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EXPLAINER: INDIA ELECTION

Who won, who lost and what happens next? In a triumph for multiparty democracy, India has voted decisively to give Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second consecutive term in office.


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Updated: May 24, 2019

Who won, who lost and what happens next?

In a triumph for multiparty democracy, India has voted decisively to give Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second consecutive term in office.

The party he leads, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has won or is leading in around 300 of the 542 parliamentary seats for which elections were held in a weeks-long polling process and is set to improve its tally of 282 in 2014.

Along with its allies, the BJP number goes up to 350, translating to a massive mandate last seen in 1984 when the Congress won over 400 seats in a sympathy wave following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The markets welcomed Modi’s re-election with a record rise, world leaders have called to congratulate him and a decimated opposition has gracefully conceded defeat.

The truncated opposition will be led by India’s oldest political party, the Congress, which has won or is leading in around 50 seats, just a few more than its historic low tally of 44 in 2014. 

Congress president and Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty scion Rahul Gandhi himself conceded defeat on one of the two seats he contested without waiting for the official result. He has also offered to resign as party chief.

WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP?

All newly elected lawmakers of the BJP will meet and pass a resolution electing Modi as the leader of their parliamentary group, a formality which is expected to happen by the end of the week. 

The resolution will be sent to the President of India, the head of state, who will then invite Modi to take his oath of office as Prime Minister, the executive head of government, by the middle of next week.

The wider BJP-led alliance, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), will also issue letters of support for him as Prime Minister and submit them to the President. Though the BJP has a majority on its own, it has maintained all along it will form an NDA government.

WHAT WILL BE MODI’S AGENDA? 

In his victory tweet, Modi, 69, indicated a return to his inclusive slogan from the 2014 campaign – “development for all with support from all… India wins again.”

His new administration will most likely be a near-replica of the outgoing government with a nationalist emphasis and belief in the Hindu/Indic civilizational ethos of the country albeit articulated as an “inclusive” ideology.

Economic growth, employment, welfare schemes for India’s rural/urban poor, agricultural reforms and a robust national security doctrine will continue be the priority areas for Modi 2.0, as it were. 

Indicating the trajectory of his new administration, the Prime Minister told the state-owned television station in an interview before the results:

“My first term was about meeting the basic needs of the people. My next term will be about meeting the people’s aspirations.”

PARTIES IN GOVERNMENT & THEIR AGENDAS

BJP – 300 seats. Leader: Narendra Modi

BJP has been the spearhead of what may be termed right-wing populism in India under Modi. It champions a strong welfarist agenda fuelled not by borrowings but by ‘growing the pie’.

But the party is also a proponent of free market economic reforms, both incremental and ‘big bang’. And Modi is equally focused on ensuring delivery of basic services without leakages and corruption.

On social issues, the party’s unitary impulse is strong while it insists it respects and celebrates diversity. It would be fair to say, though, that its social model is largely integrationist. 

It believes that in Modi it has found a leader who has successfully unified a diverse, continent-sized country which is notorious for divisions along class, caste, community, ethnicity and religious lines.

On the domestic front, the BJP is likely to push ahead, but cautiously and after building a consensus, on its core Hindu/Indic nationalist issues: 

Coming through on its promise of facilitating the building of a grand Rama Temple in Ayodhya at the birthplace of Lord Rama, where millions of Hindus believe a medieval mosque was deliberately built to humiliate them;

The promulgation of a Uniform Civil Code that ends the sway of religious laws in civil matters among minority religious communities;

The abrogation of Articles of the Indian Constitution which give special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.

But Narendra Modi, acutely aware of the internal and international ramifications of forcing these issues, is said to be intent on building a broad if not complete consensus before acting on them.

On foreign policy, the party understands the transactional nature of international relations and its priority will be engagement with the major powers – US, China, Russia and, to a lesser extent, the EU.

Modi’s attempts to keep a balance in New Delhi’s ties with Beijing is a priority. The BJP and the Prime Minister know India has a lot of catching up to do both economically and militarily before it can come close to competing with China. 

India’s Look East Policy and focus on the Indo-Pacific, which the BJP has long backed, is likely to get a major push with a concerted attempt by Modi to forge closer economic and strategic ties with Japan and ASEAN members.

The party’s hawkish stand on Pakistan which it accuses of overt and covert support to Islamist and separatist insurgencies in India will continue. Zero tolerance for terror is, under Modi, a well-defined national security marker.

But an outreach, if the terms are right, is entirely possible. Especially, because the BJP believes Pakistan is the biggest stumbling block in India’s attempts to build a consolidated South Asian market for people, goods and services.

Terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil remains the deal-breaker, though.

SHIV SENA – 18 seats. Leader: Uddhav Thackeray

A street-fighting, nativist, regional political party based in Mumbai (earlier Bombay), it holds sway in alliance with the BJP over India’s second-largest state electorally, Maharashtra (48 seats).

The Shiv Sena, a BJP ally since 1989, is unapologetically right-wing and has in fact often criticised the BJP for not being muscular enough.

In recent times, it has mellowed somewhat under Uddhav Thakeray who took over the reins of the party from his father and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray after his death in 2012.

Its support to BJP on its contentious core issues is assured.

JANATA DAL UNITED (JDU) – 15 seats. Leader: Nitish Kumar

An old-style socialist party and one of the many splinter groups that emerged from the disintegration of the old Janata Party which took on Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and 1980s, the JDU is uncomfortable with the BJP’s “Hindu agenda”. 

Its preferences, however, will have little impact on the BJP which has a brute majority of its own, apart from in terms of optics perhaps.

Also, the JDU leader Nitish Kumar, an educated and widely respected politician, is Chief Minister of the politically important state of Bihar in alliance with, and dependent on, the BJP.

It is the only state in India where the JDU has a political presence and Nitish Kumar is unlikely to want to rock the boat unless pushed into a corner.

SMALLER PARTIES

A host of smaller parties with between 1 and 6 seats in their kitty are also part of the BJP-led NDA. They owe their electoral success in large part to Modi’s charisma and will go along with whatever he decides in terms of policy.

WHO IS THE OPPOSITION?

CONGRESS PARTY – 50 seats. Leader: Rahul Gandhi

The main opposition, such as what remains of it after the Modi juggernaut, is the once-dominant Congress, today reduced to 50 seats plus/minus a few. 

Its leader Rahul Gandhi has already offered to resign as party chief.

But the offer has been made to the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) which his mother Sonia Gandhi leads. There’s no word yet on whether his resignation will be accepted, naturally.

In a sense, this describes perfectly the perceived sense of entitlement of the Congress’ first family that India’s electorate seems to have had enough of. 

Even within the party the murmurs against the ‘reluctant politician’ Rahul are growing louder. 

As long as the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was providing the second-rung leaders and activists electoral wins, all was forgiven.

That assurance, after two consecutive general election humiliations, has been smashed to smithereens. 

It is clearly introspection time for the Congress which seems to have both lurched to the hard, at times loony, left and fallen foul of the majority community’s sentiments. Simultaneously.

That has been the killer blow.

Leadership, or the lack of it, is the Congress’ other pressing issue, admit senior leaders. But without a Nehru-Gandhi at the helm, nobody seems sure exactly how the party will survive, perchance thrive, in the future.

YSR CONGRESS PARTY — 25 seats. Leader: Jagan Reddy

A regional party based in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, it was hived off from its parent Congress by Jagan Reddy after his father and former Chief Minister YSR Reddy died in a chopper crash 10 years ago. 

Jagan’s grouse, ironically, was that while the Congress’ central leadership had no problem with dynastic succession, he was blocked from inheriting his father’s political legacy. 

Today, he has had the last laugh in terms of his animus with the Congress Party. For, he has in his kitty 25 lawmakers from just one state while the Congress managed a tally of just about double that after contesting from all 29 states of India.

To add insult to injury, Jagan has also swept the Andhra Pradesh state assembly elections which were held along with the parliamentary poll. 

He will be sworn-in as Chief Minister in the next few days.

Though he has maintained equidistance from both Congress and BJP ever since he formed his own party, Jagan Reddy is expected to be happy to work with the Modi-led federal government despite being in opposition ‘in the interest of Andhra Pradesh’. 

Trinamool Congress – 22 seats. Leader: Mamata Banerjee

The fiery, populist and authoritarian Chief Minister of the state of West Bengal and one of Modi’s bitterest critics has had a real scare in the 2019 elections.

As founder and main campaigner of the Trinamool Congress, she was confident of improving on her party’s 34 seats in the outgoing parliament. 

Instead, she lost 12 seats and the BJP made massive inroads into West Bengal, increasing its tally from 2 to 18 MPs. 

With a rampant BJP looking to continue its political-ideological assault on the Trinamool for allowing illegal (mainly Muslim) immigration from Bangladesh for ‘vote-bank politics’, Banerjee is in for a stormy time.

REGIONAL PARTIES

The Tamil Nadu based, rationalist DMK party has swept the state winning 22 seats in parliament. 

Its leader, MK Stalin, had allied the DMK with the Congress for the 2019 polls and even supported Rahul Gandhi as a Prime Ministerial candidate against Narendra Modi.

Stalin’s main aim, however, is to come to power in the state and dislodge his party’s arch-rival ruling Tamil Nadu currently, the AIADMK.

The role of DMK lawmakers in parliament will dovetail with that ambition.

WHO LOST BIG?

Telegu Desam Party (TDP) – 0. Leader: N Chandrababu Naidu 

One of the most active and senior opposition Indian politicians leading the ‘oust-Modi’ campaign in 2019, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Naidu has drawn a blank in the parliamentary elections.

He has also been unceremoniously shown the door as Chief Minister by the electorate in polls to the state assembly which were held simultaneously.

It is a real reversal of fortune.

Naidu was, till last year, an ally of the BJP.

He even had ministers in Modi’s Cabinet before falling out with the ruling party over its refusal to sanction special financial aid for his state. It turned him into one of the BJP’s – and Modi’s – most trenchant critics.

Subsequently, he walked out of the NDA.

He has lived to regret it, electorally. 



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