Bharatiya Janata Party Alliance Wins Indian Election in Landslide

 

India’s 2019 federal election was called on May 23, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies winning an increased majority of 350 out of 543 seats in Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament. The BJP won 300 seats itself, which means that they will not need to govern in coalition, but have enough seats to form Government in their own right.

This is what the results look like on a map (BJP+ is of course saffron):

This was an enormous exercise, involving about 900,000,000 (nine hundred million) registered voters, 11,000,000 (eleven million) election monitors and with polling conducted in seven phases across the country over a period of six weeks.

NDTV has an interactive map which allows you to filter by party and click on individual constituencies for details of the winner.

The BJP won the election despite some arguable failures in delivering on its 2014 campaign pledges (most notably regarding employment – at over 7% the unemployment rate is the highest it’s been for some time) and a slowing growth rate (down to 6.5%), both of which are due to some external factors (the impact on the global economy of some nascent trade wars and trade sanctions on the country that supplied a significant amount of India’s oil imports) but also due to the implementation of two Govt initiatives: demonetization and the GST roll out.

To be fair, they were both arguably good for the country in the long run but were never going to be implemented without difficulty in a country where there was/is a vast irregular economy that functions in cash. That said, voiding about 80% of the value of notes in circulation [could be exchanged for replacements] overnight shows a remarkable sang froid while breaking eggs to make an omelet. (Not, now that I think of it, a good metaphor for a vegetarian trending party.)

Imho the reason the BJP won despite these handicaps was because (1) in India today for political leadership it is not just TINA but TITA (2nd T = Terrible), and (2) it had its Plan B (Hindu Nationalism) which is far from played out.

The only notional alternative to the BJP is the sad remnants of the Indian National Congress (INC). Electorally dominant for literally decades after the freedom struggle placed it front and center in the national consensus, the INC won about fifty seats in this last election. At least one of the reasons for this is that it doesn’t seem to have any new policies, and is still perceived as the degenerate fiefdom of the Gandhi-Nehru family. The current leader of the party (Rahul Gandhi, son, grandson and great-grand son of Indian Prime Ministers, including India’s first [Jawaharlal Nehru] and then its longest serving [and perhaps most detrimentally influential to the body politic, Indira Gandhi] lost the traditional “family seat” of Amethi in UP – although his Italian born mother (this counts against them, we have a xenophobic streak) won hers next door.

Heads have rolled in Congress post election (iow resignations of some very influential people have been offered and accepted), but not Rahul’s – and that, frankly, is an excellent illustration of the problem. At this point, India has no meaningful political opposition, and until Congress gets its act together or is displaced by another party, it won’t. A remarkably good-natured discussion on that here, if you have any interest in Indian talk shows (sometimes a bit shouty, almost inevitably bilingual, but IMHO they can be more intelligent on politics than any others that I’ve seen; this one also illustrates an enduring truth about Indian politics – that the people who govern, from either side of the aisle, have more in common with each other as a social class than they do with the rest of the country they represent, no matter what they say while canvassing).

Anyway – despite the impacts of demonetization and the GST introduction on the poor (the majority) the BJP was able to win because it campaigned on (Hindu) Nationalism – something that was hyped further by Pakistan’s timely attacks in Kashmir during the election. While their last (2014) election campaign won on promises of development (partially and patchily delivered) this one was won on a Nationalist (security and cultural) platform. (Development was markedly absent from the conversation, as was any discussion of demonetization and its discontents.)

Using attitudes to the cow and to beef as a proxy (and, sorry to say, to Muslims as canaries in the coal mine):

If you compare a map showing cow slaughter related lynchings in India with the electoral map above it shows a significant (though not 100%, because India) overlap.

It’s turning out to be hard to copy and upload, but a map showing a ban on beef is pretty similar:

As are some others.

Edited to add, post cogitation prompted by Garry McVey’s response: and our view of cows and cow slaughter as a proxy for The Nation and attacks on it seems to vary depending on which parts of India had Muslim rulers and for how long. The Mughals were not the first or the last Muslim rulers in the subcontinent, but using them as a conveniently large and simple example, the longer a place was ruled by Muslims (but where the population stayed majority Hindu) the greater the focus on the cow and cow slaughter reflected both by law and by incidence of violence:

It doesn’t explain Bengal (iow, there are clearly exceptions) but it’s an interesting correlation. The deep South, which was never ruled by Muslim kings, is a lot more relaxed about all of this. And it really seems to be a function of these medieval rulers rather than concentrations of (presumably drawn to The Beef) Muslims. I’m using the cow etc. as a proxy for a larger world view which is culturally Indo-Aryan rather than Dravidian, IMHO.

So in summary, India’s most economically liberal party won the election on the basis of some profoundly illiberal social currents. India is still working through its historical baggage (to be fair there’s a lot of this), but let’s be optimistic?

Published in Elections
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There are 18 comments.

  1. Gary McVey Contributor

    As always Zafar comes through with citizen journalism so detailed and thoughtful it puts Ricochet (momentarily!) in the same league as The Economist or the South China Morning Post. Thank you for intelligent insight we’d be unlikely to see anywhere else. 

    • #1
    • May 25, 2019, at 10:17 PM PDT
    • 17 likes
  2. Gary McVey Contributor

    The overlap between outlawing beef sales and Hindu political strength is visually striking. It’s another reminder that this is still a rather illiberal world in most respects. 

    • #2
    • May 25, 2019, at 10:32 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. JosePluma Thatcher

    North Sentinel Island is pretty illiberal, even though they, apparently, allow beef sales.

    • #3
    • May 25, 2019, at 10:52 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Gary McVey Contributor

    Regarding saffron: Cutting edge Sixties political commentary by Donovan.

     

    • #4
    • May 25, 2019, at 11:32 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    North Sentinel Island is pretty illiberal, even though they, apparently, allow beef sales.

    Do they even have cattle? Is there any way to safely find out without getting an arrow to the eye?

    • #5
    • May 25, 2019, at 11:55 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Zafar Member
    Zafar Post author

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    The overlap between outlawing beef sales and Hindu political strength is visually striking. It’s another reminder that this is still a rather illiberal world in most respects.

    The parts of the country that don’t have beef bans are also majority Hindu. I’ve chucked up a possible explanation, but here is another (possibly related):

     

    Also: Citizen Journalist sounds very flash. I’m not sure it applies as I’m not in India reporting from the ground. Perhaps Citizen Armchair Theorist?

    • #6
    • May 26, 2019, at 5:35 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. Zafar Member
    Zafar Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    North Sentinel Island is pretty illiberal, even though they, apparently, allow beef sales.

    Do they even have cattle? Is there any way to safely find out without getting an arrow to the eye?

    No cows, no money.

    • #7
    • May 26, 2019, at 5:36 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  8. Arahant Member

    Zafar (View Comment):
    No cows, no money.

    Sounds like my problem. 😁

    • #8
    • May 26, 2019, at 5:37 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. John H. Member

    I wonder if anyone in India ever says, “A lakh crore here, a lakh crore there, pretty soon you’re talking some real money!” If anyone does, is it considered funny? Clever? Hackneyed?

    Speaking of funny, I clicked the Daily O’s Humour link. A phrase which will never catch on in the U.S. is “You don’t even have the skill to fry pakodas.”

    • #9
    • May 26, 2019, at 5:49 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  10. Zafar Member
    Zafar Post author

    John H. (View Comment):

    I wonder if anyone in India ever says, “A lakh crore here, a lakh crore there, pretty soon you’re talking some real money!” If anyone does, is it considered funny? Clever? Hackneyed?

    Speaking of funny, I clicked the Daily O’s Humour link. A phrase which will never catch on in the U.S. is “You don’t even have the skill to fry pakodas.”

    I’ve never heard of a lakh crore! 

    That’s 10,000,000,000,000. (Ten billion?)

    For this election:

    “The New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS) estimates almost $8.6 billion will be spent on this year’s vote, roughly twice the 2014 election.

    “The figure would surpass OpenSecrets.org’s estimate that $6.5 billion was spent in the 2016 U.S. presidential and congressional elections.

    “Recent reforms under Modi may have fueled the spending spree: Companies can fund parties anonymously through new ‘electoral bonds’ and they no longer face a donations cap. Activists say that gives corporations too much sway and obscures ties between politicians and businessmen.

    “About 95 percent of electoral bonds snapped up in a first tranche offering last year went to the BJP, according to data reviewed by Reuters through a Right To Information request and BJP filings.”

    ////

    Which is a lot of pakoras.

     

    • #10
    • May 26, 2019, at 6:17 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. JosePluma Thatcher

    Arahant (View Comment):

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    North Sentinel Island is pretty illiberal, even though they, apparently, allow beef sales.

    Do they even have cattle? 

    Whether they have them or not, they appear to be allowed to sell them.

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Is there any way to safely find out without getting an arrow to the eye?

    It must make being a poll worker there somewhat difficult. Who’d they vote for in the election?

    • #11
    • May 26, 2019, at 8:55 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Titus Techera Contributor

    Thanks, Zafar!

    I’ve been curiously following the development of nationalism in India through digital technology. It’s an amazing world to watch &, provided that Modi is anywhere as great as he thinks he is, India has a future both as an Asian power, needed by America, not just itself in need, & a worthy rival of China. Now, there are certain obstacles along the way. Political organization at the level of the BJP obviously includes bunches of criminals & people who should be called criminals, but they’re not. On the other hand, it’s not obvious to me that the people who have the technological skills required to help along the change in India could ever become adepts of Indian nationalism or even semi-skeptical servants of it. But that seems to be the only way for Indians to even have politics!

    So a few dangerous thoughts, if you have time to think about them & answer. My sense is, most Indian languages will be wiped out in a generation or two, at any rate, they will become insignificant.

    I think the religious side of nationalism is likely to increase, including its moral interdictions & the pious cruelties already mentioned in the conversation. All things considered, I think that’s preferable. I’m not sure how, without moral bonds far stronger than anything liberalism can offer, would it be possible to control politically some of the obscenely rich people going around in India, who don’t strike this outsider as any more patriotic than, say, Silicon Valley elites are in America…

    I’m not sure you’ve ever read or cared for Kipling’s Kim, but it strikes me as both wonderful & wise. It certainly shows that Kipling saw that India is not just a country–not only because it wasn’t at all a country then–but a world, in a way America is, China is, but almost nothing else. I get the sense that much of the wonderful variety of India will go away soon, to be forgotten as though it had never existed–I am not enthusiastic about this. But I also get the sense that tech-powered commerce is now capable of lifting a lot of small towns & even villages (tier 3 & 4 cities at least) out of poverty & getting them, in a sense, moving. Indians have powers that are far less unusual out of India than within India; if the dogmatic slumber is over & people will get doing things, I get a sense that nationalism will be both attractive & necessary to them. I see far more likelihood of actual improvements in people’s lives & economic growth, too, among BJP-India, so to speak, than whatever might turn out to become anti-BJP India. 

    Looking forward to your thoughts & thanks, as always, for your impressive reporting & analysis!

    • #12
    • May 27, 2019, at 3:50 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Zafar Member
    Zafar Post author

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    …provided that Modi is anywhere as great as he thinks he is, India has a future both as an Asian power, needed by America, not just itself in need, & a worthy rival of China.

    Nobody’s that great, but he is an indicator of what much of India aspires to.

    Now, there are certain obstacles along the way. Political organization at the level of the BJP obviously includes bunches of criminals & people who should be called criminals, but they’re not.

    Or even if they are, it doesn’t seem to be a disqualification.

    What is more disturbing is that some crimes are actually vote getters. In some ways we feel like Europe in the 1930s. Lots of Autobahns and then war, if it goes badly, but India moderates all things (Islam, Communism, Fascism, Nationalism) by its nature – so maybe not.

    On the other hand, it’s not obvious to me that the people who have the technological skills required to help along the change in India could ever become adepts of Indian nationalism or even semi-skeptical servants of it.

    That hasn’t been the case. Or to put it another way, educational qualifications don’t seem to immunise people against political coarseness.

    My sense is, most Indian languages will be wiped out in a generation or two, at any rate, they will become insignificant.

    India has over 400 languages, and most of them will dwindle.

    The major languages – with their own scripts, media, cinema and literary history – are unlikely to dwindle so fast; Hindi (for eg) has over 500,000,000 speakers, though I do notice that people mix English in with their Hindi much more than the used to across a broader economic spectrum. 

    So perhaps? Though language and tradition is preserved by religion, and religious practice is stubbornly diverse across the country.

    The States are based on language areas, so each of the big ones has a political arena for expression and patronage. Also – speaking more than one language at a conversational level seems like less of a big deal in India, which leaves space for more than one language in the social environment. 

     

     

     

    • #13
    • May 27, 2019, at 7:21 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  14. Zafar Member
    Zafar Post author

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    I think the religious side of nationalism is likely to increase, including its moral interdictions & the pious cruelties already mentioned in the conversation. All things considered, I think that’s preferable. I’m not sure how, without moral bonds far stronger than anything liberalism can offer, would it be possible to control politically some of the obscenely rich people going around in India, who don’t strike this outsider as any more patriotic than, say, Silicon Valley elites are in America…

    Right now “nationalism” is giving these people exactly what they want. (Lower taxes, economic growth that focuses on profits for capital.) Of course Indian economic elites are nationalists!

    [And like Germany in the 1930s, India has its communists, and for the same reasons.]

    On a broader scale India is increasingly re-discovering itself – or recovering from colonialism (including Muslim colonialism). It is quite often doing this in (Indian) English, but it has the advantage of an essentially in tact culture, it is not turning into a version of the West. India is (like most large countries) hugely self-obsessed and remains deeply socially traditional (perhaps as a reaction to the incredibly rapid changes since 1947). Hindu Nationalism isn’t responsible for that, in fact it depends on catering to it.

    Kipling was right in seeing India as a world unto itself – a civilisation as much as a country. But far more than by Kipling, the heart of India is expressed in the stories that still captivate it – prime among them the Ramayana (and the Mahabharata) – which is not just re-enacted across the country in traditional performances, but which have started to spawn a series of ‘re-tellings’ – some of them surprisingly engaging. (Seriously, even as an interaction with the outer world – this one is delightful.)

    It feels somehow significant that India still prefers movies made in Bollywood and the regional versions (Tollywood, Mollywood, etc.) to dubbed Hollywood products. Ditto with music and dance. (Not to mention the food.) There has to be something going on if a country keeps producing and overwhelmingly consuming its own culture by preference.

    Maybe some of this will change as the country becomes richer and more engaged with the wider world, but I think the core of it will remain as it is. I think that the world will become more like us more than we become like the rest of the world. Is that cultural confidence or delusion? Only time will tell.

    • #14
    • May 27, 2019, at 7:46 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  15. Clavius Thatcher

    Excellent observations on this complex topic. Through work, I have spent 4 weeks a year in India over the last 8 years. Since I am traveling on business, I mostly interact with the middle class and politics don’t often come up as it is a work context. But I have seen tremendous growth economically and a spirit in people that seems to show that anyone can succeed if you work hard enough (perhaps with the help of some jugaad).

    In this election, it seems to me that the appeal to nationalism was partially a reaction to the opposition. In several states, notably West Bengal, the opposition banded together to be the anti-Modi. If you are going to oppose that sort of attack, how better to fight it than to make yourself the embodiment of the country, putting your opponents in the position of being anti-India?

    On beef, while slaughter of beef is banned in Maharashtra (the western state where Mumbai is located), you can still get beef in some restaurants.

    On language, unlike in the US or particularly France, no one cares if you mispronounced something. This makes it hard to learn the local languages, but reflects the tremendous linguistic diversity. As long as two people mostly understand each other, they don’t care about pronunciation.

    • #15
    • May 27, 2019, at 8:45 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    My business associates in India are overjoyed by the election result. 

    • #16
    • May 27, 2019, at 11:34 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. Zafar Member
    Zafar Post author

    Clavius – where do you usually go in India?

    I had heard that while it is legal to serve beef in Mumbai (or at least not specifically illegal) it is against the law to slaughter cow, bullocks or calves and also illegal to possess their meat. Which seems contradictory and an invitation to graft. Though this article reports that it depends on where the beef is sourced. Maharashtrian beef is illegal, Bengal beef is okay.

    • #17
    • May 27, 2019, at 8:36 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. Clavius Thatcher

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Clavius – where do you usually go in India?

    I had heard that while it is legal to serve beef in Mumbai (or at least not specifically illegal) it is against the law to slaughter cow, bullocks or calves and also illegal to possess their meat. Which seems contradictory and an invitation to graft. Though this article reports that it depends on where the beef is sourced. Maharashtrian beef is illegal, Bengal beef is okay.

    I always visit Mumbai and Bangalore as that is where the main teams are. We have added a team in Gandhinagar (next to Ahmedabad) so that has become a regular stop. Every 18 months I will visit Chennai. I have had two trips to Bhubaneswar. At the start of this stint, we made sure we a reason to visit Dehli so we could take a side trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Before my travel became regular, I had a business trip (these are all business trips actually) that included Pune, Hyderabad, and Kolkata.

    The one specific example of beef that I can recall in Mumbai I believe was imported from Australia. It was at the Italian restaurant in the Grand Hyatt.

    • #18
    • May 28, 2019, at 7:27 AM PDT
    • 5 likes