These questions must be arising in your mind due to the Lok Sabha election results, know the answers to all

Ananya Shroff
10 Min Read

New Delhi: The BJP missed a majority but emerged as the single largest party by a slender margin. What were the voters saying? What is the message behind the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress regaining its shine? How can the Narendra Modi government, which runs an economy growing at 8.2%, risk electoral defeat? TOI draws key findings from an election that exit pollsters were shying away from.

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Nothing shines forever, not even Brand Modi
Modi led the BJP's entire election campaign. No political brand is immune to the scrutiny of voters. Not even Modi. Modi must be given credit for the BJP's rising vote share since 2014. The decline in its vote share also means that brand Modi has lost some sheen. There is no doubt that he is still a leader who enjoys substantial support. But, there is no doubt that this support was not enough to get the BJP across the line of victory, at a time when voters had many questions for the Modi government. Talking of growth rates when jobs are few or India's standing in the world when rural incomes and consumption are low – Modi's keynote speeches were seen by many voters as far removed from reality. The best example of this was seen in UP. The state that Modi made his political home gave the BJP its biggest jolt. Now that Modi is running a coalition government that will largely depend on unstable allies like Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu, India has seen a different kind of Modi. Now it remains to be seen whether India will see a different kind of Modi?

'Pappu' and 'Shehzada'…the public listened
After being rejected many times since 2014 – often even called 'Pappu' and 'Shehzada' – Rahul Gandhi refused to listen to party insiders who advised him to take a less aggressive stance. He inspired other Bharat Alliance partners to attack Modi. He stuck to a theme that emphasised the bread and butter issues of the common voter. The two Bharat Jodo Yatras were built around these themes, and Rahul reiterated them in one rally after another. He correctly gauged that there were a large number of voters who were receptive to his message – even in a Modi bastion like UP. It is much to Rahul's credit that the Congress has returned as a strong player in UP. However, Rahul has a long way to go to reach a position where he can directly challenge the BJP in UP.

When there is no wave, politics becomes local
Political pundits say that an electoral wave cannot be captured when it is underway, everything is known only in retrospect. But this time, for observers on the ground, it was clear that there was no Modi wave, not even in Uttar Pradesh. When national issues do not attract the masses, local concerns dominate voters' thinking. The caste factor again comes into play. Livelihood concerns become paramount, candidate selection becomes very important – in short, politics again comes down to the little things that affect voters, not some abstract big idea that excites them.

Who is the boss of the Bharat Coalition? Obviously, the king is Congress

When the India Alliance was formed, a stalwart like Mamata doubted that the Congress could lead the opposition. There were other big leaders in the alliance, Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray, Akhilesh Yadav, MK Stalin, all of them saw the Congress not as a leader but as a party that had lost badly in two Lok Sabha elections. But it was also true that the Congress had to perform better to keep the BJP away from a majority. So, the grand old party has always been a key player in the India Alliance. Now that the Congress has performed brilliantly in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra and touched the three-digit mark in the Lok Sabha, there is no question as to who will lead the India Alliance. The regional stalwarts of the opposition now need the Congress to lead the future battle against the BJP in Parliament and elections.

Majority cannot be achieved by intimidating the majority
The ruling party made several attempts to polarise voters through multiple messages in rallies or on social media. As the BJP said, the Congress would open its cash coffers for minorities and Hindus would suffer. It did not work in UP, where polarisation has been a tried and tested strategy. Nor in Bengal, where the BJP was capitalising on Hindu voters’ resentment over Mamata Banerjee’s ‘Muslim appeasement’. It did not work in Karnataka, where there are several hardline Hindu right-wing politicians. Or in Rajasthan, where there have been several communal clashes.

The Muslim vote has become completely united
The BJP and everyone else knew that the Muslim vote would go against it. The party probably did not anticipate that Muslims would vote in a way that would make the difference between BJP's victory and defeat, as happened in UP, where the Congress-SP alliance benefited greatly. In Bengal, where Muslims stand firmly with Mamata, the Trinamool may focus on keeping its non-Muslim vote bank as intact as possible. The BJP's fewer seats in both states compared to 2019 show that marginalising minorities can be a risky strategy when other negative factors are also at work.

Don't talk about tampering with the constitution
Soon after the election campaign began, the BJP began assuring voters that it had no plans to change the Constitution or tamper with reservations. It was forced to do so because of the successful campaign by the opposition, which took advantage of statements by some BJP leaders that crossing 400 would give the party a chance to reshape the Constitution. The Be It India campaign, which focused on the theme that the BJP wants to do away with SC/ST reservations, clearly worked, as the results show, especially in UP. The social coalition carefully built by the BJP in the state fell apart when a large number of Dalits took the 'threat' to quotas seriously. The BJP tried to change the game by talking about Congress' 'plans' to do away with SC/OBC quotas for Muslims. But it did not work.

BJP had to pay the price for this
In a country where income and wealth inequality is high, a booming economy should create enough jobs to positively impact the realities of most citizens’ lives. It was clear even from government data that this was not happening. Almost every ground report from constituencies, especially in large states like UP and Maharashtra, reflected the anguish of unemployed youth. In Haryana and Punjab, the jobs question became even more acute with the BJP government introducing a 4-year term for army personnel. Agniveer is one such ‘reform’ that clearly cost the BJP. Add to all this the rural economy, which had to support more people who lost jobs in factories and cities after the pandemic, plus the usual grumbling about inflation.

When everyone makes the same promises, no one benefits
The BJP introduced the free foodgrain scheme, the Congress promised to improve it, Jagan Reddy promised, so did a few others – but there is no evidence that welfare schemes and/or freebies have decisively influenced the outcome anywhere this time. It is not that low-income voters do not like schemes and freebies, it is just that once delivery is assured, parties gain no political advantage by offering more of the same. Without such promises, the party would surely be at a loss. But when every party makes the same promises, no party gains much.

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