Tejaswi Yadav in Bihar, at the helm of the RJD only because he is the anointed son of Lalu Prasad Yadav, could not win a single seat in Bihar.
The Modi tsunami of 2019, where for the first time since 1971 a party has come back to power with an absolute majority larger than what it had before, has opened up a new paradigm of politics. The contours of this change need to be understood, especially by Opposition parties, for only then can they internalise the magnitude of the change that confronts them. If they choose not to see, or understand, the new political landscape, they do so only at their own peril.
There are two principal takeaways from this election. The first takeaway is that the politics of entitlement, and of dynastic politics, has received a major challenge. The political battlefield is littered with fallen dynasts. The most visible setback is to the Congress, the principal Opposition party, where Rahul Gandhi is at the helm, solely because he is a member of the Gandhi family. Rahul lost his own election from the family bastion of Amethi. His party has been decimated, increasing its paltry tally of 44 in the last elections by a meagre eight seats. The Congress party is in urgent need of surgical introspection, and needs a new leadership, a new narrative, a new operational strategy, and a new cadre.
The fate of other dynasts is equally pitiable. Akhilesh Yadav, who runs the Samajwadi Party (SP) only because he is the son of Mulayam Singh Yadav, performed terribly in Uttar Pradesh. His wife lost the elections, as did other members of his family. Ajit Singh, son of Chaudhary Charan Singh, lost too in UP, as did his son, Jayant Singh. Tejaswi Yadav in Bihar, at the helm of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) only because he is the anointed son of Lalu Prasad Yadav, could not win a single seat in Bihar. In Haryana, the scions of the famous political clans of the state — the Chautalas, Hoodas, and Bhajan Lal — bit the dust. Naveen Patnaik, who came to power in Odisha as the son of stalwart Biju Patnaik, managed to retain a majority of the seats both for the Lok Sabha and in the state Assembly, but not without seeing serious inroads into his state by the BJP. True, some dynasties have survived. Jagan Reddy, son of former state Chief Minister, the late Y.S. Jagan Reddy, swept Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu too, Stalin, son of Karunanidhi, the towering satrap of Tamil politics, did extremely well. At the individual level, too, many newly elected MPS are the progeny of influential politicians. However, the hitherto unchallenged thesis that progenies have an ordained right to inherit the political mantle from their influential parents has suffered a definitive setback.
A second takeaway is that old equations of caste arithmetic have been overwhelmed by the political chemistry of the “new politics”. In UP, the conventional expectation was that a gathbandan of Yadavs, Dalits, Jats and Muslims, would be invincible, purely in terms of the numerical aggregation of caste. The alliance was decimated. In Bihar, the RJD had thought that it could pose a formidable challenge due to the time-tested coalition of Muslims and Yadavs. That coalition too was decimated. Leaders mired in old political equations could not understand that members of their “captive” flock could transcend caste fealties and take an independent view of who they would wish to vote for. The vertical prism of caste blinded many “old school” leaders to the fact that horizontal aspirations would escape the silos to which conventionally they had been confined. The result is that henceforth the “two plus two equals four” calculations of parties that refuse to see beyond caste and creed, will need a serious rethink, and while caste will not entirely go away in the calculation of all political parties, its pivotal importance — as it used to be in the past —has suffered serious erosion.
What were the strengths of the Modi “Tsu-NaMo”, that it largely swept aside entrenched dynasties and caste citadels? Certainly, the most important single element is leadership. This election was Narendra Modi's election. People voted for him, and in his name. That was because he combined — whether you like him or not — eloquence, charisma, energy, vision, will, decisiveness, and above all, a cultural rootedness that spoke in the idiom ordinary people could identify with. There was just no one in the Opposition that came even close to challenging his appeal.
The crafting of a definitive narrative was also important. That narrative consisted of identifiable elements. Firstly, it focused on the tangibles that were delivered in the last five years touching the quality of lives of the poor — toilets, housing, electricity, direct cash transfers, gas cylinders, health schemes, roads and other infrastructure projects. Secondly, it tapped into a widespread angst among ordinary Hindus that — starting from the Shah Bano case of 1985 — there has been a deliberate attempt to forsake the secular principle of respect for all religions and adopt a policy of appeasement of the minorities — read Muslims — for only vote-bank politics. Thirdly, following the Balakot attack, it evoked nationalism, and the paramount importance of the security of the nation against external threats. And, lastly, it raised the hopes of the young by the slogan “New India”. This was especially relevant since India is one of the youngest nations of the world, with some 65 per cent of the people below the age of 35. The young are impatient, aspirational and tired of the formulas of the past. Even though the concept of “New India” was never spelt out in great detail, the idea was appealing, for it brought into play the possibilities of new avenues, new opportunities, and a new vision of transforming the country. These elements of the narrative were projected and disseminated by a highly motivated, disciplined, and huge cadre — for which the credit must go to party president Amit Shah.
A mandate so huge also bestows great responsibilities and raises very large expectations. It is hoped that the NDA government will rise to the occasion. In particular, it must work to create an India of social harmony, where there is the fullest respect for all faiths, and discordant voices of hate and divisiveness are kept in check. The dictum of the great strategist Chanakya must always be remembered: a nation is only as strong as the harmony it fosters within.