Early in 2019 and even before that, media houses and political pundits were breaking their heads about the world’s biggest democratic exercise – The Indian General Elections. Various organizations and analysts carried out opinion polls to gauge voting intention and voter preferences. Many of them gave a picture of a strong anti-incumbent wave against the Modi regime. Carried away by this rhetoric, even parties who were part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) deserted and joined the opposition camp. Many parties across India came together against one person, one party and one ideology. Even those who never saw eye to eye were seen shaking hands and holding them up on rallies. Some observers said that even if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leads in the elections, it might have to stitch an alliance to secure a majority in the lower house. However, contrary to all these narratives, the BJP came back to power with a phenomenal majority securing 303 seats out of the 543.
What led to this thunderous victory when many had predicted the fall of Modi and the BJP? How did the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah ensure a landslide majority? More than the ‘what’ and ‘how’, the question of why did Indians bestow faith and responsibility on this man and the party remained underrated. With different organizations and media houses favouring one ideological and political camp or the other, it was impossible to understand what was running in the mind of the Indian voter. Author Pradeep Bhandari with his ground reports brings to light the answers to these questions in this engaging book that is ridden with lively anecdotes.
The book has a foreword written by Meghnad Desai, Member of the House of Lords of UK Parliament and by Arnab Goswami, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV. Both of them point out to the fact that Pradeep remains one of the few psephologists in the country who goes beyond what meets the eye by immersing himself with the locals. Pradeep was already beaming into households at prime time and had built a brand for himself through his show Jan Ki Baat. This book is an extension of his television programmes and a much more exhaustive take of the 2019 general elections.
Starting with a prologue in which he likens the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to a cricket world cup final match, he sets the tone for the book and lays out the political changes the country was going through in the run-up to the elections. The first chapter is dedicated entirely to the state of Uttar Pradesh where he takes the reader from western UP districts of Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Amethi to the easter regions of Shravasti, Kushinagar and Farukhabad. When the SP and BSP formed an alliance, it was touted to be a dampener for BJP’s prospects. However, Pradeep exposes the theoretical hollowness of the alliance and how there were much more dynamics at play on the ground. Anecdotes from the field show that the SP and BSP lacked cohesiveness and the cadres themselves were not hopeful of the alliance’s ability to defeat the BJP.
Why India voted the way it did in 2019 LS election?— Pradeep Bhandari(प्रदीप भंडारी) (@pradip103) February 27, 2020
Glad to announce the launch of my book:
Modi Mandate 2019
Dispatches from Ground Zero
It chronicles my journey of assessing national electoral dynamics from 400+ Constituencies.
Order : https://t.co/Kd3Ai9t1Yn pic.twitter.com/sO5bLYyZsE
The chapter on West Bengal is a revealing account of the vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the state that was largely ignored by the mainstream media. Preceding the Lok Sabha polls, the local body elections in 2018 saw Trinamool Congress unleashing terror though violence, political killings, rigging and booth capturing. In the election to the seats of gram panchayat, panchayat samitis, and zilla parishad, TMC won uncontested as their cadres prevented members from other parties to file their nominations. Despite this, the BJP was able to win the panchayat polls in Maoist stronghold districts of Purulia and Jhargram. This triggered Mamata Bannerji and her slogan went from ‘Ma Mati Manush’ to ‘Modi Hatao Desh Bachao’. With Mamata resorting to extreme minority appeasement, counter polarization helped in consolidating the Hindu votes that was harvested by the BJP. Pradeep narrates these events and delves into depth about how a silent majority, who were at the fear of earning the wrath of TMC goons if they spoke against Mamata or the TMC, ensured the victory of BJP.
Pradeep also details on how the women and youth of the Hindi heartland and other northern parts of the country were overwhelmingly in support of Modi and the BJP. He says that the development initiatives through the Prime Minister’s housing scheme, toilet scheme, DBT and gas cylinder schemes resulted in the women folk extending their support. The liquor ban of Nitish Kumar had also struck a chord with the women. The Modi-Kumar combo ensured that the majority of the seats fell in their kitty. Although Kanhaiya seemed to be appealing towards the youth, his tukde-tukde rhetoric reduced his chances. Also, the people have come to the conclusion that the Communist party is no more relevant, says Pradeep in the section on Bihar.
The Modi factor made caste irrelevant for the state of Gujarat, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. For the youth, as Pradeep mentions, even though the issue of unemployment mattered, they reposed their faith in Modi as they considered him to be the “only strong leader who keeps national interest in priority and is capable of leading the country with an iron hand”. His larger than life image appealed to the youth.
The north-east is usually ignored in all political discourses but Pradeep covers the region exhaustively. He says how the region itself became a part of the mainstream only after 2014. He mentions how the Hindi speaking locals aligned with the BJP while the Muslims (Bangladeshi Muslims) had the All India United Democratic Party and the Congress. The NRC factor played spoilsport in the BJP bagging all 25 seats. However, the feedback from Pradeep’s interview with the locals on the developments in the region resonates with the claims that the Modi government makes with respect to infrastructure like roadways, railways, cleanliness, etc which made the BJP and its allies secure the bulk of the seats.
My only disappointment with the book was that, as someone hailing from Tamil Nadu, I was saddened to see the state’s coverage reduced to two pages. Tamil Nadu had an interesting turn of events ever since the demise of the two political stalwarts. Though Pradeep has touched upon the major points that ensured DMK 31 out of the 39 seats, a little more detailing on the caste dynamics in different regions could have provided a better picture of the election scene.
To review and condense a book spanning 543 constituencies across the country into 1000 words would be an injustice to the mammoth efforts that have gone towards its making. States such as Maharashtra and Karnataka that saw a lot of drama unfold along with Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir (now Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir) and other states have not been able to find space in the review.
This book evokes ground realities from across states and as Pradeep rightly claims shatters all the narratives that was built by the Lutyens media which were disconnected from the voter’s psyche.
In short, if one wants to revisit the 2019 election experience, this book is your time-travel machine!
(SG Suryah is currently the Spokesperson of BJP and the Vice President of the BJP Youth Wing in Tamil Nadu Unit)