Four rounds of polling are done, and here are the eight trends and conclusions that should be clear to anyone not blind to facts or biased.
State of Play after Four Phases
Four phases of polling are now over. Out of the 543 seats, more than two-thirds of the constituencies have already polled and less than a third remain. Looking at how the campaign by the two main respective groups has progressed so far, can we draw some conclusions on the most obvious trends so far? And additionally, on the basis of some actual ground feedback in areas that have already polled, can we also make an educated guess as to how the remaining phases and indeed the overall election will pan out?
Visible Trends from Four Phases of Polling
First, Narendra Modi has again demonstrated that he has an unmatched ability to drive the agenda and the conversation. After the verdict in the state assembly elections in December last year, it seemed that it will no longer be such an unequal match for narratives between Modi and the opposition. But sometime starting mid-January, the framework on which this election has been fought has been set by Modi. From the nationalism debate to leadership contrast and from the governance delivery model to a decisive battle against corruption and poverty, the agenda has unquestionably been set by Modi.
Second, the excitement that Modi has been able to build among the electorate is unprecedented. In 2014, in some senses, it was relatively easier for him to do so. He was fresh on the national stage, his speech delivery style was new, his energy and raw passion was appealing and his pugnacious style was dramatically different from what the rest of the BJP offered then. But five years later, that he is still able to build up the same passion and energy, in many areas even more so, among the electorate is something unique in the entire democratic world. If 2014 was about novelty factor, then 2019 is about the trust generated through delivery.
Third, no general election before this has had such clear-cut ideological division. The Congress has, for the first time in its history, chosen to officially adopt the agenda of the extremist left. It wants to strip the armed forces of their protective bullet proof of AFSPA; it wants to empower sedition talk in a country still fighting insurgencies in some areas and it wants to bring in a legislation that will discriminate against Hindus even in criminal law. The Congress party is enthusiastically cheered in this agenda by its other ‘allies’ as well – NCP wants two Prime Ministers in India while TMC imports a Bangladeshi to campaign for it in Indian elections! The contrast between the extremist left ideology of Congress and its allies, and the centrist Indic ideology of the BJP has never been this stark before.
Fourth, this election campaign has firmly put the self-appointed intellectuals and opinion makers into their well-deserved place of total irrelevance. The column spaces their open letter and appeals used to occupy in the 2014 elections, are either absent or if at all there, are more filled with dismissive counter appeals by people who can see through the games of these middlemen.
Fifth, this BJP under Modi has again demonstrated its ability to take decisions for larger national purposes, unmindful of the short-term electoral risk they pose. A few months before the Uttar Pradesh elections in 2016, demonetisation was announced, even through U.P. was one state where initial disruption would have been the highest. Same pattern was repeated again when the GST timetable was adhered to, unmindful of Gujarat elections just a few months later. And now, by fielding Sadhvi Pragya, the BJP has again shown its appetite to fight larger battles, unmindful of short-term impacts. ‘Hindu Terrorism’ was an abomination that the Congress foisted on our civilization and by frontally challenging the chief proponent of that theory, the BJP has again chosen to side with larger causes.
Sixth, with this election, the Sonia Gandhi era is over for good. Neither she, nor any of her minions who held sway for a decade, have been able to make any intervention in this election that has had any impact whatsoever.
Seventh, the big Congress hope has turned to be a dud. The Rs 72,000 NYAY stunt has invited more derision and anger than excitement. Derision because people, in the age of social media, can clearly see through the hollowness of Congress’s anti-poverty rhetoric. And anger because they fear a return of the double-digit inflation regime to fund this vote gathering tool of the Congress.
Eighth, the Priyanka Gandhi “Brahmastra’, that was set to herald a new era for Congress, seems to have self-combusted. No one forced Mrs. Vadra to herself fan the talk that she will contest from Varanasi. Yet, as a viscerally anti-Modi journalist noted, perhaps it was the feedback from the internal exit polls of first three phases (3rd phase was on 23rd April) that forced her to withdraw from the race just a day later. Eventually, Mrs. Vadra avoided the humiliating tag of becoming the first in the family to be unable to win even her own seat, but she now will have to live with the disgrace of being called a run-away contestant.
Some Informed Conclusions
Apart from these overarching trends, what conclusions can we draw from the polling in the first four phases? While we will have to wait for the actual results, some things are clearly visible. The Congress ecosystem has virtually given up on this election, with some even calling the Gandhis as ‘cowards’. The Mahagathbandhan has flopped in every state. The effect of BJP upsurge in Bengal and Odisha seems to have further consolidated its position in other states as well as the winning party.
BJP seems to have done progressively better in each phase. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have chosen to vote for Modi as PM, quite different from how they voted just six months ago. The people in Karnataka have decisively rejected the Congress-JD(S) attempt to steal their mandate.
With such overwhelming indicators, it seems the 2014 pattern in latter phases, when Congress candidates chose to save their money rather than contest, will repeat again in 2019. The challenge for BJP will of course continue to be to mobilize voters on the polling day, in each of the remaining phases. If it can continue to do that, BJP may script another history – become the first party after 1971 to win an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, under the same leader, for the second successive time.