*Representational image, credit:mensxp.com

When we set out on the 2019 journey, the scenario was quite fuzzy. The opposition parties were resurgent after the 2018 Assembly Elections. Congress was brimming over with confidence, and talk of grand alliance was in the air. BJP, on the other hand, was licking its wounds after losing in 3 states, which had given it 62 out of 65 Lok Sabhā seats in 2014. They had lost Karnataka narrowly just a little earlier, with a bad scare even in Gujarat where BJP barely got away with the skin of its teeth. Suddenly, it looked probable that BJP would be losing 50 to 60 seats in these 5 States alone. Things could not be more dismal.

The UP Mahagathbandhan with SP, BSP, RLD, and Congress was looking scary. Congress and JDS were already running a government together in Karnataka and were set to go together in the Lok Sabhā as well.  To compound and confound matters, Shiv Sena was flexing its muscles, threatening to go its own way, and JDU was acting up too. Some smaller parties like Kushwaha’s RLSP had already broken away. Even Apna Dal of Anupriya Patel was trying to stare BJP down. If all these little explosives were to blow up, the prospect of BJP remaining at 160-180 levels were quite real.

So roundabout February, it looked certain that BJP would have no way forward to go beyond 180 seats – even 160. Many in the BJP started salivating on that prospect with visions of a Prime Minister other than Modi. The opposition started behaving as if the President had already invited them to form the government.

Yet, as the days wore on, it was clear that one swallow does not a summer make. First, the Grand Alliance plan fell apart. A Federal Front started doing the round instead. A dozen PM aspirants sprung up. KCR with a prospect of 15 seats, Mamata didi with a prospect of 35 seats, and Mayawati, who was contesting on 37 seats and had 0 seats in the present Lok Sabhā, all started jostling and positioning for Prime Minister’s chair. It got reflected in Mayawati putting her foot down and throwing Congress out of the UP coalition of Mahagathbandhan. The Karnataka seat distribution was no less messy. Maharashtra was the only place where the opposition could do an alliance without much hullabaloo. That became possible because of Sharad Pawar’s maturity, and an experienced Congress core team in Maharashtra. Bihar confusion went on for ages. NDA, on the other hand, not only sealed all its alliances – in Maharashtra, Bihar, UP, and the North-East, but stitched up even the Tamil Nadu alliance without much ado, even as UPA constituents kept wrangling.

The Rajasthan-MP-Chhattisgarh setback was utilised by BJP to do introspection, out of which emerged two important initiatives – the reservation for economically weaker sections, and the Budget provisions for farmers and middle class. This addressed two of its most important constituencies.

The other opportunity was provided by Pakistan. A leader is one who knows when to take an opportunity. Pulwama and its revenge gave the big bump to BJP on top of the economic and welfare measures taken by the BJP. It is actually a measure of the connect that BJP has with the masses, for which it has to thank not only its own organisation, but also its mentor RSS.

Trust in the leader, welfare and nationalism is a deadly cocktail at most times. Going into the election, the BJP was ready to dispense this heady brew.

As the election bugle was a sounded, the formidable BJP machinery rolled out a near perfect campaign. The way the Labharthis were targeted, the key marginal constituencies were mapped out. To compare with this, we had near comical efforts of leaders like Chandrababu Naidu, and Mayawati. In this background, the Phase 1 was very important, specially in UP and Bihar, as they gave 120 constituencies. In UP lay the key to denying BJP the bulk that would give it the majority or near-majority. Then Mayawati made the biggest mistake of her career.

In their first combined SP-BSP-RLD rally in Saharanpur, which has nearly 40% Muslim population, Mayawati appealed directly to Muslims, telling them that they should vote only the MGB. In the already surcharged post-Pulwama atmosphere, this was the proverbial fat in the fire. The fire leapt and burnt high, and consumed the MGB in the first round. The internal vote-transfer among the MGB constituents, which was suspect anyway, almost came unstuck, as the election became polarised. Not just it saved the BJP, but actually gave it 5-6 seats out of the 8 that went to poll in that round. The agenda for UP got set in the same way as had happened in 2017 Vidhan Sabhā elections.

Also, the biggest votary of Grand Alliance, Chandrababu Naidu got routed in AP in the first round. Vidarbha went solid with NDA, and Bihar arithmetic, never in doubt, got confirmed. To beat other odds, BJP performed beyond expectations in West Bengal, Odisha and North-East in the first round itself.

Once the momentum was set, a supremely well-oiled election machine was never going to let the opportunity slip. This was not the gentle party of Atal-Advani era. It was a ruthless war machine. The campaign strategy of BJP was meticulous. As Narendra Modi let loose his famous oratory, the party fielded him in vulnerable seats, whereas Amit Shah covered the areas around the place where a Modi rally was being held. Targeted rallies were held by other influential leaders of BJP. A virtual laser guided carpet bombing of voters and their sensibilities was relentlessly carried out by BJP. Congress, in comparison, was not only listless but badly handicapped by the lack of conviction that Rahul Gandhi carried. Moreover, while Modi, Shah and other BJP leaders campaigned separately, Rahul would invariably have to be accompanied by every other leader of consequence in the State he would go campaigning. While Modi and Shah would average 40-45 minutes of well drilled, customised message, Rahul Gandhi could never go beyond clichés and platitudes.

As the campaign progressed into the next rounds, some State satraps started panicking. Mamata and Naveen Patnaik suddenly sensed the ground slipping away from beneath their feet. Naveen Patnail responded by campaigning vigorously in spite of not keeping well, whereas Mamata Banerjee let her goons loose as the voting progressed into her strongholds of central and south Bengal. This tactic seems to have backfired as we have noticed that areas considered totally safe for TMC till two weeks are also showing signs of moving over to BJP. With the level of high-technology surveillance, and 24×7 media, it was idle on part of Mamata to think that she could rig the election against the BJP in the same way as she did in the Panchayat elections. 23rd May could be her day of reckoning as the news emanating from Bengal is showing an unprecedented surge for the saffron. It is quite large in Odisha also, but Bengal could be larger. However, we have remained very cautious in predicting Bengal seats due to the high possibility of local level rigging. If we were sure about fair polls, we would have safely given 25 seats to BJP in West Bengal instead of the 16 we have given, which would have been humongous.

As the campaign progressed, and the word of mouth started spreading, the already considerable Modi support got further consolidated. By the time, the campaign reached Gujarat, Rajasthan and MP, it had become Modi vs others elections, the candidate becoming irrelevant. In such a situation, there could be only one winner. Haryana and Delhi only carried the trend forward. So much so, the safe Congress bastion of Punjab has also got impacted and brought down the seats for Congress.

Story by: Chintamani Shashtri


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