Written by Brajesh Kumar.

Image Credit: Al Jazeera English /Flickr, Licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

India, the world’s largest democracy, went through a mammoth exercise to elect members of the 17th Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) during April and May 2019. Once again, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) did a phenomenal job, conducting a free and fair election to the 543-member house in 7 phases using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), excluding two nominated members from the Anglo-Indian community. Polling took place from 11 April to 19 May 2019, with 900 million eligible voters. Turnout was the highest ever, at 67 per cent, with the largest ever participation of women, and the election was fiercely fought right to the very end.

Any serious doubts in the minds of the left-liberal media around the world about Modi getting a clear and decisive mandate were laid to rest

Mandate

On the day the results were announced, 23 May 2016, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vanquished its challenger, in the form of Rahul Gandhi’s Congress and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The NDA won 353 seats in total, of which the BJP won 303 seats, making it capable of forming the government on its own. This is a feat no ruling coalition has previously achieved and it gives the BJP an enhanced margin of victory. The Congress Party won 52 seats, while overall the UPA gained 91 seats.

Any serious doubts in the minds of the left-liberal media around the world about Modi getting a clear and decisive mandate were laid to rest. There are many reasons why this view prevailed, ranging from lazy journalism and the use of anecdotal evidence to money power and inherent biases as well as flaws in the polling arithmetic, pre-poll alliances and recent state election results where the BJP lost power. Most significantly, though, it came down to an inability to ‘smell the coffee’. Nonetheless, the exit polls were unanimously in Modi’s favour, predicting that the NDA would return to power.

Here I attempt to analyse the election results on the basis of events since Modi’s previous victory in 2014, using my first-hand experience in the Lok Sabha constituency of Hazaribagh in the state of Jharkhand between April and May 2019.

Modi sets his goals

Since becoming premier in 2014 Modi has set his goals and priorities clearly and focused on working for the long-term prospects for his country, his party and himself, with the objective of putting India on a path to strategic independence. Many of his decisions resulted from thinking out of the box and have drawn criticism, but the people of India believed in him.

Modi’s focus on the common man and enhancement of the state’s delivery system made him an icon. A series of programmes aimed at the financial inclusion of people at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) in society by providing bank accounts and introducing direct benefit transfers (DBT), as well as the provision of gas and electricity to every household, have been a hit, and Modi has been successful in reaching all segments of India’s diverse society.

The masses appreciated the ‘demonetisation of currency’, which some economists viewed as a disastrous policy. For the multitude of his supporters, Modi has been a Robin Hood figure  striking at the dubious wealth of the haves, which paid him rich dividends in the state elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and helped him focus on the DBT before pushing for the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), his government’s single most substantial financial reform.

Honesty and integrity in political life have been another of Modi’s major achievements. While previously all financial deals used to stink, that is not the case now. Despite the clamour of the Opposition for a probe into the Rafale fighter aircraft deal, Modi has come out of this clean. A high degree of political discipline has been enforced – something new and positive for India’s polity. Transparency, scam-free governance and decisive leadership have added to Modi’s image and enhanced his stature. Omnipresent, energetic and thinking continuously, always on the move and outsmarting his political opponents; such is the figure of Narendra Modi.

Modi’s possibly most decisive moment, however, came in response to the externally aided terrorism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) when he ordered the Balakot air strike(s) inside Pakistani territory to avenge the Pulwama tragedy on 26 February 2019. This transformed him into a bold and decisive leader, especially in comparison with the government’s response at the time of the Mumbai terror attack on 26 November 2008.

Post-elections

The spectacular victory of the NDA has brought many new faces into Parliament as well as a large number of women MPs. Most of the parties have lost their dynastic leaders. In the restructured cabinet new faces have emerged, which stamps Modi’s authority on the party and the government.

Most prominent among these is Amit Shah, a long-time associate of Modi’s from the Gujarat days and President of the BJP. Not only his spectacular showing in the hustings and success in forming alliances and seat-sharing arrangements, but also – and more importantly – his appointment as India’s Home Minister following the elections essentially make Amit Shah Number 2 in the Union cabinet. He carries a reputation as a no-nonsense strong man and has rightly been rewarded for the path-breaking election outcomes.

The composition of the new power structure, especially the Big Four in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), includes people with proven merit and particularly who enjoy Modi’s trust. They are hand-picked to provide support for the thinking of a strong India. This hypothesis is reinforced by the reappointment of Ajit Doval as National Security Advisor (NSA) for another five-year term, with a higher cabinet rank. The composition of the CCS, headed by Modi, is now as follows:

  • Raj Nath Singh – Defence Minister; erstwhile Home Minister in the outgoing cabinet and a former BJP President
  • Amit Shah – Home Minister and BJP President until the end of his term
  • Nirmala Sitharaman – Finance Minister; erstwhile Defence Minister in the outgoing cabinet
  • Dr S. Jaishankar – External Affairs Minister; a career bureaucrat and erstwhile Foreign Secretary and Indian Ambassador to the United States and China

The swearing-in of Modi’s cabinet on 30 May 2019 was a grand affair. Fourteen heads of state from all member states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) were invited, as well as a few others. Pakistan was left out, for obvious reasons. Modi’s first international visits to the Maldives and Sri Lanka post-elections confirm the priority of his ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, which is essential for India’s standing in the community of nations.

These are still early days. India watchers will continue to evaluate the challenges to the country’s economy, rural distress and unemployment. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how India steers itself in the uncertain global environment caused by the trade wars between the US and China, the Iran crisis, and America’s protectionist policies. There are challenging times ahead!

Importantly, though, as we look ahead we see that the time is also ripe for the policy initiative of a muscular India; an India which is shedding its previous reluctance and calibrating its entry into the major league of the international arena on the strength of the country’s growing economic, military and diplomatic clout. India is likely to punch above its weight from now on.

Major General Brajesh Kumar (Retd) AVSM VSM is a security analyst based in Noida, India.

*Articles published by The Asia Dialogue represent the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of The Asia Dialogue or affiliated institutions.

Comments

  1. Brajesh a very fine coverage of issues in detail and depth. Our country has to move forward in a dedicated and devoted manner with the cross section of population.

  2. While agenda for the development is good, it is mostly top oriented. The benefits proclaimed for the lower strata do not reach them. The figs often announced by the Govt are highly exaggerated.

    I do not wish to comment on his personal qualies where vast improvement is desirable for a person who is PM.

    TINA factor has worked for him. It is true that opposition had none to compete. Another factor has been utilisation of Govt resources and machinery, totally one sided compared to earlier elections .

    Summarising, it Is good – despite all the negatives – that he is the PM again.

    1. We ought to have individual opinions! Local politics can not be wished away, but the question is whether it augurs well for India 🇮🇳. We remain a noisy democracy
      Certainly, decisive mandate & strong leadership provides options for taking tough decision(s) in the short run which may be good otherwise.

  3. 🙏🏻😊Saadar Charan Sparsh Chachaji
    An awesome unique write up covering the latest issues with detailed figures…..Sophisticated well chosen vocabulary makes it lively
    Request if you can please post it on Twitter…..It’s gonna be a super hit issue so well versed

  4. Congratulations Madhup
    Very well described the achievements of Modi.
    I didn’t realize your writing potential.
    We love you

  5. A good overview but credibility barrier is still a big challenge. NSSO figures , Arvind Subramanian’s questions, outcome of Kashmir policy, balancing of national interests against assertive Trump administration, trade balance with China and successfully sheding the anti minority tag are some of the challenges. Which NDA 2.0 needs to deal with on priority.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *