As the final phase of 2019 elections come to an end, it is important to look at the changes that India’s society has undergone over the last couple of years. Exit polls have indicated that BJP led NDA is likely to come back to power with a similar mandate as in 2014 and this suggests that India has indeed witnessed a significant change over the last 5 years as politics of performance became the most important factor in terms of voter preferences.
A resultant change has been that the BJP became the central pole of India’s politics. The critical question now is what will happen on the 23rd of May, and I have decided to avoid making a forecast in this article but by simply agreeing by what all exit polls are suggesting. There is no doubt that election results on 23rd May will require us to look at a few major changes in India’s political landscape as they will shape up the political discourse over the next decade.
The first, and perhaps, the most important is that the Congress which was fighting for its survival may very likely for the first time be unable to form a government at the centre for 10 straight years in a row. Additionally, it may also witness a drop in its vote-share even though it may get more seats than it did in 2014. This doesn’t augur well for the Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra brother-sister duo as their failure to revive the party could result in regional leaders gaining more political power over the central leadership. As is the case, in 2019, regional leaders have had a greater bargaining power than Rahul Gandhi and should this continue then perhaps we may witness further splits within the party or perhaps, a change in the central leadership. It will be difficult for the party to recover from two successive defeats in general elections, and this will have a likely impact in the state elections that are scheduled for later this year or perhaps early in 2020.
The second change is to do with the BJP which has consistently expanded its footprints from 2014. So far, the BJP managed to expand at the Congress and the SP-BSP in UP, but the rest of the regional players managed to hold on to their states. 2019 is likely to alter these dynamics as an aggressive BJP may end up making inroads in West Bengal hurting the Trinamool Congress the most. If Mamata Banerjee’s reaction is any evidence, then we can safely see a sign of frustration which suggests that her political ground is shrinking fast and this will have significant repercussions for her in the subsequent state assembly elections. The BJP has also been aggressive in the North East and Odisha which suggests that it is looking for fresh areas to further expand its support base.
Another interesting interpretation would come from the results of the states that went to polls recently namely, Punjab, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The Congress made populist promises in the run-up to state elections and it has largely failed at delivering them. Therefore, the performance of Congress in 2019 in these states could be directly linked to the perception about the state governments there. Pollsters seem to suggest that the BJP has an advantage in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan while Congress can do well in Punjab and Chhattisgarh. The extent of the performance of Congress and the BJP in these states will determine how close the BJP can get to the halfway mark or how close can the Congress get to a three-digit figure.
Of course, the most interesting results would be of Uttar Pradesh and it is here where most pollsters seem to have divided opinion. Some pollsters believe that the BJP will win 30 seats in UP or that the Mahagathbandhan is working, while most do believe that the BJP will manage at least 50 seats in UP, or that the Mahagathbandhan is not working as well as it was once anticipated. Several analysts have argued that for the Mahagathbandhan to work, it is important that a major proportion of the vote-share gets transferred. Even if 80 per cent of BSP-SP votes get transferred, the BJP will manage a respectable performance in UP. It would be interesting to see how these dynamics played out during the course of the last two and a half months.
The most important feature of the 2019 results would be that the left front may very well for the first time be unable to win in double digits. Therefore, what was once the biggest opposition block to the Congress, seems to have crumbled along with the Congress. Tripura and Kerala were the last two states where the left is relevant, but BJP dislodged the left from Tripura and it is expected that the Congress will gain at the expense of the communists in Kerala after the Sabarimala fiasco.
23rd May will be no less than a soap opera with regional satraps questioning EVMs and every bit of grace that the opposition had will be lost as they will blame everyone but themselves for their losses, but the fact remains that the writing has been on the wall all along.
Karan Bhasin is a political economist by training and has diversified research interests in the field of economics. He tweets @karanbhasin95.