Voting in elections is one of the most important forms of political participation in democratic countries. The voting behavior of people is based on the structure and motivations of people, performance of the government, the popularity of the leadership, policies, and programs of the party as well as the impact of socio-political institutions. India is a complex and heterogeneous society where the sociological factors like communities, religion, language, caste, communities have been playing a significant role in determining the voters’ behavior. It has been perceived that the issue of ‘national security’ played a crucial role in determining voters’ behavior in the 2019 general elections.
The rise in the voting percentage of BJP from 31 percent in 2014 to 37 percent in 2019 elections intrigued people and shaped a consensus around an expected response to Pakistan apropos the Pulwama terrorist attack. The need for robust national security unified sentiments and influenced voting behavior across the country. The presence of a strong and unifying leader in Narendra Modi further helped this unification and came to people as a rallying call.
It is noted that India’s foreign policy under Modi administration since 2014 had been aiming at strengthening national security both in terms of economic development and defense capabilities. In the first term, Modi government tried to lift the rate of economic growth, worked on economic development, infrastructure, and clean energy projects. However, it was on the national security agenda that his government delivered the most. His policy of zero tolerance on terrorism and response to Pakistan and China’s aggression against India had enhanced people’s confidence in his government.
When PM Modi formed the government in 2014, the country was grappling with serious issues like energy security, economic development, terrorism, environment and refugee problem which was transnational in character and could not be tackled by India individually. India, under PM Modi, tried to develop diplomatic relations with most of the countries in the world to boost India’s economic and strategic security. India’s Act East Policy aims at achieving both economic development and strategic security. India’s 70 percent of trade passes through the India Ocean and 35 percent of trade through Malacca straits., Therefore, India has to secure its maritime trading routes in collaboration with major powers like the US, Japan, Australia, and South-East Asian neighbors, particularly against China’s belligerent designs. India’s relations with the US and Russia aim both economic and strategic security. Russia is a global storehouse of energy; India established relations with Russia to ensure an uninterrupted supply of energy required for India’s economic development. India has developed relations with the OIC countries to ensure an adequate supply of energy. India sources 65 percent of its oil energy from West Asia. Therefore, both East Asian and West Asian security is crucial for India.
In order to deal with emerging insecurities, India established defense and strategic relations with various countries. India enjoys a special strategic partnership with Russia. In order to boost India’s defense capabilities, India had a deal with Russia worth $5 billion to acquire the S-400 defense systems, Russia’s most advanced long-range surface to air missile defense system; 7.87 billion Euro deal to purchase 36 new Rafale fighter jets; $18 billion defense deal with the US to acquire defense equipment and systems. PM Modi’s declaration of India as a space superpower on the eve of the conduct of “Mission Shakti” – an anti-satellite missile test (ASAT) was status-centric and boosted the morale of Indian voters vis-à-vis national security.
Apart from strengthening its defense capabilities, there was a shift in India’s strategy to deal with Pakistan sponsored terrorism. Earlier, India had followed a soft policy to deal with its neighbors like China and Pakistan. In response to Pak sponsored terrorism in Uri (2016) and in Pulwama (2019), India carried out surgical strikes on terrorist camps across the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) borders which marked a shift in India’s strategy to deal with cross border terrorism more firmly and decisively. India also dealt with China in the Doklam issue firmly. Pakistan’s failure and passivity to deal with India’s response strengthened Modi Government’s national security credentials. The social and electronic media played a significant role in delivering Modi’s national security message to people in villages in rural India and unified people’s sentiment around the re-election of a strong leader at the helm.
The demographic dividend is also one of the reasons that is changing the voting behavior pattern in India and played a crucial role in the 2019 elections. About 60 percent of India’s population ranging between age 15-59 constitutes the working class which primarily influences the voting pattern. The national security considerations are one of the significant determinants of the voting behavior of Indian youth. In these changing times and circumstances, the youth tends to vote based on its own perceptions and understanding than on the voting legacy in a traditional family or political inclination of family or friends. Majority of Indians irrespective of religion, caste, language, community, and other differences wanted the Indian government to respond to Pakistan’s state-sponsored terrorism. India’s air force attack on Balkot re-affirmed Indians’ belief in Modi and his strong leadership to keep the country safe. People started believing in him- “Modi hai toh mumkin hai” became a popular saying. People started perceiving him as a protector of the country, the word “chowkidar” became a buzzword in public and on social media. People started believing that India will be a superpower if Modi continues in the leading position. The negative publicity by the Congress Party against PM Modi on the defense issues like Rafale and Airstrike on Balakot, on the contrary, led to the weakening of in its own credibility in public.
*** The author is an Associate Professor at Satyawati College, Delhi University ***