How India Voted: Making Sense of the 2019 General Election

29 May 2019
How India Voted: Making Sense of the 2019 General Election
WATCH THE FULL DISCUSSION AND READ THE CURATED ANALYSIS BY CPR FACULTY

The results of the Lok Sabha Elections of 2019 mark an important turning point in Indian politics. Scholars at the Centre for Policy Resarch (CPR) have been closely following the electoral journey. In this analysis of the 2019 verdict, CPR faculty shed light on factors that led to the resounding victory for the Narendra Modi-led, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and examine what the future trajectory of India’s democracy looks like. 

Starting June 4, CPR will also be launching a policy document on its website, titled, 'Policy Challenges 2019-2024: The Big Policy Questions for the New Government and Possible Pathways'. This document covers various key policy issues including foreign policy & national security, climate, energy & environment, legal regimes for natural resource management, federalism, citizenship, and economy & welfare. Watch this space for more updates on the same.

CPR organised a discussion to analyse the results of the verdict for the 2019 General Election. Rahul Verma and Neelanjan Sircar made a presentation based on Election Commission data. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion featuring Yogendra Yadav, Shekhar Gupta, Tariq Thachil, Vandita Mishra, G Sampath, and was moderated by Yamini Aiyar, to analyse the factors that led to the election verdict. The question and answer session that followed the discussion can be accessed here. The edited excerpts of the discussion, published in the August 2019 issue of Seminar can be read here.

FACTORS THAT LED TO THE BJP’S VICTORY

  • Rahul Verma and Pranav Gupta write in ThePrint analysing reasons that led to BJP’s astounding victory in the elections. Verma and Gupta shed light on the shaky unity of the opposition, Narendra Modi’s unmatched popularity and failure of the opposition to project an alternate leader and the BJP’s extremely strong organisational machinery as factors that contributed to the resounding majority. They also write that such a victory would not have been possible without the support of the several beneficiaries of welfare programmes by the Modi government and hence this victory cannot be solely attributed to a focus on national security post Pulwama attacks and polarisation. 
  • In another article in the same vein, Rahul Verma writes in the Economic Times that while the Balakot incident changed the narrative in favour of the BJP, passion alone does not drive the vote choice of Indian voters. He points to the failure of the opposition to mobilise voters against the government, Narendra Modi’s unmatched popularity and the role of several government schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, Ujjwala, direct cash transfers for farmers etc., pointing out that ‘the 2019 verdict is a sum total of competitive credibility on all these factors.’
  • Neelanjan Sircar writes in Hindustan Times about how the 2014 election result was not a black swan event but rather, the first step towards political consolidation. Sircar points to how voters are drawn to Narendra Modi, the quality of the BJP’s communication with voters and the strength of the BJP’s party machinery and the financing of that machinery to explain the reasons behind the party’s spectacular performance especially vis-à-vis the Congress. 
  • Yamini Aiyar writes in Hindustan Times about how the Congress failed to provide an alternative ideological counter point to the BJP. Aiyar points out that while the Congress tried to build a campaign on critical issues of the economy, it ‘cannot fight an ideological battle through policy’. She stresses that the Congress can no longer shy away from a real debate on secularism and must articulate an ideological counterpoint to challenge the BJP’s hegemony.
  • In an interview with Money Control, Rahul Verma highlights how ‘the Congress got everything wrong’ in this election. Verma highlights that the Congress lacks an ideological vision for India, which is a prerequisite for an electoral strategy and if the party has to revive, it needs leadership that is convinced about such a vision. 
  • In an interview with TheWire, Neelanjan Sircar points to how the BJP has consolidated its existing geographic core and expanded into new areas in the East. Sircar highlights that Modi has successfully treated all of the Hindi heartland as a single state, pointing out that the BJP has functioned like a state government that has been scaled up to the national level. He also sheds light on the symbolic message underlying the BJP fielding Pragya Thakur from an electorally ‘safe’ seat in Bhopal, highlighting that if the party believed she was a big voter catcher, then she would have been fielded from a competitive seat. 
  • In an interview with CNN, Yamini Aiyar analyses the resounding victory of the BJP despite its disappointments on several critical issues like growth, jobs, inclusive development. These were the issues on which BJP had been voted into power in 2014. Aiyar sheds light on the divisive and polarised election campaign – ‘a campaign for achieving ideological dominance’ and highlights the economic challenges that the new government now faces.

THE FUTURE OF INDIAN DEMOCRACY

  • Rahul Verma writes in Firstpost about what Modi’s historic mandate means for the trajectory of Indian democracy given the BJP-led dominant party system, the marginalisation of the Congress, and decimation of the Left. Verma points to the possibility of India becoming a democracy with majoritarian sensibilities and cautions that ‘only magnanimity towards ideological adversaries and tolerance of dissent can complete the new idea of sabka vishwas.’
  • Shyam Saran writes in The Tribune about how India’s political democracy and liberal values associated with it are its most valuable assets and there must be a complete rejection of the idea that a more authentic India is emerging in which these are alien concepts. Saran stresses that while the current political dispensation may set its own norms of nationalism that go beyond citizenship, the vision for India that is enshrined in the Constitution must remain our guidepost for the future. 

THE FOREIGN POLICY QUESTION

  • Brahma Chellaney writes in Hindustan Times about how the election result represents a fresh mandate for change – that ‘Indians not only want their country to stop punching below its weight but also to emerge truly as a great power’. In the midst of foreign policy challenges including China’s muscular revisionism, the unpredictable Trump administration, the need for a credible counterterrorism strategy, Chellaney highlights that Narendra Modi must take hard decisions to advance national security through fundamental reforms to dispel India’s image as a soft State.
  • Brahma Chellaney writes in Japan Times about how India-Japan ties under Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe could potentially reshape the strategic landscape in Asia. Chellaney highlights that ‘India under Modi appears to be moving from its long-held nonalignment to a globalised practicality — multi-alignment’. He writes that the election results provide a fresh mandate for Modi ‘to reinvent India as a more secure, confident and competitive country, and forge closer ties with natural allies such as Japan.’
  • Shyam Saran writes in India Today about the several foreign policy challenges that confront the new government. Saran sheds light on rising tensions between India and Pakistan, China’s fast growing economic and military capabilities and the consequent threat to India’s interests, and highlights that the government ‘must continue to strengthen relations with the US, Japan, Australia and Southeast Asia as part of countervailing and constraining this Chinese power.’

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.