Updated: June 03, 2019 04:37 AM GMT
A man reads a newspaper with news of the election victory of Indian Prime Minister Nadendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in Chennai on May 24. The BJP’s landslide victory left the once-mighty Gandhi dynasty licking its wounds. (Photo by Arun Sankar/AFP)
India’s 2019 general elections could have redirected the country’s politics from the trajectory it had been hurtling on for the past five years. There had been some wishful thinking that if the electorate replaced the ruling pro-Hindu party, the country’s strength — its plurality — would have been protected.
But the election’s outcome was different. In a historic mandate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was given a second term to run the world’s largest democracy. Modi is the first prime minister since 1971 to return to power with an absolute majority. He is the third one to do so after the country’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi.
In the recent elections, Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) garnered 303 seats while with his allies it has 353 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.
The question now for many Indians is: What comes next?
“A new battle for the idea of India begins today,” wrote Shiv Visvanathan in The Hindu on May 24 when the election results were declared.
To some the ‘battle’ is one picked by a BJP leadership that seeks to subvert the secular principles of the Indian constitution, a foundation that allows religious and ethnic plurality to breathe in the country.
The main apprehension among religious minority leaders and a section of left-liberals has been that the BJP could change the constitution to discard the parliamentary system.
This fear is not new.
In the 1990s, when Indian politics had entered an era of coalition regimes, veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani, a former deputy prime minister, had floated the idea of a presidential form of government. Advani said the Indian constitution required a “fresh look.”
Before the election there was five years of debate over allegations that the Modi-government was making subtle attempts to subvert constitutional bodies such as the poll panel and Supreme Court to meet their ends.
More broadly, many believe the BJP’s return, and the country’s ongoing march towards Hindu majoritarianism, is a near fatal situation for religious minorities, especially for Muslims.
Kewekhape Therie, president of the Nagaland state unit of the Indian National Congress and a Christian leader, clearly sees the outcome of the election to be a mandate for “religion polarization.”
Minorities’ concerns about India’s future are not without reason. In the run-up to the polls, the BJP made its pro-Hindu stance clear when it fielded Sadhvi Pragya Thakur who is accused of terrorism over a deadly bomb blast targeting Muslims in 2008.
Another hardliner BJP lawmaker Sakshi Maharaj, who has been re-elected from Uttar Pradesh, triggered a row when he said after this election was done he believed there would be no elections in 2024.
Earlier, BJP national president Amit Shah, a trusted lieutenant of Modi, said if the party returned to power in 2019, it would be in power for next 50 years.
Some took these as threats while BJP leaders said such statements were only a reflection of confidence in the party’s leadership.
The 2019 elections India also marks a significant drop in communist influence, mainly in the form of ideology.
The communists lost miserably in their so-called bastions in Kerala and West Bengal. Left parties did not win any of the 42 seats in West Bengal, where they ruled for 34 years until 2011. Although communists continue to run the state government in Kerala, they only won one of 20 seats in the state. In the parliament, they were reduced to two seats.
But the communists had hardly any role in an election fought on the planks of God and religion.
The BJP leaders, of course, included temple visits and public prayers in their campaigns while accusing their opposition of being anti-Hindu. That resulted in Congress and other opposition leaders visiting temples to put on a show for the media.
BJP’s political growth is also linked to a surge of nationalism which reached great heights after Modi hardened his stance against arch-rival Pakistan in February when the countries’ two militaries traded blows over Kashmir. The election results have likewise been seen as an approval of Modi’s muscular brand of nationalism. “[This makes] a right synthesis along with the developmental agenda and the spirit of Hindutva values,” says political analyst Vidyarthi Kumar.
Speaking after the elections, another BJP leader Subhash Sachdeva, said that his party won because “people admired our sincerity and the last-man-delivery.
“People were content with what they got — the gas cylinders, rural houses and toilets," Sachdeva said.
Certainly, the election results endorsed Modi’s style of governance and showed how ineffective the Congress’ attempts to project him as a corrupt were.
But the results have pushed Indian political history to a turning point. The decimation of the Congress suggests the total collapse of a political system that had thrived since Indian independence in 1947.
As part of that Modi has shown how he abhors Nehruvian politics and what the BJP calls the dynasty rule Nehru family. Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi together headed the government in New Delhi for 37 years.
Since the British left, politics has mainly centered around the Congress, who ruled the country for a total 52 years with the odd interval. It was a dominance that waned in 2014 and the 2019 results officially ended it, placing BJP at the center as the new national party.
At the center of BJP stands Modi. A man who made a synthesis of Hindu ideology and development.
With Modi and BJP now securely affirming their place, Indian political history is sure to shed its status quo.
Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based political commentator.
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