Modi Magic worked because the voters either did not buy those arguments or bought it only partially. What they have more fully endorsed is his clean image, his politics of non-appeasement
Five years ago, the Modi wave had flattened the Congress and most other parties opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Since then, we were told that not only had the victims been working overtime to devise strategies to overcome the reversal but that they had put in place a failsafe plan to ensure that 2014 didn’t repeat itself in 2019 through another wave. Now they cannot believe either their eyes or their ears. The wave, far from having been contained, had turned into a tsunami. A Modi blizzard, bang in the midst of summer, has all but buried a variety of rivals. If 2014 saw an unprecedented win for a party in 30 years, 2019 could give the record-keepers another data; it would be only the second time in independent India’s history that a ruling party returns to power with a bigger margin than the absolute majority it had got in the immediately preceding Lok Sabha elections.
In the course of campaigning, when BJP leaders confidently said their party would outperform its 2014 achievement, it was taken with a pinch of salt and considered a stock response. But towards the end of poll campaign, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah reiterated this confidence on repeated occasions, it was obvious that they were privy to a public mood which somehow had escaped not just the Opposition’s but also the media’s attention. When exit polls projected a clear trend in the BJP-led NDA’s favour, alarm bells began to ring in the rival camps and it dawned on the spectrum of opposition leaders that they could indeed be heading towards another round of humiliation.
The Modi magic, for all its potency, could not have had an impact on a wide scale such as the one we are witness to, but for the well-oiled party machinery which carried the message to the grassroots
There cannot be one reason for the massive mandate since a number of factors were at play. But the overarching contributor was Prime Minister Modi’s magic. That charisma worked in every state that mattered, including in those which had rejected the BJP in Assembly elections a few months ago. It helped to effectively contain the party’s losses in Uttar Pradesh where it was confronted with an (on-paper) formidable caste consolation brought about through a coalition of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, and also helped better the NDA’s already stupendous 2014 record in Bihar. The Modi magic also swung voters the BJP way in West Bengal and Odisha, the two states where the party had been working for years to gain a foothold. Additionally, it assisted the BJP to make a dramatic comeback in Karnataka where it had failed to form a government despite being the single largest party in the Assembly polls. The Modi phenomenon was evident throughout the country, barring a clutch of states in the south and Punjab in the north.
That the ‘where’. But ‘why’ did it work, despite the fact that a systematic campaign had been launched by opposition parties to corner the Modi government on job losses, agrarian distress and disruption of the economy due to demonetisation and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax? Why did the Modi magic click even though rivals had drummed it into the heads of the voters that the Prime Minister was good only at promising but was woefully short in delivering? Why did it have an impact even when the opposition camp made it known that Modi was bad for India’s secular fabric and for the prosperity of democratic values?
It worked because the voters either did not buy those arguments or bought it only partially. What they have more fully endorsed is his clean image, his politics of non-appeasement, the welfare measures his government initiated and implemented with an amount of success, his nationalistic fervour, and his muscular approach to terrorism. The Congress failed in its attempt to corner the Prime Minister on the Rafale deal — over which Congress president Rahul Gandhi called him a thief and his government corrupt. The Modi charisma struck gold also because the voters were unwilling to try out a messy combination of parties as their next government; they preferred a stable and strong regime with a powerful leader at the helm. They saw through the game plan of the regional satraps who were working hard to ensure that the verdict threw up a hung House where they could play kingmakers and matchmakers. They have had enough of the early 1990s instability.
Of course, the Modi magic, for all its potency, could not have had an impact on a wide scale such as the one we are witness to, but for the well-oiled party machinery which carried the message to the grassroots, and deft election management down to the booth level. The ground was prepared by the master strategist Amit Shah. In 2014, Shah was credited with crafting the party’s grand performance in Uttar Pradesh; this time around he expanded his activities to other parts of the country, more particularly the eastern and the north-eastern States.
Where does the 2019 result leave the Congress? It has been decimated yet again and questions will be asked of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. The party should also be introspecting if it went awfully wrong in abusing the Prime Minister, calling him all sorts of names; the ‘thief’ accusation being the mildest among them. Finally, it will have to mull over the value that the dynasty brings to its electoral politics. After all, not only has Rahul Gandhi’s leadership failed, his sister Priyanka Vadra’s intervention as the party’s general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh did little to lift the Congress’s profile in the State.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.