• Saturday, August 02, 2014

Disaggregating the Modi phenomenon

Smruti S Pattanaik

BJP'S massive landslide victory, the biggest in the last three decades for any party, has generated a hope of stability and a strong government that will provide a fillip to the much-awaited economic growth, and lowering of inflation and price rise. BJP's stunning victory, the most spectacular since its birth, made as much news as the devastating Congress defeat, the worst since independence. In ten states Congress could not even win a single seat, and in others it managed single digit victory, winning a total of 44 seats. There is still some doubt whether Congress would be recognised as the main opposition party since it won less than 10% of the seats.
What accounts for BJP's massive win and Congress' loss? Is it communal polarisation? Is it touching of a chord with popular aspiration, especially that of the new generation? In spite of the acrimonious election campaign, with diatribes, personal attacks, communal and caste remarks, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, many in India are looking forward to this government with a lot of hope. Ab ache din annay wala hai (good time is going to come now), as the tag line of the BJP promised.
While the Congress and some other parties drew an ideological battle line, projecting Modi as divisive and BJP as communal, they could not make much of a dent in his popular appeal or cut much ice with the large middle class, and especially the 100 million new voters. The last five years of Congress rule had been marked by massive corruption, scams, price rise, inflation and a visible policy paralysis, which exasperated the people who looked for a change, and for a party that embodies that aspiration. BJP cashed on this aspiration for change and hope. For many of the voters, Modi's past did not matter, even though the opposition kept on harping on his role in Gujarat riot after Supreme Court acquitted him. What mattered to common men is what he has to offer to them in the future. Abki bar Modi sarkar caught people's imagination, so also his appeal to give him at least a chance.
Modi's engaging style of campaign, his confidence, his leadership in rallying the BJP around him worked for the party that wanted to project him as a strong leader who can bring effective change and a vision that would embody aspiration of the new and old voters. Compare this with Rahul Gandhi, who was the main campaigner and a prime ministerial hopeful. He looked under-confident, lacked clarity of thought and there was hardly much that he could showcase as achievements. The corruption scandals were weighing heavily on the party in spite of having one of the cleanest prime ministers at the helm.
The complete dependence on the Gandhi family also did not speak much for the government. Congress had nothing new to offer, especially after a disastrous UPA II. Contrastingly, Modi, coming from a humble background, turned Congress' description of him as chaiwala to his political advantage and emphasised his underprivileged status to became the new Aam Admi. His reference to Congress as maa-beta (mother-son) party brought to the election platform the dynastic inheritance of the Congress party. Moreover, the frequent media reports on how the Congress Party chairperson controlled the real decision making made many emphasise why this duality had to be ended -- the power and accountability equation in the UPA II.
BJP's victory cannot be attributed to communal polarisation, though the election campaign degenerated to some extent to that in UP and Bihar where other parties like the Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) played on Hindu-Muslim divide to get support from the minority communities. It needs to be underlined that the Sankaracharyas of Puri and Dwaraka were opposed to Modi.
In Assam and Bengal the issue of illegal migration paid BJP electoral dividends because there exist anti-immigration sentiments, especially in Assam. This communal polarisation also helped parties like the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), formed in 2005, which has its support base among the Bengali Muslim population. It won 3 seats in lower Assam compared to the one in 2009. In Bengal, the votes were also polarised where the Trinamool Congress (TMC) appealed to its minority support base while BJP played on illegal immigration issue. It managed 2 seats in Bengal where it had no electoral presence.


However, it needs to be mentioned that communal polarisation helped the Party to some extent in the Hindi heartland, where the Muslim votes were divided among the parties opposed to the BJP. Elsewhere in the country, local issues dominated the discourse. In most of the North Eastern states, except for Mizoram and Nagaland, the Party gained a presence where it was non-existent earlier. The political marginalisation of Aam Admi Party (AAP), which at one point of time was considered a serious contender, also helped the BJP. The AAP mostly made a dent in the Congress support base as is illustrated by the vote share it secured in Delhi.
The election saw 66.38% voter turnout, the highest by far. BJP's 31.1% vote won the party 282 seats of its own and 336 as part of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It needs to build confidence among the minorities, which was eroded by speeches made by senior party members even though Modi condemned them. The RSS General Secretary said: “The new government should treat the 125 crore people of the country as equal and without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion…”
Given the pluralistic culture of India, one hopes that the polarisation that one witnessed in a few states was election maneuver and will not be reflected in the policies and programmes that the government is going to formulate to revive the economy, provide jobs to the youth and a stable government that has remained elusive for the past many years. Good governance continues to remain a key issue for any electoral victory, and not communal politics. The victory of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) for the fourth time in the assembly elections in Odisha and the electoral success of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu where it decimated the opposition political parties indicate that it is not just communal polarisation that can garner electoral success. Not all of Modi voters subscribe to the party's Hindutva agenda. People look much beyond it. BJP, in fact, has promised that. As Modi said: “Give me 60 months and I will change your life.” It is now time for the Party to deliver.

The writer is Research Fellow, Institute of Defence Studies & Analysis, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the writer.

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2014

TAGS: Congress Indian election Narendra Modi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

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