rahul will return to the Lok Sabha thanks to a comfortable victory in Wayanad, Kerala.


BJP breeches Bengal: The party established itself as the primary opposition in new territory, including Bengal (18 out of 42 seats) and Odisha (9 out 21 seats). As one astonished Trinamool leader put it, “I am quite shell-shocked I must admit." Mamata Banerjee in her indomitable style tweeted, “Congratulations to the winners. But all losers are not losers."


A mostly North-South divide: Most of the Southern states proved immune to Modi’s appeal—with the exception of Karnataka.

  • Tamil Nadu: Congress in alliance with DMK is expected to mop up 32 out of 39 seats. Pushed by an NDTV reporter on Rahul’s dismal national performance, a DMK spokesperson hilariously said, “We said Rahul Gandhi will be PM but if North India behaves in a different way then it is not our lookout.”

  • Kerala: The UDF-Congress front scored 16 seats, shattering BJP hopes of establishing a foothold. The one seat the BJP was expected to win remained in Congress’ hands thanks to Shashi Tharoor who wryly described himself as “a batsman who has scored a century while his team has lost!”

  • Karnataka: delivered a rude shock to the JDS-Congress alliance. The BJP is poised to win 25 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats. The dismal performance—already fragile due to BJP efforts to poach MLAs—may well be the body blow that brings down the alliance.

  • Andhra Pradesh: Jagan Reddy has catapulted into power, mopping up the majority of Assembly (150) and Lok Sabha (25) seats. But the former Congressman’s win will be no comfort to the Congress party which was working closely with now defeated CM Chandrababu Naidu to form an anti-BJP front.

  • In Telangana, the ruling TRS party lost ground to both Congress (3 seats) and the BJP (4 seats). BJP’s winnings are especially sweet as one of their candidates defeated the CM’s own daughter.

Learn more:  There’s a ton of election coverage. This is the best of the analysis so far:

  • The latest election numbers are available at a glance on the Times of India home page.

  • The Telegraph offers an excellent if cutting analysis of Rahul’s failure.

  • The Hindu explains how the saffron tide shook Trinamool.

  • Times of India analyses the failure of Priyanka as a case of ‘too little, too late’.  

  • Indian Express looks at Amit Shah and his undefeatable election machine and the rumblings of deep discontent in Congress over Rahul’s “JNU activists.”

  • Mint has a couple of good reads on Smriti Irani’s victory and why BJP failed in Tamil Nadu.

  • The Wire looks at whether Congress has been delivered a death blow in Karnataka.

What the next five years will bring

PM Modi has won bigger than ever, sealing his status as one of the most powerful Indian politicians in recent Indian history. But what does that mean for India, the opposition, and the next five years of Modi rule?


The defeat of Congress/Gandhis: The Rahul-led party lost for three no-brainer reasons.

  • Its ABM (Anybody But Modi) strategy. Neither Rahul nor the party ever had faith in their own victory. At the very outset, its own pollsters projected a 144 seat total—a great distance from the 272 needed to form a government. Over and again, Rahul instead promised, “We will not let Modi win.” People need a reason to vote for a leader not against another. Worse, making the entire campaign all about Modi played right into his hands.

  • Rahul made great strides in overcoming the ‘Pappu’ label, but he never forcefully asserted his claim to the gaddi. As a result, no one took his or his campaign promises seriously. The signature NYAY program may have sounded good to many Indians, but no one—including Rahul, it seems—believed he would be the next Prime Minister. So why bother voting for it?

  • Rahul and his party failed to create their own brand. What we got instead was a wishy-washy mix of temple runs (Hindutva lite), populist promises (UPA redux), and of course ‘chowkidar chor hai’. It was never going to be enough against Modi who leveraged every means available to craft an image of a powerful and decisive leader.


Is this the end of the Gandhis then? Sonia Gandhi spent more than a decade squelching all possible rivals as she readied the Congress mantle for her son. And Rahul himself has repeatedly relied on the trusted old guard rather than foster new leadership (See: Kamal Nath as MP CM and Ashoke Gehlot in Rajasthan). So it isn’t clear who will lead the rebellion if there is one. The party has its own ‘TINA’ (There Is No Alternative) problem. What is clear is that Congress has to start from scratch, establishing itself in one state after another until it once again becomes a credible national alternative. It will be a long, hard battle and Rahul may not be able to inspire the faith required to fight it.


Whither Opposition? Regional parties remain a powerful force, and will not be easily swept aside—especially in the South. But the BJP’s next game plan is to wrest power at the state level. It has already demanded a show of strength in Madhya Pradesh where Congress has a slim majority. And, of course, there’s always Bengal. But just as winning Assembly elections in Jharkhand, Rajasthan etc. did not guarantee a Congress victory in the Lok Sabha. The reverse holds true as well. A lot depends on whether Modi’s triumph will erode opposition unity or seal it. The first test: The JDS-Congress alliance in Karnataka.


What’s next for Modi 2.0? The PM’s second resounding victory is best understood as the return of Indira Gandhi's brand of leadership (the one Gandhi he did not attack this election season). These are powerful, charismatic leaders with a mass appeal that cuts across the usual barriers of caste, class and region. Given that Mrs Gandhi remains the most popular PM in Indian history, it should be no surprise that Indians have decisively chosen her true heir. What we may get from Modi is her populist policies and muscular nationalism, but with a distinctly saffron hue:

  • ‘Garibi hatao’ returns: The PM did not speak of Balakot or vikaas or economic growth. He said instead, “Today, India has only two castes – those who are poor and those who want to eradicate poverty.” Then he went on to namecheck “mothers who want a toilet,” “the sick who wait for years to save money to seek treatment,” “the farmer who toils in the field,” and “the 40 crore unorganised labour.” So we can expect big-ticket populist schemes designed to take away the only plank that Congress ran on in this election.

  • Economic reforms: Slowing GDP growth and unemployment rates—which the government fudged during the election season—aren’t going to disappear. Modi knows he cannot afford another five years of the same. He has to get the economy back on track—and the hope is that he has learnt from his first-term mistakes.

  • An unabashedly Hindu Raj: Consistent with his campaign, Modi once again underlined his Hindutva message by attacking the opposition’s “fake mask of secularism.”  The BJP has long been under RSS pressure to deliver on the Ram Mandir—and with a thumping majority, it has no excuse not to do so.

  • A new definition of citizenship: In its manifesto, the BJP promised that the Citizenship Bill will become law. It grants Indian nationality to migrants of every religious category except Muslims. The aim here is to legalise Bangladeshi Hindu migrants in the North East states (to change their electoral demographics) while cracking down on Muslim migrants (See our explainer here)

  • Kashmir’s status: The manifesto also promised to annul the special constitutional protections given to the state, namely Article 35A which restricts rights of residency to native-born Kashmiris (explained here) and Article 370 which secures J&K ‘special status’. But in his speech, the PM also promised that his government would respect the bounds placed by the Constitution.


That said, the PM also struck a conciliatory note in his speech, saying “Sarkarein bahumat se chalti hon, par Desh sarvmat se chalta hai” (Governments may run on majorities but the country runs on consensus). 

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