At the start of this election season, it seemed evident that the question nearly everyone wanted answered was simple: will the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi return to power? The answer is an emphatic yes.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is on course to improve its results from 2014, when it won 336 seats. As of 1.30 pm, the NDA was leading in 338 seats, with the BJP on course to win 286 – four more than in 2014.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is, as of the same time, expected to not even get three digits, with leads in just 91 seats. While this is better than the woeful 60 it managed in 2014, it doesn’t come close to being a player in Parliament.
Other parties account for 113 seats, but even they will be dismayed since in West Bengal, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, anti-BJP parties have not been able to make the mark they were hoping to.
In sum, this is a massive victory, one that confirms that 2014 was not simply anti-incumbency against the scam-tainted Congress-led government at the time. The BJP is by far the most influential political force of the current era.
One of the key aspects of its 2014 was the fact that, despite the BJP getting the first majority of any party in the Indian Parliament in 30 years, most of its seats came from a handful of North Indian parties.
Rahul Verma and Pradeep K Chhibber explain this in their book, Ideology and Identity:
“The BJP alone won approximately a 44% vote share and 190 seats of the 225 seats in the Hindi-speaking states... In contrast, in non-Hindi speaking states, the BJP won only 22% of the votes and 92 of 318 seats.”
Although we will have to wait later in the day to know what the final numbers are, it is clear that this will no longer be true. The BJP is not confined to the Hindi states any more.
The party has used the immense popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to expand to new territory, even though it may not have the local leadership to run the organisation there.
Over the last four years it has already proven to be the dominant player in the North East, either directly or through alliances.
Trends make it clear that the BJP is the second-biggest player in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha, where the saffron party now has a significant presence at the Lok Sabha level and can expect to eventually compete at the assembly level too.
This leaves the South. But even here, the BJP has doubled down on its performance in Karnataka. It won 17 seats in the state in 2014, and is leading now in 23 of the 28 seats there.
And just months after Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao swept the assembly elections, the BJP has somehow managed to get to leads in six of Telangana’s 17 Lok Sabha seats, though that number may yet change. Its vote share in the state is 18%.
The BJP doesn’t look likely to win any seats in Kerala, and yet it has managed to put together a vote share of 12% according to votes counted so far, which means it is more than the difference between the two principal alliances, run by the Congress and the Left, in the state.
Only in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu is the BJP truly a bit player.
Meanwhile, the leads also suggest it has expanded its voter base in the North India states, which it swept in 2014.
‘Hindian’ party no more
This is a remarkable achievement for a party that was once considered a “Hindian” party. It will now have representation from every section of the country, not just the Hindi belt. It is likely that the BJP will take this result as a cue to expand even further, using the formula it applied to West Bengal and Odisha to push into Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh as well.
Meanwhile, the massive mandate and the likelihood of taking control of the Rajya Sabha by next year means that the party can even hope to make fundamental changes to India’s laws and even its Constitution.
It is now clear that India has decisively shifted to the Right in the last decade. What that will mean for the country remains to be seen.