Going by the counting trends available so far, Narendra Modi is set to return to office in grand style. The Congress-led UPA has been decimated on all fronts, mainly organisation and campaign strategy. At the time of writing this, the NDA was leading in 345 seats and the UPA in 90, a significantly amplified version of the 2014 verdict.
Here are some quick initial takeaways from the 2019 General Election results so far:
- People rejected Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s populist planks outright. Under Rahul Gandhi, the Congress has failed miserably to present a convincing economic future plan for aspiring middle class and rural voters. What the party resorted to was large-scale populism using two main tools — farm loan waivers and the promise of free income. These didn’t work on the ground because the BJP government has already deployed similar economic packages. Gandhi’s promises, thus, offered nothing new, both to a large section of new voters and the struggling rural masses.
- The Congress committed a grave error in choosing Nyuntam Aay Yojana, or NYAY, as its main poll plank instead of unemployment and rural distress. NYAY was a super flop. People didn’t understand the scheme in the first place with its complex structure. Forget voters, it is doubtful if Congress workers understood it well enough. The scheme sought to assure a minimum income of Rs 72,000 to the poorest 20 percent of India's population. In a country where availing proper income data is still work in progress, it was virtually impossible for the scheme to work. Gandhi’s Congress also failed to answer questions on where the money for the scheme will come from. Also, the scheme guaranteed a fiscal shock with the total burden of Gandhi’s minimum income promise estimated at Rs 3.6 lakh crore or 1.7 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- This election has proved conclusively that economic distress is not a key factor in deciding the outcome of major elections. Modi’s economic policies such as demonetisation of high value notes in 2016 and the botched implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) a year later brought considerable discomfort to the masses. This did not, however, impact the BJP’s political prospects, rather Modi’s popularity has only increased in subsequent years. In other words, the Modi factor overshadowed economic distress stories.
- Modi’s image as a pro-reform leader remained intact in the five years despite repeated Opposition attacks for his economic policies. At the end of his five-year term, the Opposition has questioned Modi on multiple issues, including the way his government has handled data credibility, demonetisation, and rising unemployment. Industry, however, appreciated Modi for getting the reform momentum back. Two key reforms were initiated in the last five years—the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and Goods and Services Tax (GST). These were pending proposals for at least a decade. Modi also sped up the expansion of the banking sector to rural households and, with the help of the Jan Dhan Aadhaar Mobile (JAM) trinity, rationalised the subsidy system. The political will to generate consensus and move important legislation was revived after a long period of so-called policy paralysis.
- The fact that Congress didn’t have a credible prime ministerial candidate impacted its prospects severely. Till the end of the campaign, there was no consensus among the Congress-led Opposition parties about who would be the UPA’s candidate for the top job. Rahul Gandhi as PM aspirant was no competition against the charismatic persona of Modi. It is now even more obvious that Rahul Gandhi is not cut out the job to lead a large political party. Gandhi’s slogan of ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ against Modi in connection with the Rafale fighter aircraft deal backfired badly and ended up helping the BJP. Gandhi’s campaign couldn’t break Modi’s corruption-free leader image.
- The new aggressive approach that the Modi government took in taking on terrorists operating from Pakistan soil was welcomed by the masses and converted into votes, both from the rich and poor. One could argue that the Balakot attacks turned the tide in favor of the BJP. Congress accusations against the government such as lack of evidence or intelligence failure that led to Pulwama attacks find any takers among common voters.
- The Opposition’s personal attacks on Modi, mocking his interviews for instance, backfired. Gandhi’s whole campaign was centred on anti-Modi rhetoric. As mentioned before, despite Rahul Gandhi's allegations against Modi in connection with Rafale, Modi still enjoys the image of a corruption-free politician and a prime minister who led a government for five years with no major proven corruption cases. Diverting attention from the job crisis was the Opposition’s big mistake. The more they made personal attacks on the PM, the more the BJP cleverly used them to channel public ire against the Congress using Modi’s track record and achievements.
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Updated Date: May 23, 2019 14:01:41 IST