A good many people, mainly in the non-NDA tent, are pondering over the verdict. How could it go so wrong? With so many voices against Narendra Modi, how could BJP increase its own tally from 282 to 303? How did the fixed electoral arithmetic fail in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh? Did the EVM do the trick for BJP?
Some of the above questions are not difficult to answer. One of them on EVM is irrelevant, although machines can be manipulated. Therefore, in order to permanently remove the misgivings on EVM, one could switch back to ballot as many other countries have done.
However, that is not the issue at the moment. Without concrete evidence, raising the bogey of EVMs obfuscate the real reasons for the defeat of the opposition. For now, the verdict cannot be called conclusively to be EVM-tampered. Also, without building a falsifiable hypothesis, one could not make a case against the EVM vis-a-vis the results.
Frankly, the verdict is not a great surprise, although the margin of victory may be a bit. Opinion polls had predicted it, exit polls had confirmed it, and some of us, lesser mortals, had seen it coming. I had said so in my article, ‘Lok Sabha Elections in UP: a Sisyphean Task for Congress’, (Mainstream, May 11, 2019). It is another thing that the opposition disbelieved the opinion polls, rubbished the exit polls, and refused to heed any contrarian view.
Political analysts seem to be wondering how to crack the post-verdict conundrum for the opposition. It is not difficult really. The main reasons for the heavy defeat are two – a slipshod alliance, and, second, the absence of a coherent and convincing ideological platform. I had written in the Mainstream piece, “INC outside gathbandhan may damage the non-NDA prospects in UP and the rest of India. And, for such an eventuality, it is the largest opposition party, the Congress, is to blame.” The Congress miserably failed to carry other parties along.
Ironically, Congress failed to accommodate BSP and SP in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections, whereas it is running the governments in these states with the support of the latter. There was no UPA, nor any alliance at the Centre in opposition to the ‘formidable’ NDA. Only the state parties were challenging the NDA – TMC in West Bengal, gathbandhan in UP, TDP in Andhra, JDS/Congress in Karnataka, and Congress (like a state party under Amarinder Singh) in Punjab.
The opposition response consisted of hackneyed and failed concepts of secularism, unarticulated nationalism, while grumbling against the messy implementation of GST. There was no fresh thinking on social, economic or foreign policy
The second blunder was they fell into the BJP trap by positioning Rahul Gandhi against Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate. The Congress did not promote other leaders of their own party, or from other parties. If the opposition or Congress was exposing the diarchy in BJP, it did no better by holding back other leaders, and not projecting a collective leadership.
The third blunder was to field 80 candidates in UP, 7 candidates in Delhi and as many elsewhere to make it a triangular contest. Gathbandhan had left two seats for Congress in UP where they had won in 2014, the Congress should have returned the goodwill, not fielded 80 candidates, not drafted Priyanka Vadra to add a bit of glamour and pump up their supporters. They were perhaps building their party in UP, but ended up rebuilding BJP, that was tottering mid-stream after losing the prestigious bye-elections.
The Congress did similar blunders elsewhere, in Andhra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, and so on. It could not perhaps get over its hubris and pride of being the longest-ruling party, and get away, without comprehension of their enfeebled and emaciated party and internal organisational reforms.
The other reason for defeat is the absence of a sound ideological and policy framework. The ‘Nyay’ scheme, formulated in haste and desperation, did not cut the ice. There was no convincing counter to BJP’s brand of ‘aggressive nationalism’, Hindutva (a reaction to pseudo-secularism), and a faltering economy, camouflaged with basic welfare measures like toilets and opening of bank accounts, gas-subsidy etc.
The opposition response consisted of hackneyed and failed concepts of secularism, undefined and unarticulated nationalism, while grumbling against the messy implementation of GST, etc. There was no fresh thinking on social policy, economic policy or foreign policy.
There was no convincing counter to BJP’s brand of ‘aggressive nationalism’, Hindutva (a reaction to pseudo-secularism), and a faltering economy, camouflaged with basic welfare measures like toilets and opening of bank accounts, gas-subsidy etc.
The only slogan ‘chowkidar chor hai’ did not resonate well with people. It was a badly phrased slogan about the prime minister. Recall the kamzor (spineless) BJP jibe on Manmohan Singh in the 2009 elections that recoiled on BJP. Compared to the corruption-ridden UPA government of 2009-2014, the last NDA government was untainted, except the smoke around the Rafael deal. ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ was also in a bad taste in terms of language about the head of the government — whichever party he belongs to.
There were other fundamental issues and principles that could have been successfully raised against the government. Surely, the ruling NDA and their spokespersons used abusive and unsophisticated language, but Congress followed suit. People in an election want to see distinguishable parties and candidates in their programmes, utterances and behaviour. Congress copied BJP — in soft Hindutva, ‘Janayudhari Brahmin’, surgical strikes as the basis of nationalism, and setting low standards in public discourse. The prime minister in his victory speech suggested to forgive and forget the rivalry in elections. But it did leave a bad taste in the mouth.
In fact, BJP’s populist-nationalism could be exposed to be divisive, exclusive and unworkable, if only the opposition was inclined to look for and listen to new ideas that work. Finally, as the maxim goes, any adversity can be turned to opportunity only if there is sagacious reflection through a process of unlearning and re-learning. The future of opposition parties in India rests on deep introspection and course correction. Let us remember that the opposition has experienced worse times. Hence, there is no room for cynicism and despondency. In politics, things do change. It is said, a week is a long time in politics. The opposition has five years to turn things around.
Written by DK Giri