Beyond the Numbers: A short analysis of the 17th Lok Sabha mandate

Dr. Uma Shankar Pandey:

With over 90 crore voters, 10 lakh polling booths and 1.1 crore election personnel, the 2019 general election in India was the biggest ever in history. It was held in seven phases over a 39-day period from April 11 to May 19, 2019. About 8,000 candidates filed their nominations to the 543-member Lower House of Indian Parliament. In an unprecedented move, the Election Commission of India cancelled the polls in Vellore parliamentary constituency in Tamil Nadu after over Rs 11.48 crore unaccounted cash was confiscated during an income tax raid at a candidate’s house. This was the first time that election to a Lok Sabha constituency was cancelled for misuse of money power.

The ‘horserace’frame is the most common in mainstream press coverage of elections — generally news about public opinion polls and political actors who are supposedly leading in the run-up to an election. The requirements of the television medium make it even more important for journalists to use the horserace frame not only at national level but at regional level as well. Hence the Modi-Rahul, Modi-Mamata, Jagan-Chandrababu races occupied greater media space and time.

The popularity of the horserace frame among journalists has more to do with newsworthiness. The candidates’ views on important policy issues are generally well known. Over the course of campaign their oft-repeated positions lose news value. The daily need for campaign news is hence satisfied by providing information on who is leading and by how much etc. At the same time, the horserace news is quite unpredictable too. Another reason is that there are quite a number of poll trackers vying for space. In the Indian context, the Election Commission has banned the publication of Opinion polls and Exit polls during the election period. The news channels have to look at indirect ways of bringing to the viewer about who is ahead at a point of time. Invariably, news of the races between top contenders get the highest viewership. In the results announced on May 23rd, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 353 of the 542 parliamentary seats with over 48 percent vote share. The Congress party finished a distant second with 52 seats, a small improvement over its 2014 tally of 44 seats. Except in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, the BJP virtually swept the other states. Here are the important takeaways of the result.

1. National security was a core issue in this election, much like the 1984 election which was held in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. 2. With 48 percent vote share, the NDA’s performance is comparable to the Congress’ 1984 victory. 3. Two important decisions — the 10 percent reservation for general category and the direct transfer of Rs 2,000 to farmers through PM-KISAN scheme helped the BJP consolidate its core vote bank. 4. Lessons from the 2004 debacle led the BJP to drum up a momentum in the last six months with popular proclamations. The Balakot strikes were timed to coincide with this buildup. 5. Religious polarisation has become more intense. This may lead to serious governance issues. 6. Voters are more inclined to give ten-year stints to incumbent governments with a reasonably good performance. 7. Regional giants — Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee, Jagan Reddy, M.K. Stalin and KCR are big winners. Mamata notched a 3.5 percent higher vote share, compared to the 2014 elections. Naveen Patnaik, who won a fifth term as the chief minister of Odisha, will go down in history as one of our tallest regional leaders. 8. The Congress blew away its recent successes in state elections. In December 2018, it had won the state elections to Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. It could win only three of the 65 parliamentary constituencies in these states. It failed to unite the Opposition on a formidable platform. 9. The ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ campaign by the Congress was devised to dent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s carefully nurtured image. But the delivery was amateurish and ended up irritating neutral voters. Repeating the same refrain a zillion times backfired on Rahul. 10. On vital issues, the voters felt Modi could deliver better. They didn’t punish him for not creating enough jobs. 11. With inflation under control and the Supreme Court and the CAG virtually signaling nothing was amiss in the Rafale deal, there was no major charge against the government. 12. On demonetisation and GST, the electorate was more forgiving of Modi. 13. Many big names lost their family turf — Rahul Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Vaibhav Gehlot, Misa Bharati, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, Dharmendra Yadav, Dimple Yadav, Milind Deora among others. 14. In the key states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the principal opposition parties RJD and SP respectively missed the organisational acumen of Lalu Yadav, who is serving a jail term, and Shivpal Yadav who broke away from SP to form his Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia). 15. The Left Front, which won only five seats, faces a real existential crisis. 16. The Opposition needs to reinvent itself with fresh leadership and newer ideas, much like the BJP did post-Advani. 17. Big ideas like the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) need to be taken to the last-mile voter through a more robust organisational route. The top-down campaign of Congress has been a massive failure. It failed to win a single seat in 17 states. 18. The frittering away of AAP vote is a reminder that alternative politics cannot be played out through a metaphor of personalities and coalitions. 19. Successful political parties have worked out an effective feedback mechanism. The BJP managed to override reverses in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan through a targeted campaign. 20. The caste identity is often overrated. The new voter is more aspirational. 21. The credibility of Exit Polls has been restored. Real-time data analysis will play a bigger role in subsequent elections.

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