As India's prime minister on Thursday secured another five-year term with a landslide general election victory, the mise-en-scène at the headquarters of the country’s two main political parties was strikingly different – one was bustling with joy, the other was drenched in desolation.
The images playing out at the offices of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Indian National Congress almost summed up the story of the largest elections in the world that ran for about six weeks from Apr. 11 to May 19.
The election results handed Prime Minister Narendra Modi a decisive victory to pursue, among other policies, his Hindutva ideology (which can be translated as "Hindu-ness") that underpins the politics of Hindu majoritarianism and places adherence to this religion at the very center of their idea of India.
For the Congress, India’s once-dominant powerhouse that was formerly led by stalwarts like freedom fighters Mahatma Gandhi and the first post-independence prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the shocking defeat – in fact the second in the last five years – means more soul-searching before it can again attempt to regain its lost glory.
“We attribute this very, very spectacular victory, which is greater than (the one the BJP secured in) 2014, to the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the honesty with which his government worked,” BJP spokesperson Navin Kohli said.
Kohli was speaking to EFE at the party’s swanky three-storied 70-room office, overcrowded with hundreds of saffron-clad party activists and a battery of journalists who kept jostling to speak with BJP leaders.
The BJP spokesperson said Modi had delivered on his promises as his government “understands the aspiration of a billion-plus people."
“This is a government for everyone, for those who voted for us and those who didn’t vote for us. A government that doesn’t distinguish on the basis of caste, color and religion,” he said.
Outside the party's office, hypnotizing larger-than-life portraits of Modi and his close aide Amit Shah, the BJP's chief, seemed to welcome their supporters, who kept streaming into the enclosure in droves while waving BJP flags, dancing to drum beats and enjoying free candy.
Shah, Modi's backroom strategist, is largely credited with crafting the BJP’s electoral victories since the time when the now-PM was still chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.
Analysts say that the BJP’s win was largely made possible because the Modi-and-Shah tandem defeated not only the opposition, but also managed to rise above the widespread discontent over joblessness and an agricultural crisis by emphasizing other issues such as national security and terrorism, which the BJP alleges is sponsored by neighboring (and Muslim-majority) Pakistan.
The road leading to the BJP offices that sprawl over two acres of prime land in the heart of Delhi was strewn with leftovers of burned-out firecrackers.
Noisy cheers would erupt whenever any BJP leader dropped in.
An overjubilant Sanyukta Kesari, a BJP activist carrying a bugle, blew it to sound the party’s historic second-term victory – a first for a non-Congress government.
“We have never seen such a big win before, but we always fancied it because every patriot wanted a government who talks about Hindutva, development for all, restoring India's lost pride. Today is a very important day because all our dreams are coming true,” Kesari told EFE.
She said that it was now time to construct a Hindu temple at a disputed site in India’s north where a centuries-old mosque was demolished in 1992, an event that changed India’s political landscape and helped propel the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP.
Manmohan, who only gave his first name, was painting revelers’ faces saffron with motleys of “Modi” and “BJP,” charging 10 or 20 rupees ($0.14-$0.29) for every graphic he painted.
He said he has always been a “die-hard” Modi fan because the PM was the only Indian leader who had the courage to talk so openly about pursuing policies that put Hindus first.
“He is also inclusive, but nobody has so openly spoken about Hindutva so far,” he said.
About 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the BJP’s office, the scene at the Congress headquarters was somber and so melancholic that some of the beat journalists dozed off while waiting for someone to speak to the media amid the hot and humid weather conditions of the notoriously sweltering Delhi summer.
“All the big leaders have gone into hiding,” a senior Congress leader privately told EFE as TV screens played out live election result updates with Rahul Gandhi, the party chief and the scion of Nehru-Gandhi family that has ruled the country for much of its post-independence history, also losing in one of the two constituencies he contested from.
The party's office looked desolated as only a dozen Congress activists sat on the sprawling lawn.
In one of the clumsy rooms, a senior Congress leader, Rajeev Shukla, answered some questions from waiting journalists.
“It is a matter of analysis to find out what went wrong for the Congress. We are surprised but not demoralized. We will play the role of a constructive opposition. We are still the main opposition party,” Shukla told EFE amid frequent power outages in the building.
The erratic power supply at the Congress headquarters perhaps summarized the Congress’ ordeal for the next five years, as the power to rule a country of 1.3 billion plays a game of all hide and no seek with it.