From 1947-1964, Congress won almost every election on very name of Jawaharlal Nehru and by virtue of being the freedom party. After it started facing losses 1966 onwards, it adopted the politics of caste, religion and socialism. That’s how things stayed till 1998.
From 1998, Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna and Andhra Pradesh N Chandrababu Naidu put forward the politics of development and good governance but were (sadly) soundly thrashed in 2004.
After that Sonia Gandhi brought back the politics of caste, religion and socialism from 2004-14. While in 2009 it seemed that this politics would continue as Congress would win in 2014, the winds of change probably started in 2012.
In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh elections, Akhilesh Yadav came like a breath of fresh air. He took a cycle yatra and promised development and seemed totally divorced from the caste-religion politics of father Mulayam and rival Mayawati.
While most opinion and exit polls talked of a hung Assembly, the people of Uttar Pradesh voted decisively and the SP got a solid mandate. It was crystal clear that the citizens of the State were totally enamoured with Akhilesh’s development talk. They expected him to begin on a clean slate.
In 2013, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi became election campaign chief and probably launched a strategy which could be called development on steroids. The results were spectacular and the BJP won the State elections big time. In the same year they lost Karnataka for totally failing to live up to their good governance promises.
In the 2014 elections, Modi kept caste and religion talk to a bare minimum and stressed only of transforming India into an economic powerhouse. Thanks to that the country got its first 272+ Lok Sabha mandate since 1984.
In the 2014 State elections history was created when the BJP got its first Chief Minister in both Maharashtra and Haryana along with a Deputy CM in Jammu & Kashmir. Chhattisgarh also got its first clear mandate. It was development and good governance expectations all the way.
While 2015 seemed a setback for the BJP, it wasn’t for development politics. Nitish Kumar was one of the best Chief Ministers Bihar had seen in decades. Arvind Kejriwal on the other hand promised things like WiFi along with power and electoral reforms.
In 2016 the BJP stormed the bastion of Assam in the North East in the name of (again) development. In Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa broke the “alternating regime” jinx with her road, industry and power reforms. There are not that many alternatives in Communist States like West Bengal and Kerala and the script there didn’t differ much there though.
But 2017 went forward with the development narrative. There has not been any serious effort to remove deep rooted corruption in India. #Demonetization was the first such move. It caused great inconvenience to the people of India.
People stood in various queues for hours on end. The RBI and banks came out with one goof-up after the other. ATM machines were slow to be updated. Rules kept changing. People couldn’t get change for Rs 2000. Smaller currencies were in short supply. Some of the poor suffered. But instead of punishing Modi, the people of India appreciated the bold move and the BJP won one civic election after another and it culminated in the stunning landslides in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Incidentally Akhilesh was hoisted by his own petard when he totally failed to deliver on his 2012 promises and got totally wiped out.
The same thing may have happened to Arvind Kejriwal. After the SAD governance broke down in Punjab, the AAP had a chance. But their total lack of success in New Delhi let them down. The people voted for Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress, whom they felt was best suited to deliver the goods in Punjab. That’s why the AAP drew a blank in Goa too.
So looks like development politics is finally here to stay. Hardly anyone is alive who was around in 1947 to see India’s Independence and vote for Congress solely because of that. Those growing up in the 1990s saw what damage the divisive Mandal Commission agitation did to the fabric of the nation. The BJP could not carry the Ram Mandir plank to the new millennium as their losses in 2004 and 2009 showed.
In fact they had a spectacular revival in the 2010s thanks to Modi’s non-stop talk of development and good governance.
Social media also played a big role. Traditional media has been absolutely obsessed with caste and religion. They keep having communal and caste-based polls, analyses and panel discussions. Newspapers and TV channels openly promote casteist politicians like Lalu Prasad Yadav.
The mobile revolution has ensured that this information is in the hands of almost everyone in India. The whole debate has changed. The aspirations have changed. Today’s youth don’t give a hoot to caste and religion. Just look at Mayawati.
Mobiles. Roads. Amenities. Jobs... These are the kinds of things that click now and appetites have been whetted. Voters finally want their politicians to focus on development and good governance and will readily give them the boot if they fall short.
That’s another reason why the political dynasty is also on the decline and you can no longer ask votes on the basis of a family name.
Modi has correctly gauged the mood the the nation and hence is reaping benefits upon benefits. It’s time the Opposition realizes the same or else they will hand Modi 2019 on a silver platter.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here