Inder Malhotra: BJP reigns supreme

Though the NDA alliance is in place, single-party dominance returns after 1996

ONCE again the shrewd Indian voter has given a historic verdict. He has handed Narendra Modi — rather than the Bhartiya Janata Party that he dominates like no other leader has done ever before — a victory far bigger than anyone had expected. At the same time, he has given the Congress party, the core of the United Progressive Alliance that has ruled India since 2004, not just a drubbing but near-decimation.

From 206 in the last Lok Sabha, its strength has slumped staggeringly below 50. This means that the party that has ruled India for 52 out of 67 years since independence forfeits even the right to be recognised as the opposition in the Lok Sabha. Those who must face the responsibility for this disgrace include Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, designated as the party’s vice-president. Both are legatees of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has governed India for 47 years because soon after Indira Gandhi’s son and successor’s assassination, his widow had refused to accept any office.

The staggering election outcome had become clear fairly early in the morning. Late in the afternoon Sonia Gandhi — who together with her son had traded serious charges and insults with Modi during the foulest election campaign the country has witnessed — conceded defeat “with humility”. She also congratulated the victors in the election battle. But she “hoped” that the new government would preserve Indian unity, respect basic principles of the Constitution and protect national interest. Surprisingly, she took no questions from the media while her son appeared at a loss for words.

This was an allusion to what should be reckoned as one of the causes of the Congress’s catastrophic defeat. Modi is blamed for the massacre of 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. The Congress president once called him maut ka saudagar (merchant of death). In his speeches at his too numerous election rallies, however, he spoke mainly of development and governance. But the Congress theme throughout was that the fight really was between “secularism that unites and communalism that divides”. However, as the election’s outcome underscores, the people were not taken in because the practice of secularism by the Congress itself leaves much to be desired. The BJP had little difficulty in denouncing it as “vote bank” politics, a euphemism for “appeasement” of the Muslim minority whose vote can influence the election outcome in nearly a fifth of the 543 constituencies.

Modi has indeed scored a landslide victory that makes the decisive defeat of the Congress all the more humiliating. In the first place, the BJP has become the first non-Congress party to win a clear majority in the Lok Sabha on its own. Since 1989, even the Congress has been unable to do so. Consequently, the politicians and pundits had come to believe that India had irrevocably entered the coalition era. The BJP has several allies that give it support of well over 330 members which too exceeds all combinations since 1996 when the single-party rule came to an end.

In some ways, the most notable success of the Modi-led BJP is that in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the largest contingent of 80 to the Lok Sabha. There it has won as many as 71 seats, which most people considered impossible because the state has three very powerful and caste-based parties, one of which has ruled the state since 1990.

In other words, regional parties have lost a lot of their sheen to the saffron party. Moreover, the BJP has made its presence felt in states where it never had any representation. These include Tamil Nadu in the south, West Bengal in the east and Assam in the north-east.

Even more striking is its success in Maharashtra which it had governed in partnership with the Shiv Sena in the past. For the last 15 years, the state of Maharashtra has been governed by the Congress-led coalition of which the other member is the Nationalist Congress Party headed by Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, who was expelled from the Congress because he did not want power to be wielded by a person of foreign origin.

This time around, the BJP has won 43 of the 48 parliamentary seats of Maharashtra where assembly elections are due in a few months. It is therefore likely that BJP and its allies would be in power in this state as well as in Haryana, where circumstances are similar.

As against this the Congress has the dubious distinction of not winning a single Lok Sabha seat in the states of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and the national capital.

Modi spoke out publicly late in the evening when he travelled to Vadodra to thank the people there for electing him. The final result in his second constituency, the holy city of Varanasi in UP, has yet to be declared. But as he stated at Vadodra, he had won the seat by a majority of 5,70,000, a record in all the elections held in India so far.

A critically important question is: what is going to be the future of the Congress. But it is impossible to answer it in available space. In any case, it is too early to explore this pertinent issue. One will have to wait and watch what the totally discredited Congress leadership does both internally and in Parliament, which has to meet immediately after the new government is formed. The Congress has suffered similar defeats in the past and come back to power. But the present defeat is so bad as to be unique. Nor has any present member of the dynasty the mass following and skill that Indira Gandhi had. Let all this be analysed later.

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