Overselling, or overpromising, is one of the most discouraged practices in the client servicing industry. The tendency, while highly effective in winning over a target, at the least embarrasses service providers, failing them at the worst. Not to mention, salesmanship sans substance damages credibility in the longer run, and who’d want that? Turns out, many, for something similar happened in India’s General Elections 2019. Riding on an unhealthy dosage of fantastical promises, India saw a landslide verdict quite alien to the politics of our generation. While this will present exciting opportunities of socio-economic studies in the coming years, the cost of this disruption will echo into eternity. But that’s Democracy, the least dysfunctional political system that always ensures governance the citizens deserve, not always the one they need.
India, with a population of over 1.3 billion, is the world’s largest democracy. India’s first election of 1952 had involved 170 million electorates, spread across 200,000 polling stations. This has now risen to more than 910 million voters for whom the Election Commission of India (ECI) organizes over 1 million polling stations – the largest electoral process in the world. The 2019 General Elections was held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 to elect 543 Members of Parliament (MPs). The youth-heavy construct of India’s electorate, with increasing participation of female and minority voters, made the election especially vital for the future of the nation. Herein, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling conservative party, won over 56% of the seats being contested for the 17th Lok Sabha (lower house of India’s Parliament).
How did 2019 happen?
The 2019 General Elections recorded many firsts, and also toed certain current global trends, the most powerful of which was the rise and rise of right-wing populism, communal politics, and hyper-nationalism. These tendencies attain special significance when a country is densely populated and culturally diverse like India with more than 120 languages with at least 10,000 speakers each. This diversity, otherwise a national asset, has long strengthened the divisive measures of emperors, invaders, colonizers, and now modern India’s politicians. Herein BJP has recorded the strongest success that helped it clinch a historic victory in the 2019 General Elections. By the time of the polls, the party, led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, had focussed entirely on religion and nationalism, ignoring actual concerns, and it delivered.
India went to General Elections with the highest unemployment rate in five decades, steady weakness in macroeconomic performance, foreign diplomatic failures, rising protectionism in trade and investment, populist policy failures, increasing farmer suicides and sectarian violence, proactive divisive stands taken by senior BJP leaders, growing global concerns with the authenticity of India’s economic reports, among other pressing issues. But none of these mattered in the election, which was hijacked by India’s alleged military strike into Pakistan in the aftermath of a terror attack in Pulwama, Jammu, and Kashmir, and right ahead of the election. The other major factor was Modi’s repeated warnings of an imaginary assault on Hindutva, a modern concept of violent Hindu nationalism, that gathered popular acceptance.
Not one campaign speech by the PM, or his party colleagues, touched upon the concerns related to jobs, or the economy. The campaign was entirely focussed on ‘us vs them’ paranoia, bigotry, and illiteracy. The formula was so powerful that it managed to send an out-on-bail, terror-accused extreme rightwinger to the Parliament, while an Oxford scholar who had single-handedly revolutionized public education in Delhi lost out. The most corrupt and incompetent of candidates, some of whom were pitted by BJP solely to lose, also ended up winning as a result of the fantastical dream sold brilliantly by Modi. Celebrity poll stars with incredibly poor performance in their constituencies as well as in the Parliament, candidates with blots on their credibility and with criminal records, all won with strong margins, defying all good sense.
The third factor that aided Modi’s victory was involuntary and illegal assistance from some of the country’s leading public institutions – the ECI, the Reserve bank, the defense forces, the leading state-run academic, research and development (R&D) institutes. The intellectual coffers of these institutions have been consistently robbed by Modi Government since 2014, threatening the Constitution of this nation. In fact, of the four pillars of the democracy, the legislature has never been more divisive in India’s history, the executive has become Modi Government’s henchmen, the judiciary has never been undermined at the current rate, and the press has traveled back 100 years. While dropping on press freedom list, India has seen the subversion of news media and freedom of speech unlike anywhere in the world.
What happens now?
Coming back to the point of overselling, if there’s anyone who should be concerned now, it’s Modi and not the liberals or the minorities. It can be said with certainty that Modi had wished for a comfortable majority to ensure a smooth five-year term, but the majority that BJP has garnered will lead to hopes of miracles from all quarters. Anything short of a miracle and chaos awaits on the anvil, major chaos. This will be difficult to deliver because Modi’s BJP is anti-intelligence, and it must be remembered that Modi’s BJP and the BJP are vastly different. For a democracy to flourish, it needs a responsible conservative side, but much like Trump’s GOP, Modi’s BJP is intellectually incapable and morally corrupt to deliver good. Herein, Modi’s inability and lack of will to deliver will be a chaotic and necessary prescription for India.
It would have been a considerable disaster if Modi didn’t win. In fact, the semblance of doubt among his strongest bastion ahead of the results said a lot about the crack that had started appearing in 2017, but the audacity of hope. If Modi didn’t win, it would have left that lingering taste at the back of the tongue about the endless possibilities that could have materialized – one can’t explain baseless hope. It’s better this way since the Modi mania and the politics of hate need to die a total death. This Government has fed on illiteracy and bigotry and we need great disruptions – in the form of societal and economic disturbances – to wake up. People abandoned real changemakers, self-made leaders for dynasts and salespeople with no substance and they must pay the price for it. The coming five years will be that payment.
By 2024, Modi and Shah’s political careers will be over. Every cheat runs out of tricks at some point, and the duo isn’t immune from the rules of the world. The two had started on a journey to rid the nation of any political opposition under the banner of “Akhand Bharata”, which many well-educated people had subscribed to. Ironically that effort has eroded the credibility of conservatism in India by equating it with bigotry, even terrorism, and this will worsen over the coming five years. Their efforts to decimate India’s democratic and secular identity, its constitution, will dent BJP’s image over the longer run, much like the Indian National Congress which has been reduced to a questionable minority, a wonder when compared with the heydays of India’s grand old party that drove India’s independence movement.
Lastly, 2019 was a punch in the gut for Congress and the liberal elites it courts. The liberal elites are just as blind to the reality as the extreme rightwingers and it’s time they accepted it. Their ego-driven poll strategy and entitled outreach to the masses, as well as historical failures to check corruption and defense for political criminals, will not be forgotten until actions are taken, here lies a lesson for Modi’s BJP too. This election also saw a third front of regional parties uniting on common differences and dishonest motives, which clearly did not sell among the voters. These factions need to rise up from the number games and challenge BJP with actual development works, real commitments, and a moral backbone that BJP lacks. This way, the next five years should be very busy for everything political in this nation.