The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored an overwhelming victory in the recently completed Lok Sabha polls, dislodging the opposition, Indian National Congress or INC, from the political scene of India. The BJP led by its veteran leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi proved its critics wrong and improved its poll performance from that of 2014.
INC won just 52 seats while the BJP grabbed 302 seats out of the total 542 Parliamentary seats. The party clearly has taken it to cleaners to make way for what has turned out an easy victory for the Hindu nationalist party. Although PM Modi himself was seen as a winning edge with his party, yet the winning party has clearly done better homework than its rivals to pave way for a historic victory.
Although led by its president Rahul Gandhi (the man with considerable political background and education), yet INC has shown dismal performance. Perhaps, Mr. Gandhi has realized the bitter truth and that accounts for his persistence to step down as the Congress president. Though his resignation, which he offered during the Congress Working Committee meeting following the election verdict declared on May 23, will not compensate the loss or redeem his party, Mr. Gandhi is sending a message across that he is not in the party for the sake of the president’s chair and that the top chair is not the property of his family. That, to my mind, is a statesman-like gesture by the Congress president though the resignation can be seen as a sign of internal crisis in the party after its sensational defeat.
Despite INC’s acceptance of the defeat, the principal point for it to accept is that its homework was not up to the mark and that it possibly had taken Mr. Modi and the party for granted. Congress possibly fought the election more out of conviction than comprehension. The triple defeat of the BJP in December 2018 in three states (the Hindu Heartland) opened its eyes to prepare better but made INC complacent that the electorate was rejecting Modi’s party.
The BJP’s grand victory can be taken as its grand understanding of the changing perception, beliefs and values of the electorate. During its first term, Modi government took some economic measures such as demonetization, Goods and Service Tax; a big social step like Triple Talaq (divorce said thrice at a time) for the Muslim women. These measures were criticized by INC, hoping that they would dig a grave for the ruling BJP. Yes to a certain degree, the initiatives hurt the party’s image. Moreover, the party’s failure to honor the poll promises of 2014 was seen as a key issue with INC to corner BJP and return to power comfortably in 2019. Sensing the danger, the BJP rose to the occasion to push things in its favor.
The post Pulwama attack (February 14) scenario across India gave the Hindu rightwing party a window to satisfy the disgruntled electors and win their support and vote. The suicide attack had taken lives of 40 troops. The Indian Air Force strike, said to have been carried out inside Pakistan after the Pulwama attack followed by the release of the Indian pilot captured by Pakistan, revived BJP’s hopes of rallying the electorate behind it in the name of nationalism and national security. For that, Pakistan bashing throughout the poll campaign was used as an effective tool. As a result, INC was left helpless as it watched BJP back to the corridors of power with a majority.
On its part, the rightwing Hindu party will be very pleased with the results for two main reasons: one it has won another opportunity to rule the world’s largest democracy. Two, its image and honor has remained intact as it would have been humiliating for it to quit only after five years by losing the elections touted as a referendum on PM Modi’s reputation.
That said, how will the results impact India’s image across the globe? During the last five years under BJP, India has projected itself as an assertive economic and military power in Asia. India had a one-month-long faceoff with China on the Dokhlam plateau (claimed by China and India’s key regional ally Bhutan) in 2017. India is the regional country that has in an outright manner refused to be a member of OBOR, China’s ambitious project reaching up to three continents in the world. India decided not to participate in the SAARC summit in 2016 following strained relations with Pakistan. New Delhi’s decision was followed by the summit’s boycott by the other members of the association, pointing to India’s rising influence. Therefore, India is likely to advance its interests from a stronger position in the region.
Interestingly, New Delhi’s Pakistan policy continues to be the same old story: aggression and assertiveness. Mr. Modi and team invited the neighboring nations to the swearing-in ceremony on May 30. Only Pakistan was left out, a clear signal that India will take on Pakistan aggressively and continue with its strategy of isolating it. The post Pulwama attack situation had brought them to the brink of war before PM Imran Khan doused the fire through his peace gestures. As the relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad is based on the principle of reciprocity, how will Pakistan respond to its non-inclusion in the oath taking ceremony of PM Modi? Though Pakistan has downplayed the non-inclusion, the picture will emerge in the days ahead.
Interestingly, BJP's rise seems all set to drown INC's secular and pluralistic India into the sea of ultra- nationalism dominating India's political landscape under the patronage of right wing outfits. Can Congress puts on its thinking cap and reverses the trend?