By the time you read this, early trends of the results in the 2019 Lok Sabha election will have already started trickling in.
But, because of the Supreme Court’s direction to the Election Commission to increase the number of Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips from one Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) per assembly constituency to five, a full picture of the winners and losers in the most fiercely fought general election since Independence will be clear only later tonight or by early tomorrow morning.
What can, however, be ruled out is the dire pre-election prediction by the Opposition that the BJP will fall below 200 seats, shedding nearly 100 seats from its tally in 2014. That clearly is not going to happen even if the exit polls are off the mark.
If the BJP-led NDA forms the next government once all the results have been declared, it will point to a grim conclusion: the clear consolidation of the Hindu vote.
For that, the Opposition has only itself to blame. Over the years, the Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and several others have positioned themselves as minority-leaning parties, pushing even moderate Hindu voters inexorably towards the BJP. As strategy, it has proved to be electorally disastrous.
The 2014 Lok Sabha election provided the first glimpse of this electoral polarisation. The BJP increased its vote share from 18.80 per cent in 2009 to 31 per cent in 2014 and more than doubled its seats from 116 to 282.
The 2019 Lok Sabha election, if the results are in the same range as the exit polls, could quicken this trend. The Congress realised far too late how minorityism was hurting its electoral prospects. Minorities need empowerment. The Congress, over the decades, has confused appeasement with empowerment. Muslims remain the poorest community in the country despite receiving patronising attention from Congress. Instead of communal fear-mongering, they need and deserve jobs, education and respect.
Rahul Gandhi belatedly recognised the dangers of this strategy before the December 2017 Gujarat Assembly election. He publicly embraced his Brahmin identity and did the rounds of temples. Yet, in the febrile campaign for the 2019 general election, Rahul made several tactical errors. He continued to focus on the Rafale fighter jet deal despite not providing a shred of evidence for his allegation of cronyism and corruption against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Proposing the NYAY minimum income guarantee scheme so late in the campaign ensured it made little impact at the grassroots. In comparison, the BJP’s handout of Rs 4,000 in two installments to small farmers during the campaign had an immediate effect.
The issues Rahul should have highlighted relentlessly during the campaign were rural distress and jobs. He did so at almost all rallies, but he was so obsessed with repeating his “chowkidar chor hai” taunt against Modi that genuine criticism of the BJP’s economic policies was lost in the din. The charge against Modi of being a “chor” found no resonance with voters. It simply showed Rahul as petulant rather than a serious contender for national leadership.
There will be questions asked about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership — but they will not emanate from the Congress. Its dynastic hierarchy is set in stone. Rahul will be shielded from blame. So will Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. That would compound the Congress’ litany of errors.
Dynastic parties across the country seem to have fared badly in these elections: the RJD’s Yadav family in Bihar, as well as the NCP’s Pawar clan in Maharashtra, have suffered setbacks. Only regional dynasties in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have maintained their hierarchical grip on the electorate due largely to provincial loyalties. But warning signs are flashing: political dynasties are an endangered species.
For the BJP, too, there are learnings from the 2019 general election. It ran a deliberately polarising campaign. There was no attempt to give an account of its economic performance and governance over the last five years. Voters did not vote for individual BJP candidates. They voted for Modi.
This, of course, was a calibrated ploy. Modi is aware that his bench strength is weak. Two of his top ministers — Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj — are too unwell to campaign effectively. A majority of the BJP’s Lok Sabha MPs have contributed little to the party’s performance over the past five years.
Readers would be hard-pressed to name more than a few dozen of those 282 faceless MPs. Thirteen have since 2014 lost their seats in bypolls or have passed away. Several others were denied tickets in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
In his second term as prime minister, Modi must build the party’s bench strength. The new BJP MPs in the seventeenth Lok Sabha that will be constituted later this month must be encouraged to contribute more both in Parliament and outside. The BJP has mastered the art of winning elections. It must now master the science of ideas and apply them to structural economic reforms in land, labour, tax, farm technology and PSU privatisation.
Remember, too, that the results of assembly elections in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha poll, will be declared later today as well. We could be in for interesting times in both states.