Expert Speak India Matters
Published on May 23, 2019
A mandate only places a particular politics in power; it does not mean, as in authoritarian regimes such as China, the power to run individual or collective writs.
India Elections: Six lessons from Verdict 2019

From embracing national security to eschewing minoritarianism, these are six big learnings from Mandate 2019 that has delivered to us Modi 2.0

1. Death of the candidate

Finally, Election 2019, was about two mega candidates, two distinct ideologies, two powerful brands – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Of course, we had other faces too: Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati, both in Uttar Pradesh, All India Trinamool Congress Chairperson Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Biju Janata Dal President Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, and Aam Aadmi Party National Convener Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi. But the Modi-Gandhi duo dominated the political discourse.

The primacy of the party had neutralised the candidate right from the first few elections in Independent India – there was only one serious party, the Congress, and this monopoly ended all discussions around candidate. Around the 1960s, we saw a rise of regional parties attempting to make space for themselves in the states. In 1977, came the first coalition at the national level under the Janata Party, but fell under the weight of its own contradictions and power ambitions. It was only after 1991 that a new economics created a new competitive politics, with new faces. Since then, the number of parties and their leaders have increased. Today, while political entrepreneurship is alive and vibrant in India – Arvind Kejriwal being the latest – the candidate has been reduced to a vote collecting machine, based on which she/he jumps party brands, but remains irrelevant to the larger political discourse. In terms of faces and voting thereon, there is only the top job – everyone else, including the candidate, is an adjunct.

2. Eight pillars of political continuity

That Modi has returned to power with a greater majority, despite several media speculations to the contrary, shows the country is seeking political continuity. This continuity stands on eight pillars.

  • One, consolidation of what was an alternative to the Congress – the BJP – becoming the key driver of Indian politics.
  • Two, a forceful ejection of entitlement-driven, the Gandhi family-dominated politics to one that, looks at the rise of an average person, Narendra Modi, to the top. This is a story of hope.
  • Three, the rise of a party, the BJP that thinks, governs and articulates itself in Hindi.
  • Four, delivering a sense of a rising India across the world and a citizenry that basks in that warm-fuzzy idea.
  • Five, the rebirth of nationalism and patriotism, a sense of going beyond the family, the community and the region to meld into the nation. The tukde-tukde idea is in tukdas.
  • Six – possibly the visible veto – the birth of national security as a political issue. That India can and will use kinetic force to protect itself is now an irreversible political conversation. More on this below.
  • Seven, the unresolved discourse of no-jobs and undependable-data notwithstanding, a political economy narrative that has been driven by low inflation – this is the only economic indicator that influences the behaviour of the voter.
  • And eight, a corruption-free, family-free, encumbrances-free man – Modi – as brand driver.

All of these will continue through 2024.

3. Policy stability through six touchpoints with electorate

We may like to think that only companies and markets seek policy stability. Verdict 2019 shows that to be an incomplete reading of India’s democracy. Policy stability is a virtue down the line too. Over the past five years, as part of delivering economic governance, the Modi government has made several and regular touchpoints with the electorate, of which the following six are key:

  • The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana delivered bank accounts to 355 million unbanked Indians.
  • The Swachh Bharat Mission has built 92.7 million toilets, with more than 560,000 villages and 617 districts that are open defecation free.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana aims to deliver secondary and tertiary healthcare to 100 million poorest and the first flush of 1.8 million beneficiaries are visible to all.
  • Demonetisation seems to have hit the commentators more than those on whose behalf they debunk it.
  • Close to 72 million households in 714 districts now have access to LPG as cooking gas that has freed women in these households of smoky choolhaas, under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
  • More than 100 million individuals have availed of small loans of between Rs 50,000 and Rs 10 lakh under the Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana.

Backed by an intense communications outreach, these regular touchpoints, benefits and entitlements delivery over the past five years have been a reminder of the political face – Modi – behind the governance. Expect Modi 2.0 to deliver more such governance touchpoints.

4. Minoritarianism doesn’t work anymore

The narrative of majoritarianism – a crude corollary of democracy that suggests the might of the majority suffocating the minority – has finally been called out. A mandate only places a particular politics in power; it does not mean, as in authoritarian regimes such as China, the power to run individual or collective writs. In every mature democracy such as the US or India, in contrast to say those in Pakistan or Turkey, there are institutions and laws that protect minorities. In India, majoritarianism was suspected to be a false narrative; Verdict 2019 has unequivocally proved it to be false. The general argument that religious minorities, particularly the Muslims, are under attack has been discredited – lynching has no religion. On the contrary, the Left-influenced entitlement minoritarianism executed by the Congress, the TMC and the Communist parties, has divided the nation on religious lines. The failure of minoritarianism has been staring Rahul Gandhi in the face. But as he made his temple rounds and attempted to rebrand himself as a janeu dhaari brahmin, the electorate saw through it as a political falsehood – his fighting elections from a Muslim-dominated area was the reality. India never had majoritarianism and Verdict 2019 has destroyed this false narrative for good.

5. Opposition needs a narrative

This point was initially going to be: Opposition needs a new narrative. But in hindsight, the word ‘new’ is redundant. Other than ‘remove Modi’, the Opposition had no coherent offer. We must grant some quarter as, in the face of a rising Modi tide, Opposition parties did attempt to get together into a Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance. The Congress announced yet another entitlement through its NYAY scheme but failed to convince voters. Coming from diverse regions, ideologies and families, it was expected that there would be inherent contradictions in this congregation but will finally fuse together into a cogent whole. From Mamata Banerjee to Rahul Gandhi, every party leader dreamt of being the Prime Minister.

A post-elections Mahagathbandhan may have worked out if the numbers turned in their favour. But as a narrative they could not see beyond ‘remove Modi’. For the electorate, this was not enough. The cynicism with which the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party dissolved 25 years of enmity in a 25-minute meeting left the voters of Uttar Pradesh confused. The political enmity mirrored in voter enmity too, the stances had hardened over the past quarter century. The dissolution of enmity between the SP and the BSP can be seen as one with power in mind; for the people, there was nothing but a sense of vacuum. Now that Verdict 2019 is clear, it is time for the Opposition to create a narrative – the need for a strong Opposition that checks the government remains. Given the failure of extant family-led parties, this demand may perhaps create its own supply in the form of a new and serious political entrepreneur – the field is open.

6. After Pulwama, national security is a definite electoral issue

The tragedy at Pulwama made India mourn. The national quest for retribution brought it together. That retribution at Balakot ended Pakistan’s nuclear bluff that India and the world had been reeling under for decades. Coming barely two months before general elections, there was no way the Modi government would not have reacted with kinetic force. When it did, the rhetoric of national security became an electoral issue. On the other side, the Opposition first downplayed the Balakot airstrike, then it tried to take the political credit for the strike away from Modi, then said it was not a big deal as it had been done earlier too without the publicity, and finally gave in reluctantly, allowing the issue do die.

But it was Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who finally handed Modi an electoral handle, when he said that the two countries had a better chance of peace talks if Modi was in the driver’s seat. Of course, the deep state machinations behind his words cannot be ignored or undermined. Chronology of events aside, Balakot has ended, or at least has raised the cost for the Pakistani state-created, state-run terrorists. Their terrorists may still attack India, kill Indians, but the fact that retribution is inevitable is a new dimension for this rogue state. The retribution is not merely in terms of bombing Pakistani territory but equally in diplomatic isolation, delivering a humiliation to Pakistan’s new master China to reluctantly agree to allow the United Nations to declare Masood Azhar a global terrorist. This turned national security into an electoral issue. Now, as Pakistan desperately seeks peace, India must remain alert to stealth. In any case, that national security has become an electoral issue, and one that will be debated by a larger number of Indians going forward, is a step in the right direction.

This list is not comprehensive, only indicative. As we dissect the elections and engage in deeper analyses around regions, states, genders, first-time voters and so on, more insights and lessons will emerge on what delivered Verdict 2019 is and how it can reshape Elections 2024.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Gautam Chikermane

Gautam Chikermane

Gautam Chikermane is a Vice President at ORF. His areas of research are economics, politics and foreign policy. A Jefferson Fellow (Fall 2001) at the East-West ...

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Guillermina French

Guillermina French

Guillermina French Fundacin Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN)

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