The BJP’s 2019 election campaign: not business as usual

The BJP’s 2019 election campaign: not business as usual

By Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers
Contemporary South Asia, 18 May 2020

Five aspects of the BJP's election campaign contributed to its success in 2019. The first is the personal appeal of the prime minister, which again played a major role, like it did in 2014, as Narendra Modi led a hyper-personalized campaign. Second, this campaign focused on security-related themes which were especially relevant in the context of the India-Pakistan tensions. Third, the BJP campaign strategy was backed by the most formidable election campaign machinery assembled by any party in India since Independence. Fourth, the BJP saturated the public space with the prime minister's image, adroitly using the traditional mainstream media as well as social media. The party used religious appeal to address its core base of supporters while projecting the prime minister's image as a protector and sentinel. Fifth, the latter three aspects of the BJP's campaign were fuelled by unprecedented levels of campaign expenditure and by the opacity of political funding in India, which the BJP had made more impenetrable through the introduction of electoral bonds. The combination of these factors show that the 2019 elections were not business as usual; their singularity largely due to the decline of institutions regulating the electoral process, including the Election Commission of India.