With the new numbers in place, the ruling BJP is expected to achieve a majority in both houses in the next two years, paving the way for an overhaul of the laws, in consonance with the party’s Hindus-first ideology.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, and the National Democratic Alliance it leads, were set to return to power for another five-year term as results for the largest democratic election on the planet began pouring in on Thursday. While the counting of votes was still underway and is likely to continue well into the night, it became clear early in the day that Modi is leading the alliance back to power with possibly a bigger victory than 2014, in which his party wrested power from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.
What also became clear as the results poured in is that the opposition helped the BJP’s attempt to turn the multiple elections into a singular personality contest featuring Modi on one side and the rest, or no one in particular, on the other.
“Modi was contesting every single election, not the BJP candidates,” Kumar Ketkar, journalist-turned-parliamentarian said. Though the opposition’s political narrative revolved around defeating Modi and his party, it not only appeared fragmented but also failed to weave a clear and strong message on why that needed to be done.
It failed to showcase the large-scale agrarian distress, rising unemployment and increased vulnerability of the minorities or underprivileged castes as issues of concern to the electorate. As Modi’s return to power became imminent, many progressive voices took to social media to decry the end of the ‘Idea of India’ while many of his supporters took them on, once again underlining Modi’s power as a polarising figure. He had repeatedly focussed his campaign around the idea of a muscular and aggressive India.
An official of the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the country’s 15th prime minister will take charge Monday. Few prime ministers, including India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Congress’s Manmohan Singh -- whom Modi dislodged in 2014 -- have won a second consecutive term. Using adjectives such as “historic” and “referendum-like” to describe the May 23 results, independent experts credited Modi and his man-Friday Amit Shah with the victory for their astute election management. While Modi controlled the political narrative and bucked the anti-incumbency against his government, Shah, who heads the party as president, was able to organise the cadres to put up a strong fight.
At 5pm, the BJP led in 293 seats (up from 282 in the last election) of the 543 constituencies that make up India’s lower house of Parliament, or the Lok Sabha. The Congress -- India’s oldest and, until five years ago, largest party -- marginally improved its tally from 44 to 55 but remained a pale shadow of its past self. Not that the BJP seemed to need allies for a majority, but together with others in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it was leading in 340 seats. While the BJP began its term under Modi in 2014 with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, it did not have a majority in the 250-member upper house or Rajya Sabha. The arithmetic stalled a number of legislations that the party wanted to bulldoze ahead with. But with the new numbers in place, it is expected to achieve a majority in both houses in the next two years, paving the way for an overhaul of the laws in consonance with the BJP’s Hindus-first ideology. The party has long favoured uniformity in family laws for all communities.
The Congress and its allies hovered around under 100 seats and, together with all other parties, around 200, clearly signalling that the opposition strength will be far-outnumbered by the ruling disposition. Significant among those who were headed for victory is BJP candidate and terror-accused Pragya Singh Thakur who had recently said Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin was a patriot. A much-revered figure the world over, Gandhi stood for his peaceful resistance of British colonialism and championing non-violence. Thakur is now all set to be a lawmaker. She described her impending win in Bhopal as the “victory of dharma (righteousness)”.
In another major upset, senior opposition leader and Congress President Rahul Gandhi is trailing minister Smriti Irani in his family bastion of Amethi. He had defeated her by over 1,07,000 votes in the last general election.