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Election 2014 - What killed cock robin?

Source : BUSINESS_STANDARD
Last Updated: Fri, May 16, 2014 22:30 hrs
​Now, Narendra Modi on your dinner table

The Congress has been decisively defeated by a man who did it without the help of a dynasty or coalition cabal that chose him as the least unacceptable candidate. But that said, it is useful to remember a fact that everyone appears to have forgotten. This is that after 1971, no party has been given a third term consecutively at the Centre. That is why this defeat was decided on May 16, 2009. The only issue thereafter was the reasons for defeat, and who would replace the Congress.

In the zillion trillion billion words that have been spoken and written about this election, so-called experts have adduced a wide range of reasons for why the Congress/United Progressive Alliance's (UPA's) goose would be, and has been, cooked. In the end, though, it is the Occam's Razor principle to which we should turn to find the main explanatory variable.



This principle says that the simplest explanation always works the best. In the instant case, when all the over-analysing is done, it is inflation that decimated the Congress. It affected everyone, regardless of class, caste and religion. This is what explains the scale of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) victory. The rest is detail. No central government could have hoped to survive the halving of incomes since 2009 and the huge increase in expenditure on food and transport. Consumer prices rose by almost 65 per cent since 2010. That alone was enough.

Before we move on to the question of who would replace the Congress - the BJP/NDA or a third front - it is also useful to remind readers of two other facts. One, in the 2004 election the difference in the number of seats won by the Congress and the BJP was just nine. If you look at the margins in these nine seats, the Congress won each of them by fewer than 3,500 votes. That means the election could very easily have gone the other way.

As far as the NDA was concerned in the 2004 election, therefore, it wasn't so much the difference between the BJP and the Congress as the difference between the seats won by the allies. What cost the NDA the election in 2004 was the seats lost by the Telugu Desam Party and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, not the BJP.

In 2009, the Congress won because between 2007 and 2009 it pumped in over Rs 5 lakh crore into farmers' pockets by way of subsidies, loan waivers, and so on. It was pure and simple bribery. And the reason the BJP lost was that L K Advani, who was in charge of ticket distribution, made such faulty decisions that the party could win only 118 seats. The BJP's vote share amply reflected this.

Turning now to who would replace the Congress/UPA, the BJP was, therefore (I emphasise therefore), always in an excellent position. All it needed to do was to replace its leadership with a more dynamic, younger and modern lot. Here, Narendra Modi won hands-down because he saw the opportunity very early on.

When he started feeling his way, he immediately came up against resistance from the old guard. That battle was fought in 2012, when, as I wrote in an article then, it became Narendra Modi versus BJP versus NDA. But Mr Modi became unstoppable because by then he had won the support of corporate India. In April-May that year, I met over a dozen owners of corporations, all of whom without exception said they wanted Mr Modi to be prime minister.

Over the next 12 months, Mr Modi made absolutely sure that this message was received loud and clear by the party. And the message was clear: no Narendra Modi, no money. After that, anointing him first as the campaign chairman and then as the prime ministerial candidate was a mere formality.

With the back-end taken care of, Mr Modi still had to fix the front end. For this, he turned to his old mentors, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whom he had effectively reduced to zero in Gujarat since 2003. The RSS for its part saw in Mr Modi its last chance to remain relevant in politics. It poured all its resources of manpower into his campaign.

The Congress helped in perfecting this confluence of circumstances favourable to the BJP and Mr Modi by simply giving up, and then asking Rahul Gandhi to lead their campaign. It had neither the money nor the will nor the leadership to win.

As to the regional parties, in the last several general elections, they have never won less than 175 seats between them. But given that the largest among them are led by three very mercurial ladies, a Third Front government was never really on the cards.

Mr Modi now needs to get down to business. The list of problems that he has to solve is daunting. He will, therefore, have to prioritise, starting with bringing down food inflation.

This has to be his overriding objective in the next six months. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, nothing else will yield him sustainable political and economic dividends as this will. He must not forget that it was inflation that brought Indira Gandhi, the Janata Party and Rajiv Gandhi to their knees after their overwhelming victories in 1971, 1977 and 1984 respectively.

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