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Q.In your opinion is Indian democracy withering or getting strengthened?

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 make (a marriage or relationship) complete by having sexual intercourse.
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When any individual eclipses his party in a parliamentary election, it is uncharted terrain for the system

Weeks after the nation gave a decisive mandate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), political analysts are yet to come up with plausible reasons for what happened. No one had forecast this kind of majority, though there are many who now claim they saw it coming.

The magnitude of victory

The figures say it all. First and foremost, in 2019 the NDA eclipsed its performance of 2014. It secured 352 seats, while the Congress-led alliance came next with 91 seats. The BJP tally of seats was 303 while the Congress secured 52. Regional parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Trinamool Congress, YSR Congress Party, Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United), Biju Janata Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party each secured 10-23 seats, demonstrating the overwhelming nature of the Modi victory. In 224 of the 303 seats it won, the BJP vote share exceeded 50%, compared to 136 in 2014. The BJP retained over 81% of the seats it had won previously.

With regard to voting percentages, the BJP vote share this time was around 37.4%, while that of the Congress was 19.5%. Analysing the results on the basis of seats won and voting percentages conveys an impression that the BJP had enlarged its reach not only in Gujarat, but also in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (which only a few months earlier had dealt the BJP a resounding defeat in the Assembly elections). The reality may, however, be different. What is more true, perhaps, is that the BJP’s vote share among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes appears to have gone up. Also interesting is an analysis that first-time voters and younger sections among the electorate revealed a clear preference for the BJP.

Mundane statistics still do not explain the scale of victory. Various theories have been floated, viz. that India was entering a new epoch in which Mandir-Mandal politics had no place; caste and subaltern politics had receded into the background; and we are seeing a new India. These are mere facile arguments being put forward to explain an unprecedented victory which no one saw coming. Certain strategists meanwhile have speculated that the “victory” could be attributed to: the adoption of a new revolutionary approach to ‘data-driven’ communications; the utilisation of ‘influence politics’; and the employment of new ‘social media tactics’, which had the potential to change the behaviour of the electorate. This again makes for good copy, but the truth of what led to such a massive victory for the BJP still eludes everyone.

Without issues

What, perhaps, is nearer the truth is that ‘issues’ as such had little resonance in the just concluded elections. The Opposition concentrated its attack on the weakening economy, but it is conventional wisdom that the true state of the economy or the lack of jobs is often irrelevant to voters when other matters of greater significance intrude. The Prime Minister, knowingly or unknowingly, never entered into a debate on the economic aspects, thus denying the Opposition a platform. The Opposition also had little occasion to bring up the Mandir issue, since the BJP never projected it as a major election card this time. Mandal politics has long since lost its edge, as the benefits to be derived from it have since become part and parcel of the political philosophy of every party in the country. The Opposition, hence, had little ammunition to deploy against the ruling dispensation.

For its part, the BJP (as also some analysts) has argued that it was people-friendly policies such as the cooking gas subsidy, the Atal Pension Yojana, and the Ujjwala scheme that had created a wave in their favour. This again is more illusory than real.

This election was one of a kind, in which issues did not matter. This may seem like an ‘anomaly’, but in much the same manner as ‘anomalies’ during revolutions in science led to new paradigms, the Opposition failed to recognise the change that had taken place this time. This, together with the unparalleled polarisation and a Hindu consolidation, meant that the Opposition had probably lost the election even before the majority of the electorate had got to the polling booths.

It is hardly surprising in these circumstances that the grand Opposition alliance proved to be a damp squib, and not only because of their internal squabbles. Whether in Uttar Pradesh or across other States, the Mahagathbandhan was doomed from its inception. The electorate could not quite understand what the Mahagathbandhan was opposing. This was an extraordinary situation, the like of which has not been seen previously.

The ruling dispensation was, perhaps, as clueless as the Opposition about the changes taking place. Bereft of any grand strategy, by default it took a leaf from the strategy of the most consummate politician in the ranks of the BJP, L.K. Advani, viz. whipping up nationalist fervour and passions, and employing high decibel rhetoric towards this end, not excluding the demonisation of Pakistan. This created an atmosphere in which the BJP stood for patriotism, one by which the Opposition could be branded as anti-national if they contested the arguments put forward by the ruling party. Pulwama and Balakot were critical to the success of this strategy and the BJP employed both to the hilt. Vast segments, especially in the northern belt of the country, were swayed by this type of propaganda, and there was hardly any requirement for the BJP faithful to spread this message.

Policy orientation of this nature required a towering symbol and voice. Mr. Modi with his powerful oratory was the quintessential person for this task. He did his part splendidly, addressing over a 100 rallies in the space of six weeks, covering over one lakh kilometres, in which economic issues, unemployment, farmers’ distress, Mandal-Mandir were conspicuous by their absence. Nationalism was the theme, and defending the nation’s integrity from threats of every kind, especially terror attacks from Pakistan, was the line of propaganda. The strategy succeeded far beyond the expectations of the BJP. One person alone was the architect responsible for this victory. The 2019 verdict was, hence, a verdict for Mr. Modi, and not for the BJP.

What does the 2019 election victory of Prime Minister Modi presage for parliamentary democracy? Parliamentary democracy is the cornerstone of the edifice sanctified by the Constitution. If any part of the edifice, and especially its cornerstone, is affected or diminished, it could spell damage to what we have come to believe since 1950. The question is not rhetorical, but requires a well-considered answer.

When any individual, the Prime Minister included, eclipses his party that is notionally responsible for victory in a parliamentary election, then we are entering uncharted waters, where current rules do not apply. Across the world, there is a wave today in favour of tall and powerful leaders — from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping — but they do not head parliamentary democracies. In a parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister is clearly the first among equals, but is not larger or bigger than the party.

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