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“Now the time has come to take the Chowkidar Spirit to the next level. Keep this spirit alive at every moment and continue working for India’s progress. The word ‘Chowkidar’ goes from my Twitter name, but it remains an integral part of me. Urging you all to do the same, too!"—Narendra Modi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won 303 of the 542 Lok Sabha constituencies, when most thought its 2014 tally of 282 was insurmountable. Mint decodes the reasons behind the massive vote of confidence Modi has got from the people.

The cult

Modi made people believe in themselves and in him. The hugs with world leaders conveyed a sense of pride, and portrayed a third-world nation crawling out of decades of diffidence and being accepted by the global community. Even as Modi enjoyed the trappings of power, people saw him as one who had earned his stripes, one who had no family member or a hanger-on milking his proximity. What resonated with the restless young and endeared him to those who toil for their daily bread is that he was not part of a dynasty. He made people believe that he was working for them, whether it was against an external force such as Pakistan or the Naxalites within. India’s rising rank on the global platform was a cheer for many among the diaspora, as well as those in India, instilling a sense of faith in the leadership. The demonetization exercise underwent many definition changes to finally emerge as a war against corruption. Selfies with the young, a photograph with a visiting Priyanka Chopra, speeches in an audience ranging from Indian Space Research Organisation scientists to school children, an interview about his personal life with Hindi film star Akshay Kumar, his tweets wishing all and sundry on their birthdays and anniversaries, all struck a chord with the people.

Nationalism paints caste in its hue

Modi’s nationalism brought down the traditional hurdles of caste and, in some areas, religion, too. Caste had been a way of life for most Indians. Somebody belonged to a scheduled caste (SC) and somebody was an aheer, while somebody else was a vokkaligga. Modi and his men managed to paint over all those divisions with one brush of nationalism—a unifying coat that dissolved all barriers of customs, gender and religion. A nation used to “kadi ninda" (condemnation) every time there was a terror attack on its soil, bayed for action when 40 personnel of its Central Reserve Police Force were killed in an attack in Pulwama by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed. “Ghar mein ghuske maarenge (we will enter their home and kill them)," Modi said in response and ordered the air force to demolish the terrorist training camp at Balakot deep inside Pakistan. The people lapped it up, while the international community either looked away or stood with India. When Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistan, his safe return was also credited to Modi. India’s refusal to back off at Doklam also won applause, the memories of the defeat in 1962 at the hands of a superior and surging neighbour, China, fading for a moment.

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A chowkidar taking on corruption

India is a nation fed on corruption, and is fed up with that. Demonetization had never been attempted anywhere on such a massive scale. Therefore, the November 2016 decision to suck out 86% of the cash in the system was accepted as part of Modi’s war against corruption, despite causing immense misery to the masses. Even as the nation reels under the impact of the ill-effects of the move, Modi’s agenda has survived in the minds of the people, long used to greasing hands for using the smallest of public services—from getting a child admitted to a school to securing a job. The government pursued the extradition of fugitive Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, who were hiding in the UK, sending a message that it is serious in its fight against corruption. Several big businessmen lost their companies under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. This was also seen as a government aiming to clean up a corrupt system, as was the winding up of shell companies and notices to tax defaulters.

Catering to an aspirational class

More than 50% of India’s population is below 25 years and more than 65% below 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years. Modi played to the gallery. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the favoured platforms for this generation to vent its anger and love. The 68-year-old Modi used them all, immediately connecting with the youth. The scheduled castes and other backward classes of the 1980s are also moving up the economic ladder, having grabbed the opportunities the 1991 economic reforms gave them. With the prosperity, came the social climb and, thus, most are not looking for any largesse. Nor are the poor people of yesterday or the middle class, who are exposed to the happenings abroad. The 18-40 age group is witness to a phenomenon like Modi for the first time in their life. They saw a gentle Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his twilight years. An aggressive Modi, arguably an anti-thesis of BJP’s first Prime Minister, gave them hope that the future belongs to the challenger.

Social sector schemes can deliver too

A large section of the people felt that India is dirty and Swachh Bharat is a good initiative. This section felt that a Prime Minister talking ad nauseam about toilets is a good thing. The metro was clean, cooking gas was reaching the last mile, as was electricity. Ayushman Bharat was providing free treatment at hospitals, while Mudra loans were bridging the small entrepreneurs’ need for funds. Roads and expressways were being constructed quickly. The poor were beginning to get houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna. Many farmers were getting 2,000 twice under the PM Kisan Scheme. When things seemed to be falling short, the government delivered a 10% quota for the poor among the upper castes, too. The BJP made people believe that its government was sensitive to all castes and classes, that a government, despite a crippled public delivery system, could reach the last mile. It made people believe that the same officials who did not report in time earlier did now, that the same officials who did not work for the country earlier were doing so now.

Amit Shah

Travelling nearly 160,000km during the election campaign, Amit Shah, the BJP president and Indian polity’s new-age Kautilya, is Modi’s right-hand man and the number two in the party. Shah was not allowed to enter Gujarat by the Supreme Court at one point in time. Prodded by Modi, he used the time to build the party, particularly in Uttar Pradesh—electorally the most crucial state where the BJP had been out of power for long. Putting the right men in charge, from Sunil Deodhar in Tripura at the time of the assembly elections last year to Kailash Vijayvargiya in West Bengal this time, has been evidence of Shah’s acumen. Many may say he is the BJP’s new Lal Krishna Advani. He contested from the patriarch’s seat too, Gandhinagar, winning by more than 500,000 votes.

The dynasty is a liability

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s unrelenting chowkidaar chor hai (the watchman is a thief) campaign didn’t click with the people. Rather, it buttressed his image of a dynast out to trouble a person who had risen in life from being a chaiwala (tea seller) to become the Prime Minister. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s late entry didn’t help either and was seen as an attempt to save her husband, Robert Vadra, from corruption probes and not as a serious effort at politics, especially with his images often flashing on TV. It didn’t end with the Gandhis. Images of other opposition leaders also buttressed the disgust against legacies, with that anger engulfing the Tejaswi Yadavs and the Gowdas. A young, desperate nation, loathe to ideas of entitlement, doesn’t like its usurpers. Modi stood out in contrast.

The Hindu pride

A Hindu-majority nation divided in 1947 has nursed its wounds for a long time. Fed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) Muslim-bashing right-wing agenda, a vast population has borne a grudge against the soft-peddling of the Congress on issues central to the Hindu cause, even as many Muslims blamed them for not being part of the mainstream. For the Hindus, a Ram Mandir is the panacea to all the “wrongs" done to them. After decades of no movement on the Ayodhya temple issue, the Supreme Court appointed a committee to resolve the dispute amicably. It remains to be seen what will come of that, but many Hindus credit Modi for finally getting things moving. Modi’s visit to Kedarnath, clad in saffron robes, was thus not a violation of any model code of conduct, but a leader not ashamed of his religion and showing it.

Spreading to east, north-east and far

The BJP has all along carried the tag of a north Indian party, deriving a large cadre from the Brahmin-dominated RSS. This is not the case anymore. BJP became a party of the backward castes and other backward classes. That shift has only got more entrenched. A near repeat of its performance in Uttar Pradesh despite the mahagathbandhan, the alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party in the state, is testimony to that. The BJP won 41 out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh and led in 21 as of 11pm, co-opting all caste combinations under its umbrella. The Modi factor and the quota for the poor among the upper castes worked here. However, many expected the Modi-Shah combine to meet its match when it moved beyond north India to West Bengal, considered a citadel of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. However, while the feisty Banerjee fought tooth and nail, the BJP won 18 out of the state’s 42 seats. It is now an established player in a state once known for its Leftist politics. In the North-East, the belief that the BJP would act against illegal immigrants gave the party and its allies half of the region’s 25 seats. Odisha was going to be tough against four-time chief minister Naveen Patnaik, but the party won eight out of the 21 seats there, as compared with the solitary seat it had won in 2014.

A weak opposition

Any government bungles up and leaves opportunities for the opposition. The BJP government did, too. Demonetization was one such instance. That the Vijay Mallyas and Nirav Modis escaped to safe havens during the its regime was another. Farm distress has been widespread and jobs have been difficult to come by. Small and medium enterprises were hit hard by demonetization and subsequently by the implementation of the goods and services tax, while income tax scrutiny has only increased and terrorized businesses. Economic growth has slowed and investor sentiment has been hit. Communal strife in the country has never been worse. Attacks by Naxalites and terror strikes have also increased. However, a weak opposition could exploit none of these. All the regional parties looked like extensions of their founding families, out to grab power at any cost. The Congress could not provide any leadership even as the regional satraps waited for it. As more and more countries turned to right-wing political ideologies, Modi’s BJP seemed to provide the blanket of cultural nationalism for ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’.

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