An improvement on the 2014 performance by the BJP-led NDA is what the exit polls tipped on May 19, 2019. The exit polls were right. The — few — naysayers have been proved wrong.
The Congress party’s show, though a little better than its all-time low score in the Lok Sabha in 2014, means too little, more so with the party losing as badly in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan (where it wrested power just a few months ago and showed signs of revival before the general elections). The same is the case with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti that won a decisive mandate in December 2018.
Yet another message today is the decimation of the Left, already on the wane in 2014; the party lost, as trends indicate, a whopping percentage of votes and the BJP gaining as much as the Left’s loss in West Bengal. Its rout in Kerala meanwhile suggests the erosion of its support base caused by the Sabarimala issue. The Congress party’s gain in state certainly should be attributed to its stand on that, similar in a sense to that of the BJP.
That the Congress president seems to be losing Amethi, as things stand past 3 PM and counting of votes still in progress, is a fact that the party cannot gloss over, although Rahul Gandhi will remain MP from Wayanad. That the Congress president could not win in Amethi, even after the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party extended support to him from there is a thing that the exit polls seemed to point on May 19. It suggested that the Congress party could win just a couple of seats from Uttar Pradesh in the best-case scenario and that it could even end up losing one of the two. The worst for the Congress turned out to be true.
As for the grand alliance that Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati forged, both leaders swallowing some of their ego, the results seem to suggest some small solace. The BJP would have ended up winning 79 out of the 80 seats from Uttar Pradesh but for the grand alliance then. The outcome from Uttar Pradesh seems to show that the dynamics of caste that had marked the discourse in Uttar Pradesh since the early 1990s have assumed a different dimension, beginning May 2014 and assumed concrete form in 2019.
The BJP’s consolidation in West Bengal, where the party has occupied and entrenched itself as the other against Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress was indeed evident even during the campaign. The Left, predominantly the CPI(M), seemed to have remained a mute witness to its erstwhile supporters going the BJP way and this notwithstanding the grand posturing its leaders had been taking, for some years now and more specifically at the party’s Congress at Hyderabad last year.
Lacking in commitment to ensure distributive justice in the economic sense during the three decades and little more while in power in West Bengal, the Left leaders saw Mamata Banerjee their rival and let its cadre too think and act that way. Ever since the CPI(M) lost power to the TMC in 2011 in the state, its decline has been steady and the outcome this time has only been the last nail on its coffin. I had held, some years ago, that the Left revival in West Bengal required a miracle and let me hold that even a miracle seems unlikely.
Karnataka, indeed, is a case where the Congress ought to blame itself after having laid ambushes against the Janata Dal (S) even while being partners in the coalition. And Maharashtra seems a case of a time worn structure that the Congress and its ally, the NCP, is made of.
I recall Vidya Charan Shukla, among the Congress leaders of a generation gone by, telling me in a conversation that the Congress is capable of tumbling into victory. Shukla seemed to put what Rajni Kothari had conceptualised as the Congress system; Kothari had explained this as one where the Congress party, using the levers of power and the administrative structure that it controlled to dispense favour and means of making money to select persons in exchange for mobilisation of support by way of votes during elections; a clientele system.
This, indeed, was what Shukla seemed to hold; and I do recall how he managed power brokers in the villages to organise votes for his party’s candidates in the election that I reported, as a journalist, from the then Madhya Pradesh in 1993. Well, the Congress System, then, also paved way to several patrons building their own clientele rather than a political organisation to organise elections. And that alone seems to have survived and being deprived of control over the power structure could mean the system collapsing.
Nothing else will explain the fact that such parties as the BJD in Odisha, the YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Congress as such in Punjab managing to win seats in 2019. That point is Naveen Pattnaik, Jagan Mohan Reddy and Captain Amrinder Singh seem to have built a system similar to what Kothari had called the Congress System in their own domains. This is also the case with the DMK in Tamil Nadu where the incumbent state government seems to be closer to its end and the DMK in a position to wrest power.
The outcome today is soon going to impact the state governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. As someone was heard saying, the state governments in these two states may fall, under their own weight, sooner than Narendra Modi is sworn in as Prime Minister again.
Well. There are a few blunt messages from the verdict today. The Congress edifice is crumbling. The Left will take a long time to redeem itself and will need a new generation of women and men to even conceive of such a task and longer than that to accomplish that. And most important than these being the fact that regional parties and sub-regional outfits will remain on the scene at least in the immediate future. Recall that it was the Telugu Desam and not any of those that constituted the Janata Party which ended up the single largest party in 1984 after the Congress had won a whopping 400 plus in the Lok Sabha that year!
V Krishna Ananth teaches History at Sikkim University, Gangtok.