If 2014 marked the rise of a new leader in the country, 2019 will be remembered for ideological goals achieved by the BJP. The eventful year marked newer highs for the 39-year-old party, and some fresh challenges as it enters 2020.
The stunning victory in the general elections—Narendra Modi rode pro-incumbency wave to get 303 seats—armed the saffron party to achieve more in a span of just six months, than in its previous term, particularly on its ideological agenda. Be it removal of Article 370, banning of triple talaq, passing of Citizenship Amendment Act or getting a favourable verdict from the apex court on Ram temple, the 2019 saw it all. As the year ends, the agitation and subsequent violence over Citizenship law has polarised the society.
The distinctive feature of the year 2019 was the rise of Amit Shah and him stamping authority as a home minister. Modi let him hog the limelight as Shah abrogated Article 370, the 72-year-old legacy of the Nehruvian era that made possible for Kashmir to stay with India. The opposition parties either caved in supporting the legislation, or accepted it with a whimper of protest. A new map of India had to be drawn after this step. Shah even steered a polarising Citizenship Bill in the parliament.
Modi-Shah combine's forceful management saw all the bills getting passed in parliament even though the BJP did not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha.
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Another key takeaway of the 2019 was the way people voted during the national and state elections. The BJP comprehensively won Lok Sabha elections, but lost five states in a span of just one year. As one state after another slipped away, it brought out the challenge the saffron party now faces. People voted for Modi in Lok Sabha, but looked at regional alternatives to the party. As the party's seats dipped in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, it showed that the bread and butter issues dominated people's mind, and the electorate credited the saffron party for national issues in the parliament elections.
These assembly elections showed that dominant group in the states looked at BJP's alternative—be it in Haryana, Maharashtra or Jharkhand—as the party had experimented with picking up chief ministers from non-dominant castes.
The economic slowdown posed a big headache to the government and the party. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took several confidence boosting steps to increase demand and consumption. The results of these steps are yet to reflect in numbers. This slowdown in economy, accompanied with job loss, poor revenues and less business, will continue to be a big challenge for the government and the party.
Despite the twin challenges—debacle in state polls and economic slowdown—the BJP's success was the greater acceptance of its ideological agenda. The majority in the country supported the government on the Kashmir and Ayodhya issues. However, it is the continuance of the same ideological agenda that has now led to agitation across the country.
The polarising debate over the amended citizenship law and national roll out of NRC is what can cause harm to the party as the opposition partis are united against them. Though the citizenship debate, centered around the religion, is an ideological goal for BJP's core voters, it has also given an ideological agenda for the opposition to take on the ruling party.
What was missing from the opposition campaign was a singular idea through which it can seize the narrative. Can Citizenship issue provide the Congress-led opposition with ammunition? The opposition is alleging that the new legislation is an assault on the Constitution.
The BJP is relying on its tested tool of shaping public opinion by going to the people. The saffron party has launched a campaign to “educate” the people on the CAA. The eruption of protests across the country with students and intelligentsia jumping in the fray along with Muslims can be a worrying factor for the government.
The challenges of economic slowdown and polarisation over the citizenship issue will be tested realtime during the assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar due in 2020.
The party will also get a new chief in J.P. Nadda. The mild-mannered leader from Himachal Pradesh, who is known for his organisational skills, will be under a lot of pressure to sustain party's growth as it saw under Shah.