How Narendra Modi changed the rules of the game
After decades of coalition politics, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won the distinction of being the first single party that has been able to come to power on its own since 1984.
What a verdict it has been for the General Elections 2014! India has spoken out loud and clear. After decades of coalition politics, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won the distinction of being the first single party that has been able to come to power on its own since 1984. It is also the first time that a non-Congress party has achieved such a feat since Independence.
The Indian map has been painted with a brush of saffron. Two of the country’s biggest cities – the national capital and the business hub, Delhi and Mumbai -- have handed all their seats to BJP. The party has also got a clean sweep in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and, of course, Gujarat.
The real success story has been the way BJP has crafted its return in Uttar Pradesh and also Bihar. But it is not such a surprise, really. Amit Shah had meticulously plotted the party’s resurgence in UP, constituency by constituency, candidate by candidate, and caste by caste. As per reports in a leading paper, Shah followed a three-pronged strategy. Candidates who had been losing were not given tickets, whatever their clout – perhaps a reason why a senior leader like Murli Manohar Joshi was also moved out, given that he was losing his grasp on Varanasi.
Second, the idea was to target eastern UP – the reason why Modi was fielded from the ancient city of Benaras. That would help the BJP spread its influence in Purvanchal and also make a dent in Bihar. Varanasi was not just a symbolic seat of Hindutva; making inroads into western Bihar by way of proximity to the constituency would have hurt bête noire Nitish Kumar, who has now been made to bite dust in Bihar, just as Mayawati’s BSP has in UP.
The third and a very important spoke of the scheme was to crack the delicate caste code in Uttar Pradesh. Traditionally, BJP has only targeted the upper caste votebank, but this time it wanted to move beyond Brahmins and grab the full pie including Dalits, OBCs, Muslims and Yadavs - communities which have mostly voted for Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and even Congress. Modi’s own OBC status because of his Ghanchi community was showcased to the hilt.
This was followed by a blitzkrieg of campaigning. The man in question was pushed into a super human effort of addressing nearly 500 rallies, attending 5200 events and travelling 3 lakh kilometres across 25 states. Add to this a humungous social media push and telephoney ads, the effort combined helped the party reach 230 million people across India – an unprecedented figure.
The Modi brand was marketed to make the entire parliamentary campaign turn into a presidential sort of election.
Despite their best efforts, Congress in contrast covered only one-third the distance and managed only 13.3 million direct interactions, as per research data of a magazine.
It is no wonder then that Congress has got its worst drubbing in post-Independence history, far worse than its previous worst of 114 seats in 1998. Congress would end with a shocking under-50 seats tally and its lowest vote share ever. Normally, a Leader of Opposition needs to belong to a party that has at least one-tenth of seats of the entire size of Lok Sabha, a criterion which Congress may not be able to meet. Nothing could be more humiliating. Rightly so, and for once, both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul have accepted full responsibility for the debacle.
Congress was not just facing a double anti-incumbency amidst a slew of scam charges and spiralling prices, Rahul Gandhi just did not fit in as a credible alternative to Modi to lead the government. His personal style seemed sometimes arrogant – at least in the way he treated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – and sometimes wet behind his ears, in the way he came across in an interview to a leading journalist.
BJP seized every opportunity to show Rahul in poor light and Modi purposely gave a string of interviews positioning himself as decisive and formidable. He side-stepped crucial questions like those on snoopgate and one regarding why tainted ministers like Purshottam Solanki and Babu Bhokahiria found place in his cabinet. Especially when speaking with the same journalist who had put Rahul on the mat, he was condescending, even sneering – this was most likely done to bring out a contrast with the interviewer vis-a-vis Gandhi. Sometimes, he even crossed the line, telling the interviewer his mind was filled with ‘gand’ (filth), but even that seemed to show his superiority.
Modi, not only exploited his “aam admi” chai-wala credentials to the fullest, his campaigning style was one that held maximum appeal for the lower economic classes.
Not all in his style and speech befitted a PM candidate; one only hopes that it was meant just to win elections. Sadly, the mud-slinging and below the belt tactics were adopted by all parties across the board, bringing down the level of discourse in our democracy by several notches this time.
Meanwhile, the other stars of 2014 elections have been Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee, who has reduced Left to about 2 seats and AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa, who has nearly swept Tamil Nadu, where DMK has drawn a blank. Naveen Patnaik also pulled off a spectacular show, winning 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats as well as gaining an absolute majority in the Odisha Assembly.
National Conference ended the day with a zero in Jammu & Kashmir, while NCP-Congress combine has been routed in Maharasthra.
Besides the fact that Modi will be the next prime minister of India, his convincing victory will also crush internal dissent in the party, especially the challenges that the old guard could have posed.
As the verdict spells out today, we see how long a personal journey it has been for Narendra Modi. From the bylanes of Vadnagar to RSS Headquarters in Vadodara to CM house in Ahmedabad and now 7, Race Course Road in New Delhi. Incidentally, the first time he was at PM`s residence was on August 18, 2001, when he had got Atal Bihari Vajpayee to unveil his book on his mentor Lakshmanrao Inamdar, popularly known as Vakil Sahib. He was the only man Modi is believed to have wholly trusted and turned to in his every hour of need. Today, in his most glorious hour of triumph, if there is someone whose remembrance would have made Modi’s eyes moist, it would have been Vakil Sahib.
Recently, I had read that driving through Trafalgar Square just ahead of 1979 general elections in the United Kingdom, Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan had said to his associate Bernard Donoughue, "Sometimes it does not matter what you say or do, there is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves. I suspect there is now such a sea change, and it is for Mrs Thatcher."
The sentiment has echoed in toto in India in 2014 in favour of Narendra Modi. The people of India wanted change and they have voted definitively.
Modi has come to power with a clear mandate on the promise of change and development. He had symbolically relegated Article 370 and Ram Temple to the last page of the BJP`s manifesto. After five years, he should not be uttering Barack Obama’s words at White House Correspondents’ Dinner: “Change is Here” turned into “Ctrl+Alt+Del” by the second tenure. This may make a good party joke, but is a sad narrative of Obama’s abysmal performance.
One hopes the same fate does not await us and Modi lives up to his words and delivers all that he has promised. At least, for India’s sake.