After a quarter of century of fractured mandates — from the Lok Sabha election of 1989 to that of 2009 — when coalition governments became the norm and management of coalitions the test of political skill, the results of the hard-fought 2014 Lok Sabha polls show that the people have gone back to the old paradigm of a single dominant party. The BJP has emerged not just the single largest party — which has been the norm of electoral success through the 1990s and the first decade of 21st century — but it has crossed the magical 272 which enables it to form a government on its own without looking over its shoulder to allies. Though BJP leaders have assured in the last few days that even if the party is in a position to form government on its own, it will take allies along the way and that it would even accept new allies.
The regional parties outside the Hindi heartland are still holding out in their fortresses like the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, BJD in Odisha and TMC in West Bengal, TDP in Seemandhra and TRC in Telangana. In UP and Bihar, the heart of the cow-belt, the regional parties have lost their sheen and clout. In UP, SP has been marginalised, BSP has been decimated, and in Bihar, both JD (U) and RJD have bitten the dust. This does not point to the reduction of the polity to a two-party system which is what the BJP and Congress desire. The regional parties, who are not willing to belong to either the BJP-led NDA or the Congress-led UPA, are likely to hold their ground.
The other important change is in the nature of politics. India’s parliamentary democracy has come a long way from the left-of-centre with its socialist rhetoric and welfare programmes of the Congress to the right-of-centre BJP with its market-friendliness and state paternalism. The more familiar paradigm of secular Congress versus the communal BJP has lost its credibility in this election. The problem however simmers as the sporadic communal clashes in Kokrajhar in Assam, Meerut in Uttar Pradesh and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh have shown. But the issue has lost its ideological edge.
There is room for the debate whether the kind of right-wing nationalism that the BJP and its ideological mentor, the RSS, champion would undermine the cosmopolitan strand in Indian society. The BJP defends its version of nationalism and argues that it has nothing to do with religion. Sceptics and detractors are not convinced. The debate will continue and it will remain inconclusive. It should neither be silenced nor should it drown out every other debate.
Modi has succeeded to a great extent to focus on development as the campaign theme. Congress and other parties had failed to engage Modi on this issue. There is now the need for others to keep BJP and Modi in power on their feet over development. It will make political debate meaningful and relevant.
The verdict of this election should also bring to an end Modi demonology on the one hand and Modi eulogies on the other. The new prime minister is neither an angel nor a demon. The need is to judge him as an elected politician for his acts of omission and commission, give praise where it is due and unsparing criticism where it is necessary. It is true that Modi has won the election for BJP, but he should not remain the focus anymore. It is time to get back to work and keep the country going.