India has again resolutely decided in favor of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party led by incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who successfully blunted burning issues like unemployment and an agricultural crisis plaguing the sixth largest economy in the world.
As officials on Thursday counted some 600 million votes cast in staggered elections, the BJP alone was leading or had already won 300 of the 543 seats of the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of the Indian parliament, according to poll results declared by the Election Commission.
This is way above the 272 halfway mark to command a majority and form a government.
“It is not a victory of an any party or an individual candidate,” Modi said in his victory speech. “It were the Indian people who were fighting. Today if anyone has won, it is India that has won. If anyone has won, it is democracy that has won.”
The prime minister’s widespread popularity – dubbed the “Modi wave” - and his supposed clean and strongman image are believed to have taken his party to a resounding victory, so much so that he is understood to have outgrown the right-wing party that puts the ideology of Hindutva, or Hindu-ness, at the core of its agenda.
“The results show that the Modi wave is intact. This was a referendum on Modi, his government and his welfare schemes. Modi’s image has transcended the party,” political analyst Praveen Rai of the research institute Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) told Efe.
The results are historic as it is the first time in nearly 35 years that a majority government has been voted back into power with a majority.
Moreover, BJP’s landslide victory also marked the first time a government not made up of the Congress – the grand old party that traces its origin to pre-independence era and which has dominated India’s political scene since 1947 – has won a second consecutive term, signifying a shift in the political dynamics of the country.
“Ours was a campaign based on pro development agenda and work done in the previous term. We rolled out many welfare schemes to ensure necessities such as cooking gas, electricity, housing, toilets reach the people,” Saikat Sarkar, a leader of BJP’s farmer wing in West Bengal, told Efe.
However, problems faced by the Indian economy such as high unemployment and the agrarian crisis, among others, will continue to tail the BJP government in its new term.
According to a National Sample Survey Office report - which was supposed to have been published in December and was leaked to the Indian newspaper Business Standard earlier this year - the unemployment rate between July 2017 and June 2018 was 6.1 percent, the highest in 45 years.
In this regard, Sarkar admitted that “finding more jobs for the youth is an important issue,” which would be addressed by infrastructure projects, which “generate employment, and which further help create the necessary platform for businesses to flourish and attract investments.”
The agrarian crisis, fueled by decades of government apathy, has forced farmers to abandon farming for other low-paying jobs and the farming sector, which feeds more than two-thirds of India's 1.3-billion population, appears under serious threat.
Before the elections, massive protests of farmers were carried out in New Delhi and in the financial capital Mumbai by thousands of farmers, prompting the government to announce compensations and debt waivers.
“The problem has been a long standing one, and while farmers suicide rates have come down, they still happen. What the government now needs to do is carry out long-term structural reforms,” said Rai of CSDS.
Sarkar underlined that the BJP has promised to double the income of farmers by 2022.
This, he said, can be done by ensuring proper water and power supply, giving them easy financial assistance and proper implementation of a government-aided program that guarantees minimum selling price for their crops.
However, it remains to be seen how successful the government’s plan could be, given that the biggest challenge lies in ensuring welfare schemes reach every household in the world’s second-most populous country where, according to World Poverty Clock, nearly 47 million people are still living in “extreme poverty.” The extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day.
The agrarian crisis is made more complicated by climate change, as weather patterns get affected and global warming poses a serious threat to food production, which is “a huge problem that has not found a place in the political discourse during the elections,” according to Rai.
As stiff challenges await jubilant members of the wining party, the majority of the people are brimming with hope that the promised “good times” will eventually arrive.
“A fresh mandate for the BJP augurs political stability. I expect better economic growth and jobs, a cleaner India, further rural development and stronger national security,” Pradip Biswas, an IT worker from Noida, told Efe.
Rahul Singh, a businessman from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, pointed out that Modi offered the best hope of “tackling unemployment and strengthening internal security.”
Besides capturing the imagination of voters, the Modi-led BJP has also gained significantly from the lack of any credible opposition.
The direct challenger to Modi for the prime ministership, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, lost from his traditional bastion in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi – one of the two constituencies he contested from. He, however, won from the second seat.
“It was a presidential-style elections where it was Modi versus no one,” Rai summed it up. EFE-EPA