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The Narendra Modi factor

Published : 26 Apr 2019 08:11 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 02:43 AM

It’s always difficult to get the hang of elections in India, given the country’s size and diversity, as also people’s reluctance to reveal their mind. More so for this general election, as there are contradictory trends in evidence.
On the one hand, when you go into the field, you find a discernible undercurrent for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Talk to ordinary people – and this is not just limited to cities and the middle class but also in villages and amongst the poor – and many ordinary folk tell you they are “voting Modi”. They neither mention BJP nor refer to the government.
People bemoaned the lack of livelihood in an interior village in Tonk district, and agreed that Modi had not created the jobs he had promised, but eight out of ten said they would vote Modi. Why? Because all parties are the same as far as job creation goes. And national security is important to them.
The poor and the “ati-pichda” (EBCs) in Bihar’s Hajipur district said Modi is “garib ka sahara” and spoke about the “har ghar bijlee” which has become a reality in Bihar. Or the “awas” some of them had got or the “shauchalays” built for them. My taxi driver in Mumbai hadn’t bothered to find out the names of the contestants in his constituency for he knew who he was opting for – “Modi”. The youth – there are 1.5 crore first time voters this time – appeared to be attracted to him because “desh ka naam ooncha kiya”.
There was a uniform thread running through the reasons they advance for preferring him. “He is the only real leader since Indira Gandhi.” “He is strong and able to take risks.” “He struck deep into Pakistan, and gave it back to them.” They may be happy or dissatisfied but they wanted to “give him one more term”. “You don’t after all build a house overnight, it takes time.” In other words, mistakes notwithstanding, they did not doubt his intentions – “to do good”. And then, they posed the counter-question, “Tell us, who is there on the other side?”
Modi has successfully managed to establish a direct relationship with the masses which goes beyond the party, something Indira Gandhi had done at the peak of her career. She didn’t need Congress; Congress needed her. Possibly the most controversial prime minister India has ever had, Modi is the central issue in election 2019.
Pro-Modi sentiment doesn’t prevail across the board – it’s more apparent in the Hindi heartland and in west India. Opinion is also polarised along geographic, caste and religious lines.
In UP, the Modi sentiment is reined in by the SP-BSP-RLD mahagathbandhan. It’s brought together Muslims and Jatavs (Mayawati’s caste), angered by violence against them, as well as Yadavs, alienated by BJP. These groups aren’t small in numbers. Their first meeting in Deoband showed that the Muslim and Dalit were as openly enthusiastic about the MGB as upper and extremely backward castes were for Modi.
Apart from the gathbandhans in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Karnataka in varying degrees of effectiveness – in Maharashtra and Bihar they could have done better – it is the “south” which may keep BJP short of a majority. And southern satraps may well play a significant role in national politics in months ahead. Even if BJP marginally increases its figure in Karnataka, given the Lingayat consolidation that has taken place in its favour, the south is not likely to add much to BJP’s overall tally.
And therein lies the rub. BJP’s tally in the Hindi heartland and west India is likely to come down, given that it had a 100% or 90% strike rate in 2014 in eight of these states – even if you factor in the undercurrent for Modi. If we assume a decline of say around five seats each in Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Bihar – it would mean a loss of around 35-40 seats. Going by the first three phases of polling, there could be a slide of 30-35 seats in UP.
BJP will make up some in Bengal and Odisha, where it has made an all out bid to increase its footprint, but this is not likely to compensate for its expected losses elsewhere. Given the strong reaction to the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the north-east, there is unlikely to be an accretion in its numbers there.
Even as there are two sides to the 2019 story, Modi has a clear advantage because he still enjoys immense goodwill. And he has all the resources at his command to take his message far and wide. The opposition is neither as united as it could have been, nor endowed, nor has it displayed that kind of energy or determination. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra decided to enter active politics but it is as if she has held herself back for some reason.
Not leaving any stone unturned, BJP is now going back to its tried and tested formula of polarising the discourse along Hindu-Muslim lines in the penultimate rounds. Hence, the decision to field terror accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur from Bhopal against Digvijaya Singh.
Having said this, there is always the possibility of under-reading the opposition to Modi which may just be silent, whereas his supporters are loud. Or for that matter, under-reading the support for Modi which may be more than seen, and not captured adequately in virgin areas.
At the time of writing, 2019 seems to be going the Modi way, but with a caveat.
Courtesy: Times of India