Election 2019 has smashed the assumption that India is a party-based parliamentary democracy. Yes, India is still notionally a multi-party system, and there indeed are pockets, especially in the south, where regional parties have held on to their suzerainty. But this hold is precarious and slipping by the minute.
An indefatigable leadership
The biggest blow to the party system has ironically been dealt by the biggest beneficiary of Thursday’s stunning verdict: the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party confounded admirers and critics alike by amassing a majority that surpassed its haul of 282 of 543 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Yet, the BJP played little role in its own gigantic victory and stood by watching with stars in its eyes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi single-handedly pulverised the Opposition in large parts of the country. It is true that India’s most powerful Prime Minister since Indira Gandhi was expertly aided at every stage of the election campaign, and in the meticulous planning that preceded it, by BJP president Amit Shah. But without Mr. Modi, there could be and would be no Mr. Shah. It was Mr. Modi’s unflagging, ever-present visage, beamed into homes day and night by an adoring TV media, that spun a seductive web into which awestruck citizens walked.
Mr. Shah had announced soon after the BJP’s 2014 victory that the Congress’s days were numbered. The slogan ‘Congress-mukt (Congress-free) Bharat’ seemed outlandish initially, but the BJP, now under an indefatigable leadership that embodied the belief that the ends justified the means, purposefully expanded its footprint, capturing previously out-of-bound territories such as the Northeast through enticements and mass defections. The Congress did show its existence from time to time by registering victories here and there.
But 2019 has proved that the externment will not be long in coming. Notionally the Congress has improved on its pathetic 2014 tally of 44 Lok Sabha seats, but the defeat of party president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi is a warning of bigger catastrophes ahead. There was no reason for Mr. Gandhi to lose: He was contesting from the bastion of the Nehru-Gandhi clan and in his recently enhanced capacity as party chief he was a potential Prime Minister. Under normal circumstances, this fact alone would have appealed to Amethi’s voters to the exclusion of other attractions.