After months of a bruising election campaign, when the results to the Indian Parliament elections were announced on May 23, showing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning a comfortable majority (302 seats out of 543 parliamentary seats) under the energetic leadership of Narendra Modi, silence descended on the national capital and other parts of the country. This was unusual for a party for which public display of exuberance comes easy, thrives as it does on religious celebrations and congregations.

There were no fireworks or spontaneous victory processions by the supporters of the party despite the phenomenal and unexpected re-election and the massive margins with which its candidates won the polls. Truly, it seemed, even the party and its supporters did not really expect such an unprecedented victory.

Bewildered journalists, political observers and rival parties desperately searched for answers for this uncharacteristic restraint. Social media was full of speculations: why this universal silence?

Was the BJP leadership surprised by the results? Or, was it expecting charges of electoral fraud and bias that were being vociferously leveled during the run-up to the campaign by the opposition, and, later, by sections of the media and civil society groups, especially widespread allegations of mass-scale rigging and manipulated Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in favour of the BJP?

Within a few days after the results, it seems like business as usual. On May 30, Narendra Modi, in a grand ceremony at the majestic forecourt of the illuminated Presidential Palace in Lutyens’ Delhi, attended by several heads of states, diplomats and some 8,000 supporters, was given oath of office by President Ram Nath Kovind. His cabinet was also sworn in that included his confidante and party president, the controversial Amit Shah, as the powerful Union Home Minister. Shah had earlier been incarcerated for ordering custodial killings and ‘fake encounters’ when he was the internal security minister in the state of Gujarat, and declared out of bounds from the state by the Supreme Court.

Also included were former diplomat, S Jaisankar, as country’s foreign minister, and a woman Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman, both former students of JNU, which has been relentlessly vilified and abused by the entire BJP leadership, the pro-BJP television channels, and the prime minister himself for being “anti-national”, albeit without an iota of evidence or substance.

Facts became a casualty to this compelling narrative, produced relentlessly by a loyalist mass media, which often celebrated fake news without any iota of media ethics

Also included was a junior minister, whose Spartan ways came for instant praise from the mainstream media and social media. However, he was later found to be a leader of a hate group, Bajrang Dal, one of the extremist and lumpen fronts of the RSS/BJP, which was accused of killing Australian social worker Graham Staines and his two young on January 27, 1999. He and his wife, Gladys, used to work with the poorest people in the margins and leprosy patients in the deep interiors of Orissa. They were burnt alive in their car in Orissa while they were sleeping.

Unlike in 2014 when Modi promised jobs and massive development, a powerful economic future as in Chinam, and good times, in 2019, his concerns were different. Instead of issues, he positioned himself as the only leader who could navigate India out of the variegated crises that it finds itself in. Turning the polls into a presidential referendum rather than one that elects MPs to Parliament, Modi, through aggressive marketing and media management, propagating his muscular and macho persona during his first term, projected himself as a cult benefactor of the masses who had raised the country’s profile and who did not display timidity of the kind his predecessors did. In fact, he managed to convey to the Hindu masses that the country would not accept Islamic terrorism any longer and it would even enter its enemy territory to smoke out terrorists.

Facts and objectivity became a casualty to this compelling and seductive narrative, produced unilaterally and relentlessly by a loyalist mass media, which often celebrated fake and doctored news without any iota of media ethics.  Besides, a large section of the population seemed ready to accept this crude discourse.

Many wondered whether the BJP’s fantastic win and Congress’s stunning loss had only to do with the Indian Air Force attack at an allegedly terrorist camp at Balakot, Pakistan. There were no reports of casualties from Pakistan although the government-friendly media put the loss to about 300 “terrorists”. The international media on the spot reported zero casualty in Balakot. BJP supporters were primed to celebrate this ‘fake news’ as an exhibition of the muscular foreign policy that could put India in the category of the US and Israel.

It’s a different matter that the Pakistan Air Force promptly retaliated and brought down an Indian aircraft and an Indian chopper and six airmen were lost in friendly fire. In fact, the Indian Air Force pilot who was captured in Pakistan was given due respect and dignity, and cordially and promptly returned across the Indian border by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. This was widely appreciated across the world as a noble and brilliant diplomatic gesture of statesmanship, which helped diffuse the border crisis and war-mongering in India.

Modi’s fawning supporters did not take cognizance of these setbacks. Nor did Modi, who kept flexing muscles despite the facts on the ground being totally opposed to his war rhetoric. Perhaps these irritating facts were filtered out of the avalanche of Whatsapp messages that were sent to party supporters. An unquestioning TV media helped the government in this shadowy and unethical enterprise.

There were no fireworks or spontaneous victory processions despite the unexpected re-election. Truly, even the party and its supporters did not expect such an unprecedented victory

What became clear is that so high-strung and switched on were BJP supporters that if the Pulwama-Balakot episode had not taken place then they would have still voted for Modi and his party. This, despite all-round economic failure, mass unemployment, farmers’ suicides, severe agricultural crisis, and the Rafael corruption scandal.

It was BJP’s extraordinary win and the big margins with which its candidates won against the opposition that reinforced the belief among large section of Indians that the EVMs were spiked in their favour and there was a need to return to ballot paper. During the run-up to the elections, there was a demand by all opposition parties and civil society activists that the Election Commission of India (ECI) should do a 100 per cent audit of the paper trail of the votes cast. The ECI did not help its case as an objective arbiter of India’s democratic process and clearly seemed to lean in favour the government.

Despite repeated violations of the code of conduct, especially by using war rhetoric and using the Indian army as a BJP trump-card, the EC continued to give Modi clean chit after clean chit. Even the dissent shown by one EC member did not deter the Chief Election Commissioner, Sunil Arora, who was widely accused by the opposition parties for being openly biased in favour of the BJP. The Supreme Court allowed paper audit of only 5 EVMs out of 2000 odd booth in every assembly segment.  This did not really help those who wanted a totally free and fair election. Serious doubts continue to simmer.

Indeed, the media reported a lot of mismatch between votes polled and counted in more 300 parliamentary constituencies. However, the opposition parties that had shown greater gusto before the polls for increased scrutiny of the EVMs, seemed a demoralised lot after their ignominious defeat. The Congress’s attempt to get all the other opposition political parties to dwell on the reasons for this unexpected loss failed to elicit any meaningful response.

The future is dark for the opposition. Parties working solely on caste and identity issues will find it difficult to survive after their supporters have found merit in voting for the BJP.

The biggest challenge stares at the Congress party. Led by Rahul Gandhi, the party had launched a spirited attack at Modi and BJP and exuded great confidence at the end of the campaign. It claimed that it had managed to stop the ruling party from returning to power. This claim proved short-lived.

The future is dark for the opposition. Parties working solely on caste and identity issues will find it difficult to survive after their supporters have found merit in voting for the BJP.

A few days later, Congress, despite all the hard work by Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka, came up woefully short — winning just 52 seats in a house of 543 seats. In 2014, the party won 44. There is a demand that Rahul Gandhi should step down. He has shown willingness, but the party is in such a mess that there is a fear that in the absence of one of the Gandhis at the helm, it would simply split in many parts. The BJP would wait for that moment.

So, what is the meaning of this mandate?

Aggressive religious nationalism, communal polarisation, fake rhetoric on national security and Pakistan-bashing, helped by pliant institutions such as the media and EC, the BJP has trumped against all-round farm distress, mass-scale job losses and unemployment, and devaluation in the status of minorities, who are being branded as “termites” and second class citizens by its leaders and ministes. Cases of mob-lynching and atrocities against citizens across caste and religion have risen sharply after May 23. The law and order situation in BJP-ruled UP is abysmal with rapes, police atrocities and murders becoming routine, even as the communal polarisation by BJP/RSS fronts as violent public spectacles becomes a daily norm, as in Aligarh.

The big question is that can such a mandate inspire hope among those who fear that majoritarian politics could leave them politically and economically disenfranchised? Indeed, can the majority truly accept that they will finally inherit a peaceful, stable and prosperous nation without communal violence, lawlessness,  mob lynchings, and all-round bloody anarchy?

Amit ShahBJPlok sabha elections 2019Narendra Modi

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Can the majority backing BJP truly accept that they will finally inherit a peaceful, stable and prosperous nation without communal violence, lawlessness, mob lynchings, and all-round bloody anarchy?
Massive Mandate, Stunning Silence