Modi effects paradigm shift

Modi effects paradigm shift

When the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party workers told a Congress leader in his eastern Uttar Pradesh village during one of those free wheeling conversations that take place as people gather at the chaupal (meeting place) in the evening that “this time we will try Narendra Modi”, his party colleagues in Delhi dismissed it.

But this is precisely what has happened, and it happened not just in that village but all over UP, and large parts of India in the general election of 2014. 

The BJP mopped up a whopping and unprecedented 71 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh-- and 42.3 per cent of the vote share—in a state which has relied for the last 25 years on caste as the determinant for party loyalty and poll victory. But the caste-dictated Mandal model, which fashioned Indian politics in  the last quarter of century, throwing up state satraps like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar etc, is now cracking up, for what we have just seen is an aspirational election, with far- reaching consequences for the country’s politics.

Many strains added up to Verdict 2014 but its centrepiece was the issue of  leadership. People have voted for Narendra Modi as a leader who they thought could deliver, and they wanted to give him a chance. They made the point time and again, and in different parts of India, that they were voting for “Modi”, “not the BJP”.Unbridled prices, growing economic hardships, mega scandals, the prime minister’s failure to respond, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s indifferent health and her son Rahul Gandhi’s on-and-off political involvement, and unwillingness to go beyond the party’s vice presidentship till the end by which time the game was up--all this created a climate of uncertainty about the future, with people yearning for a leader who could take charge. Vote 2014 was, therefore, all about India’s response to a crisis of leadership which had engulfed the country in the last five years.

The ground was fertile and ready for Modi, with his decisive-leader image sported over a period in Gujarat, to step in. The rest is the story of his preparation, of going for the bull’s eye, sheer hard work, for which he is known, addressing over 450 rallies around the country in the last 8 months, mounting a slick and tech and net-savvy campaign-which ad gurus the world over will study in the years to come. All this done with 100 per cent corporate support.

Uttar Pradesh has been critical for giving him the comfort level and the free hand he will now enjoy. The choice of his confidante Amit Shah to craft the UP strategy paid dividends, as he brought incredible energy into the campaign, though  “What does a Gujarati know about UP” was the sentiment expressed  at the time by many, including those in BJP. But Shah, no matter what position he holds, calibrated a campaign using “development”, “governance and strong leadership” in the initial phases, then  playing the OBC (Other Backward Classes) card and the possibility of the first OBC prime minister taking over (Modi belongs to Ganchi caste, OBC in Gujarat), and finally banking on the Hindu-Muslim polarisation which grew as the campaign proceeded.  The decision to contest from Hindu pilgrim centre Varanasi helped too. Modi is expected to retain his Varanasi seat and give up Vadodara from where too he has won.  

Pan-India support

India will now see a paradigm shift in its politics, with the rightwing BJP becoming a pan India party for the first time, replacing the 128 year old Congress.  Modi, the doer, is coming to power with a 15 year plan in mind—he gave a hint of this in his post victory speeches Saturday--and will want to spread his wings in different states.  He will want to retain his advantage in UP, where elections are due in 2017, given that SP chieftain Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Congress were confined to their family pocketboroughs and BSP’s Mayawati did not even open her account in a state which she had ruled from 2007-12 on her own, indicating that a chunk of the Dalit vote has moved to the BJP. 

Bihar, where elections are due next year but could take place earlier along with those in Haryana and Maharashtra this year-end  if the Nitish Kumar government caves in (he has since resigned) will be another catchment area for the BJP. Clearly, a section of the Dalits, Kurmis, Yadavs, and extremely backward castes, in addition to the upper castes, and middle classes,  have  gravitated to the BJP, particularly the young,  as they now look for delivery on the substantive issues of jobs and economic wellbeing. The BJP can be expected also to focus on Assam, West Bengal and Odisha, where it got more than a toehold, both in terms of seats and the vote share it has mopped up. 

This is the first time since 1984, when the Congress notched up an impressive 414 seats, following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, that there is a one party government at the Centre, which should make for political stability, heralding, at least for the time being, an end to coalition government at the national level. Though it will be an NDA government, the BJP’s allies—existing ones and others who may decide to support the government so that it has a majority in the Rajya Sabha to pass crucial legislations including those related to economic reform—will  not be in a position to blackmail the government, as had happened in the UPA.

Narendra Modi’s runaway victory has also made him invincible in his own party. He can now move ahead on his agenda, take decisions, and deliver, as he has promised. Given Modi’s known impatience with differences and dissent, the concern however is on the other side: Whether there is enough of an opposition in the party and in parliament, so critical in a democratic set up.  

The Congress which should have played this role has been decimated, reduced to a regional party status, with just a few more seats than the 37 garnered by Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha’s AIADMK and 34 by her West Bengal counterpart Mamata Bannerji’s Trinamool Congress. 

(The writer is a New Delhi-based political commentator)

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