2019 is historic, and the celebrations are not yet over. But the tasks and challenges ahead for the BJP are many.
Two major programmes are of utmost importance: One, sustaining and improving performance, and two, developing leadership at all levels.
The nation recovers from a pleasant political hangover of saffron. The sceptics are beginning to realise their folly and admitting to the wave they never saw coming. The Opposition is back to work in some places and to infighting in many. Scattered, they are looking for a leadership that can get them back in the game for 2024.
Sense must be made of the mandate, the first of its kind in independent India, as it offers lessons for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its allies, and for the Indian National Congress (INC) and the buffet of parties that accompanied it.
Rahul Gandhi is BJP’s Strength, Congress’ Liability
As per data from C-Voter in The Times of India, Rahul Gandhi held rallies across 105 constituencies in 2014. Congress won in only 20 of them. That is a strike rate of a little over 19 per cent.
In 2019 as well, he campaigned across 105 constituencies. However, this time, Congress won only 14 of those. The UPA collectively won 16 of the 105 seats in 2019. Thus, at the strike rate of 13.33 per cent, the rallies of Rahul Gandhi had less impact than they had in 2014. Clearly, things have gone from very bad to worse.
At the national level, Rahul Gandhi has been rejected twice now. While the Congress party may want to attribute the defeat to the local workers of the city, district, or state units, the open secret remains that the party prince found no takers for his ‘make in *insert random constituency name*’ campaign nor did they back him on the issue of Rafale.
The NYAY programme, a promise to transfer Rs. 72,000 per year to the poorest 20 per cent of the population was rejected. In the Hindi heartland, Rahul Gandhi campaigned across 60 constituencies. While the BJP won 54 of those, Congress won only 1, that of Rae Bareli, held by the party chairperson Sonia Gandhi since 2004. However, even in Rae Bareli, the vote share of the Congress was the lowest since 2004 at 55 per cent.
Even the Congress Ruled States Rejected Rahul Gandhi
Across Rajasthan, a state Congress wrestled away from the BJP in the state elections of 2018, only four months before the national elections, Rahul Gandhi had rallies across 10 constituencies. BJP won in all 10 of them, successfully retaining their seats. In the 25 seats in Rajasthan, Congress scored a golden duck, repeating their performance of 2014.
Across Madhya Pradesh, another state where Congress came to power in December, Rahul Gandhi campaigned across 16 seats. Congress lost all those 16 seats to the BJP. Forget making a case for their own candidate, Rahul Gandhi’s presence alone was not enough to snatch the seats from the incumbent BJP MPs in these 16 seats. Of the 29 seats in the state, Congress only won in Chhindwara, a seat where CM Kamal Nath’s son, Nakul Kamal Nath contested from.
Chhattisgarh, where Rahul Gandhi campaigned across 3 of the 11 seats, he scored another duck with all three going to the BJP, and 9 of the 11 seats in the state going to the BJP.
In Karnataka, where the Congress has a coalition government going on, Rahul Gandhi campaigned across 8 seats and the Congress ended up winning only one, and that turned out to be one of the two seats the party won out of the 28 in the state to the Lok Sabha.
Thus, the states that came out and voted for Congress merely four months prior to the national elections came together to reject Rahul Gandhi.
Against a nationwide strike rate of 13.33 per cent, he had a strike rate of absolute zero in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Also, he lost Amethi where he campaigned and was instrumental in the falling vote share in Rae Bareli. At this pace, Congress should look forward to fielding Sonia Gandhi from two seats in 2024.
Against 44 in 2014, Congress’ final tally in 2019 was 52, an improvement of 18 per cent (some silver lining). While 33 were retained and only 19 were gained in 2019.
Rahul Gandhi for Prime Minister is an idea without merit, mettle, or mandate.
Modi versus RaGa is Not Even a Competition
A lot was written about the ruling NDA government, especially PM Narendra Modi. While some ‘expert analysts’ spoke of his falling popularity, many psephologists rejected the idea of 2014 being repeated. All were proven wrong.
As per data from C-Voter, Modi held rallies across 140 constituencies. BJP won in 106 of those while the NDA won in 113. That’s a strike rate of 75.71 and 80.7 per cent respectively.
In the Hindi heartland (across Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan) the strike rate was 79.4 per cent (58 of 73). Overall, the BJP won 177 of the 225 seats in this region. NDA won 203.
In the East (across West Bengal and Odisha) it was 60 per cent (15 of 25). Here, BJP won 26 of the 63 seats up for contention.
In South India (across Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu) Modi’s strike rate was merely 46.66 per cent (7 of 15). The BJP won only 29 of the 130 seats here, with 25 coming from Karnataka alone. An ally seat took the final count for the NDA to 30. This is one region where the NDA fared poorly.
In West India (across Maharashtra and Gujarat), Modi had rallies across 14 constituencies. BJP won on all those 14 seats. Overall, the NDA took 69 of the 78 seats from the region.
In North-East India (across Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Assam, and Tripura), Modi had rallies across 8 seats and BJP won all 8. Overall, the NDA took 17 of the 25 seats from the region.
Thus, in West and North-East India, Modi’s strike rate was a hundred per cent. His regional lowest was in South India at 46.66 per cent.
Rahul Gandhi’s regional low came from the Hindi Heartland where he campaigned across 60 constituencies. The Congress/UPA won only 1 seat, that of Rae Bareli, leaving him with a dismal strike rate of 1.66 per cent. If one takes out the Rae Bareli seat, a constituency home to Sonia Gandhi, it would amount to Rahul Gandhi’s rallies having zero impact in the Hindi heartland. Zero.
Overall, Congress won 6 of the 225 seats in the Hindi heartland, a party strike rate of 2.66 per cent. This sums up the myth of Priyanka Gandhi’s political popularity and measure. The voters did not even consider Congress’ ‘brahmastra’.
In East India, Rahul Gandhi had a strike rate of zero while in South India, he won 9 of the 24 seats he campaigned on, a regional highest strike rate of 37.5 per cent.
Modi is light years ahead of Rahul Gandhi in terms of popularity and acceptance. In the Hindi heartland alone, Modi’s strike rate of 79.4 per cent against the 1.66 per cent of Rahul Gandhi is an alarming call for the Congress. Also, the former’s lowest regional strike rate exceeds the regional highest of Rahul Gandhi by more than 9 per cent.
This is not a competition. This is political carnage.
The Myths Around Agriculture, Demonetisation, Employment, GST, and Rural Reforms
With Shah’s impeccable political network on the ground and across states and his rising popularity, Modi has a strong partner accompanying him on the political crease. For instance, of the 111 seats Shah campaigned across, the BJP won 77. A solid strike rate of 69.36 per cent for Shah.
However, it would be incorrect to attribute the magical number of 353 to Modi-Shah’s popularity alone, and this is where the reforms come into play.
As per the data from C-Voter, 90 of the 543 seats were classified as urban. BJP won 39 of these while the NDA had 47 to their tally. The BJP swept the Hindi heartland, east and west India in terms of urban seats. UPA (Congress won 17) won 30 of the 90 seats, with their major gains coming from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The performance of the NDA in urban seats rests the myths pertaining to the failure of demonetisation and GST. The urban areas have their faith in the Modi government, irrespective of certain shortcomings on the policy front.
Rural and Rurban (Rural+Urban) made up for 202 and 250 seats respectively.
Firstly, there was a lot of talk about the distress in rural areas. As per media reports, rural reforms like Ujwala Yojana and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan had failed, there was polarisation on the lines of religion, and that demonetisation had finished the local industry. The 2019 results proved everyone wrong.
Of the 202 rural seats, the BJP won 123 and the NDA won 149. The Congress won 15 and the UPA won only 20. The staggering defeat of the Congress in the rural areas gives one an idea on the energy that was invested in creating a false narrative around the rural regions.
Across the Hindi heartland, BJP won 90 of the 127 seats. NDA won 114 of the 127 seats while UPA only had 5.
However, BJP performed poorly in the 12 rural seats down south, winning none. In the west, they took 8 of 10 (NDA took 9). In North-East India they won 10 of the 19 (NDA won 11). Thus, with minor gains across India, the BJP was able to successfully retain its base in the rural regions, retaining 98 of the 123 seats won. The rural reforms worked. The Ambani jibe did not.
Of the 250 rurban seats, BJP secured 141 against Congress’ 20. Other parties shared 89 amongst themselves. NDA had 157 and the UPA had 41.
In rurban areas, the government had been focussing on offering basic amenities including water supply, waste management, street lighting, and other facilities critical for their transformation into an urban area.
Turns out, most of the reforms worked. Even though most small and medium enterprises in these regions saw their interests suffer due to demonetisation and GST, they backed the government to fix the prevailing issues. The ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ jibe did not work.
In the Hindi heartland alone, BJP won 68 of the 79 (NDA won 70) rurban seats, thus defeating the fake narrative and myth around acute economic distress.
However, Modi’s win goes beyond the rural-rurban-urban divide, for it transcends the agricultural belt too.
Of the 267 seats classified as agrarian, the NDA won 201, and the BJP won 166. The UPA could only manage 18 of them. In areas of Maharashtra and Gujarat, where farmer protests and suicides made news across the tenure of the government, 33 of the 37 seats went to the NDA. In the Hindi heartland, 138 of the 153 agrarian seats went to the NDA. The UPA only had 7. Interestingly, of the 166 seats won by the BJP, 32 were gained. Thus, the farmer confidence is not only persistent, but it is also on the rise.
High unemployment, as an issue, was promoted by every party against the BJP, blaming the latter for not creating enough jobs. As per the data from C-Voter, 226 seats can be classified as the ones with high unemployment.
Of the 226, 175 went to the NDA and the UPA had 34 while the BJP had 147 and the Congress had 26. 185 of these 226 seats were designated to the Hindi heartland. The NDA secured 166 of the 185 seats here and the UPA only 4, one of them being Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli.
From a party point of view, BJP won 147 while the Congress won 26 of the 226 seats with high unemployment. While BJP gained 12 seats, Congress gained 14, with most of these gains coming from Kerala and Punjab.
In the 316 seats with low unemployment, 178 went to the BJP while 57 went to the UPA. Across the states of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, the regional parties had significant gains, playing second fiddle to their interests in the centre. Thus, another result that defeats the myth of poor GST implementation.
Speaking of Kerala and Punjab, a few Congress spokespersons and self-proclaimed ‘woke’ liberals attributed the NDA victory to areas of low literacy, citing how Modi appeals to the educationally backward strata of the society. The numbers tell another story.
The data from C-Voter classifies 244 seats as the ones with high literacy. Of the 244, BJP won 116 and the NDA won 136. The Congress won 35 while the UPA won 67, sweeping the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu where their major gains came from. However, if one assumes that the educated are not with the BJP, they can only be called delusional.
On the reverse side, the 298 seats with low literacy went to the NDA as well. Of the 298, NDA secured 217 seats while the BJP had 187, the result is an ode to the work being done in ushering critical rural reforms.
The bottom line is that the toilets, cylinders, cleanliness drives, the MUDRA loans, and the programme of direct benefit transfer (DBTs) worked wonders, as evident by the victory margins. What was instrumental to the 353 figure of 2019 was Modi government’s impeccable work in the rural areas, the work many chose not to see.
However, not all reforms had a happy ending. Even with GST causing pain to the small businessmen and agricultural schemes not reaching to everyone in the spectrum, the people rested their faith and vote in Modi to take the country ahead.
Even in his faults, Modi has far more acceptance than the freebies Rahul Gandhi comes with, as evident here. People are now voting for leaders who can fix their problems against those who pay them to forget the very same problems.
Some Critical Lessons for the Modi-Shah Duo for 2024
Firstly, the Muslim votebank remains consolidated against the NDA. Of the 52 seats classified as Muslim dominant in the C-Voter database, the NDA only won 18 (BJP won 16). Even though the UPA won 16, and the BJP gained 5 of the 16 seats, the majority of the vote bank is skewed against the party in regions like West Bengal, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh.
Two, the government must continue its good work in the tribal dominated areas of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and the North-East. Of the 55 tribal dominated seats, the NDA won 39, but come 2024, the challenge would be retaining them, and therefore, efforts must be made to ensure and enhance their social and economic inclusion.
Three, the politics of Punjab will be different in 2024. The long-term BJP ally in the state, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) could win only 2 seats of the 10 they contested on, and that too the traditional strongholds of the Badals. BJP, on the other hand, won 2 of the 3 seats they contested on.
The BJP needs to up the ante in Punjab while the SAD must look to play second fiddle. Going into the 2022 state elections. The two political stalwarts of the state, SAD’s Parkash Singh Badal would be 95 in 2022 and Congress’ Amarinder Singh will be 80 years old. Eventually, the new leadership will have to come into play.
Four, a lot of ground work is warranted in the southern states, especially Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. For the 2019 mandate to be repeated in 2024, significant gains would have to be made in these states along with greater penetration in West Bengal and Punjab.
Five, come 2024, and the BJP may no longer be able to count on celebrity MPs. For the future, the BJP must make the MPs accountable and this must go beyond the MP-LADS threshold. The party needs to ensure that their MPs propagate the work and ideas of the government across the tenure of the government and are not seen only in the last five months before the national elections. The Hema Malini(s) and the Sunny Deol(s) rode the Modi wave, but the MPs need to stop falling back on the leadership in the centre.
Six, the party should realise that a small part of this staggering victory must be attributed to the TINA (there is no alternative) factor. A number of constituencies saw the defeat of able Congress MPs against those of BJP. In many places, the voters did not reject the Congress, but Rahul Gandhi, and the NDA must be mindful of this fact. The onus now lies on the BJP on channelising its energies on improving its local leadership across states, districts, and cities.
Last but not the least, the gains of the rural and rurban areas must be taken care of. Clearly, the path to 7 Lok Marg goes through India’s poorest regions, and this is where the BJP needs to ensure its focus.
The bigger challenge in 2024 will not be gaining new seats, but retaining what they won in 2019. The government must ensure that programmes like Ayushman Bharat, MUDRA, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, and many more change the rural landscape for good.
Congress needs a leadership that is more intelligent, invested, and interested. Modi, on the other hand, needs to step up to the occasion. The people rest their faith in him even with all the faults and trust him to fix the prevailing problems, some created by his own government, but that trust may not go beyond 2024.