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Indian politics in 2019: Revisiting the fieriest battles, unlikely alliances and a landslide

Updated : December 31, 2019 11:05:26 IST

With regards to politics in India, 2019 has been full of action. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power with an overwhelming mandate in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, winning 303 seats and reaching the majority mark by themselves. The year also saw a sea of alliances with the opposition parties joining hands to fight the BJP mahout.

Here are the major political events of this year:

It has been a year of polls and poll alliances. After resting control of the three key BJP states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in late 2018, the Indian National Congress led by Rahul Gandhi was emerging as the potential leader of an all India united opposition. Building on the poll issues of distress in the agriculture sector, job crisis and the alleged scam in the procurement of Rafael fighter jet, opposition parties directly targeted the prime minister.

The Congress did not seal any formal pre-poll alliances but some interesting unions were formed at the state level. For instance, arch-rivals like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party joined hands to take on the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

But without a credible prime ministerial candidate to offer to the country, all these alliances faced an uphill task especially after PM Narendra Modi hit back at terrorist camps in Pakistan's Balakot after a terror attack in Pulwama. This became the backbone of BJP's electoral campaign—an anti-Pakistan and nationalist stance. BJP's election campaign piggy-backed on blatant use of the armed forces to seek votes. It drowned out all other national issues.

As the elections rolled around, quite a few firsts were recorded. BJP President Amit Shah contested his first Lok Sabha elections from Gujarat's Gandhinagar, a seat, which party patriarch Lal Krishna Advani held for decades. Shah won the seat by a margin of over 5.5 lakh votes.

Priyanka Gandhi made her political debut as the president of the Congress' west UP arm.

The Congress president Rahul Gandhi chose to contest elections from two seats—Wayanad in addition to Amethi. While he won the Wayanad seat, Gandhi lost his family pocket borough of Amethi to BJP's Smriti Irani—earning her the monicker "giant killer".

The fiercest political battle was fought in the eastern state of West Bengal where Modi and Mamata went head-to-head. None of the national narratives worked. It was a clash of identity politics—BJP's promise of Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens versus TMC's Bengali pride. The state also saw the most violent campaigns and polling—a situation that forced the election commission to order the end of election campaigning in the state a good 20 hours ahead of schedule.

After six weeks and seven long phases, when the dust settled, Modi returned as prime minister with a bigger and stronger majority. This was the first time in three decades that a single party secured a clear majority—the BJP won 303 of the 543 seats contested. BJP also beat expectations in UP and recorded its best showing ever in West Bengal.

But at the state level, the BJP juggernaut lost some momentum. In Haryana, the BJP was forced to seek the support of rival Dushyant Chautala's Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) to form the government.

In Maharashtra, it failed to form the government despite emerging as the single-largest party. After a lot of dramatic twists and turns, and an early morning swearing-in ceremony, its government lasted just 80 hours. Differences over who would be the chief minister saw the BJP and Shiv Sena end a 30-year alliance and a once-unimaginable Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine formed the government with a Thackery being sworn in as the chief minister for the first time.

BJP also lost Jharkhand as the JMM-Congress-RJD combine managed a clean sweep, taking 47 of 81 seats. And so, as 2019 draws to a close, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, which controlled 75 percent of the national landscape two years ago, now controls just 35 percent.

Overall, 2019 established that national narratives and Modi's charisma may have their limits especially when it comes to state elections. Voters, it seems, put more credence on local issues. So an economic slowdown outstrips the issue of nationalism and even the revocation of Article 370 that granted the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir autonomy. The year also signalled the return of the regional parties and made clear the fact that they can never be discounted.
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