It is bad form to focus on the losers after an election that has produced a clear winner. Yet, this election was rather strange in many respects. And it is the oddities that need some casual attention.
At one level there was the BJP, blessed by a leader that had all-round acceptance and enormous popularity, whose strengths were complemented by a well-oiled machinery manned by motivated people. The BJP won the battle quite resoundingly and emphatically. Nor was it a narrow victory. The margins of victory in northern and western India, not to mention Bihar, Karnataka and Assam made two things clear.
First, and most important, that the verdict constituted a popular uprising in favour of Modi and involved far more people than the BJP was capable of mobilising. How else is it possible to explain victories in constituencies — Kolar in Karnataka, Nagaur in Rajasthan and Hooghly in West Bengal come to mind — where the BJP presence is at best nominal?
Secondly, the only real fightback to the BJP (except in Kerala and Punjab) was courtesy the regional parties. The Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, the YSR Congress Party, the Trinamool Congress, the Biju Janata Dal and, to a lesser extent, the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance were the only forces that had the capacity to withstand the TsuNamo. However, even the TMC and BJD were adversely affected.
The real irony of this election was that the real competition to Modi was relegated to the background — in terms of exposure at least — by the Congress and its ecosystem. Last week’s election was different from the 2014 vote that gave the BJP a clear majority for the first time. In 2014, the intellectual opposition to Modi was formidable. However, it operated as an autonomous force, not linked to the hugely discredited UPA Government. This election, there was a marked convergence between the intellectual opposition to Modi — the term ‘liberal opposition’ is an over-simplification since the group also consists of Marxists — and the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi. The direct involvement of prominent non-resident intellectuals, Raghuram Rajan is just the most prominent, and a large section of the media in the Congress’ attempted challenge to Modi, was one of the more interesting sidelights of the campaign. Then there were the retired bureaucrats who advised the Congress on facets of Government policy and dealings with the Election Commission.
In hindsight, all these may appear irrelevant but it is important to remember that a sustained attempt was made in the months before the election and even during the campaign to paralyse the Government and make it look a lame-duck outfit. Politics always involves dealing with the Opposition but this was different. An attempt was made to fuel a Constitutional crisis and undermine important institutions such as the Election Commission and judiciary. An attempt was made to make a mockery of the very office of the Chief Justice of India. These were not normal politics. An exceptional bid to paralyse governance was undertaken. It is a different matter that the conspiracy was thwarted by the resolve of the Prime Minister and his associates. It is also crucial to remember that a section of the media went beyond the call of professional duty or even normal partisanship and became central to this conspiracy.
Since the election results were declared, there have been agonised outpourings in the social media and the newspapers about how Indians let India down and how the country is now on an irreversible road to disaster. There are people who genuinely feel that Modi is another Hitler and that it is only a matter of time before all democratic rights are terminated. There are also angry outbursts against the Congress and particularly the ineptitude of Rahul Gandhi. It is now said that Rahul lacks fire in his belly and that dynasty is helping Modi destroy the very Idea of India.
Being wise after the event is also a democratic prerogative and one that the media habitually takes shelter behind. The weighty professors from distinguished US and European universities who confidently predicted the grand success of the mahagathbandhan on the basis of intricate calculations and alleged anecdotal evidence will possibly try and remove all traces of their blinkered partisanship from social media. But people will remember.
They will also remember that it is this intellectual elite that were hand in glove with the Congress establishment, sustained it and nurtured the illusion that Modi was in imminent danger of losing.
Will this subterfuge end now? Already there are whispers that Modi has been conferred too much authority by the elections and must be brought down a few notches. There are suggestions that in the absence of a proper parliamentary Opposition, institutions such as the media and the judiciary must constantly intervene so that an agenda blessed by the electorate will be subverted. The intellectual elite is defiant. They are confronted by its own irrelevance and will fight for survival.
The coming months and the next five years will be challenging to the Government. The challenge has to confronted coolly and without losing sight of the main objective — the marginalisation of the unelected elite that doesn’t respect democratic mandates.