The year 2019 undoubtedly will be remembered as a historic year for Indian politics. First of all, the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) election saw a non-Indian National Congress party – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – return to power with an absolute majority under the charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after completing a full term for the first time in independent India’s political history.
Not only this, Modi became the third prime minister to come back to power with majority, after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. This election confirmed that the BJP mandate of 2014 wasn’t a black-swan event, and also sent a stern message to caste-based parties like Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S). In 2019, Indian voters readily agreed to move to a new India – where the BJP replaced the Congress, which for years had been the dominant party, as the pole of the country’s politics.
Already, during the campaign of Lok Sabha elections, the picture started to get clearer as many of the regional parties started to focus on building anti-BJP alliances. Earlier they used to focus on building anti-Congress combinations that would also often include the BJP. However, some regional parties, though focused on defeating the BJP, kept away from the shadow of Congress – like the short-lived SP-BSP alliance of Uttar Pradesh, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, or the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in West Bengal or Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi.
However, after the historic return of the BJP to power, the picture of saffron hegemony became more clear. The successful passage of the bill in Parliament, particularly in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house), where the BJP was in minority, which dealt with the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir by modifying Article 370 of Indian constitution, only further consolidated the BJP’s supremacy. Even many leaders in the Congress party openly supported the move of the Modi government, while senior party leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, the main opposition leader of the Rajya Sabha, strictly opposed it – lucid proof of the BJP’s ability to control the narratives of the country.
This rattled the opposition parties, with Congress, which every now and then opposed the BJP’s Hindutva agenda, joining the Shiv Sena-led government of Maharashtra state. It is to be mentioned that Shiv Sena for years has followed a hard Hindutva stance – even harder than that of the BJP. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra were the tip of the iceberg and one can expect more such alliances in 2020. Not to forget that during the heydays of Congress, there used to be anti-Congress alliances among Jana Sangh, the BJP’s precursor, the Communists and the Socialists. Ironically, the short-lived V P Singh’s anti-Congress government was supported by both the BJP and the CPM-led Left Front.
Last year was also an eye-opener for the BJP, which lost power in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, although in Maharashtra it won the state assembly polls along with its partner Shiv Sena, which later deserted the party. But in Jharkhand it lost the electoral battle against the alliance led by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM).
Obviously, it was wrong for Shiv Sena, despite getting half as many seats as the BJP, to demand the post of chief minister of Maharashtra after the results were declared but BJP could have pursued its old ally, Shiv Sena – if it really wanted to do so. The message for BJP, particularly Narendra Modi and his lieutenant Home Minister Amit Shah, also the party president, from 2019 was very clear: The party has to be accommodative with its allies and also should look for new allies. It was the BJP’s arrogance to fight polls in Jharkhand without allies that cost the party. The ruling party has to halt its dream of conquering all the states of India.
Apart from the BJP, 2019 had a message for the right-wing intellectuals too who every now and then try to defend every step of the Modi government. Take the foreign delegation’s visit to Kashmir for example. The visit of members of the European Parliament was problematic. When local leaders, including three former chief ministers, are kept captive, and the country’s opposition leaders are not allowed to visit the Kashmir Valley, such foreign visits serve no purpose. Removal of the special status of Kashmir wasn’t wrong but the central government’s handling of the situations that followed weren’t right. When these right wing intellectuals instead support such missteps, they only provide ammunition to the allegations of the opposition – that the Modi government is not serious about gaining the trust of the local Kashmiris.
Amid all this, Congress must be finding solace for being part of state governments such as in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. But the party is mistaken. The BJP has the highest vote share in those states and in Chhattisgarh too, where the saffron party lost badly in 2018 – it performed well in municipal polls by narrowing the gap with the ruling Congress party.
The country’s mood has changed, as confirmed by the events of 2019. In state elections, the voters prefer the regional parties or strong regional leaders, while in national polls, they prefer national parties or strong national leaders (in the present scenario read Narendra Modi). The truth is, whatever success Congress had after the 2019 general election was due to local regional leaders or its allies – not due to its national leaders like Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi, the present interim party president. Most important, the main opposition party hasn’t yet analyzed the actual factors behind its disastrous setback in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The less said the better about the Left and the Left liberals and intellectuals. If the 2019 Lok Sabha elections weren’t enough, the biggest blow to them came from the historic Ayodhya verdict of the Supreme Court – which cleared the way for the building of Lord Ram’s temple, a much-desired wish of the Hindu community. This verdict also tried to restore the definition of Indian secularism – that it is not only about securing the rights of minorities but also of the majority community, the Hindus. But instead of resurrecting themselves, the Left and its coteries are alienating Hindus and helping them to consolidate more toward the BJP by strictly opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and endorsing violent protests, which in many cases are orchestrated by a radical Islamist organization named the Popular Front of India (PFI).
Actually, the year 2019 had many significant messages for all – the left, right and center. The year notably ignited the debate by trying to define the exact meaning of “secularism” in India and reshaped the matrix of Indian politics, as now Hindus too are uniting politically to assert their power. This also shows the weakening of the effect of Mandal politics started in the 1990s, which gave rise to parties led by backward-caste leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD) in Bihar, Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) in Uttar Pradesh etc – at least at the national level. More effects of 2019 are expected to be seen in the new year, 2020.