Has the ‘Modi wave’ begun to recede four months after the BJP’s star campaigner Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, and, if so, how can it be revived?
These questions are staring the Maharashtra BJP in the face, especially after the by-poll results earlier this week, as it makes its most ambitious bid for power in the state Assembly election to be held on October 15.
The recession of the wave is also at the nub of the party’s troubled relationship with the Shiv Sena, bringing the 25-year-old alliance to a breaking point. While the BJP, confident from its stunning tally in the general election, wants to dominate the alliance and have its own man as the next chief minister of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has questioned the persistence of the ‘Modi wave’.
In the traditional pocket-boroughs of the BJP in the city, which helped create and sustain the Modi mania earlier this year, the diamond market at Opera House and stock brokers at Dalal Street among them, it’s hard to find people who believe the ‘Modi wave’ has ebbed. “Modiji is now the Prime Minister, not just a campaigner. But you will see the same wave when he starts addressing election rallies here,” said Haresh Soni, chairman, All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation.
Outside his support bases, the unequivocal conviction is replaced by uncertainties and even sighs of relief. “The so-called wave was a fallacy in the Lok Sabha election too. People wanted to change the UPA government and Modi happened to be there. We know what the by-poll results are saying. Besides, after the UP incidents, most Muslims are not in the same frame of mind that they were in April,” pointed out Sarfaraz Arzoo, editor of the Urdu daily ‘Hindustan’.
The state BJP leaders, completely immersed in sorting out the relationship with the Sena, will return to the questions once the party is in the campaign mode. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet stepped into the election campaign. Once he does, he will have the same effect on voters and the election in Maharashtra that he did on the country earlier this year,” said a senior leader.
The state unit wants to maximise the number of rallies Modi will address across Maharashtra, but it must contend with the demands of his job which includes foreign trips and 18-hour work-days. Modi had averaged two election meetings every day for nearly nine months, at strategically selected venues before the general election.
“Modi continues to dominate our public space though he has moved from candidate mode to governance mode. There was a well-planned hype created around him by a deliberate drumming up of his persona and purpose. It paid off well. The BJP has the machinery to re-create that hype or wave again,” said B Venkatesh Kumar, a political analyst. Much depends on the state organisation, he added.
It’s a point that Suhas Palshikar, veteran analyst, professor of politics in University of Pune, believed will make all the difference when it appears as if the ‘Modi wave’ has started receding. “This is a critical election for the BJP. Even if it manages to re-create the ‘wave’, it has to fall back on its organisational strength,” he said.
However, the by-poll results are not necessarily an indication of Modi’s popularity waning because by-polls have local considerations and Modi did not campaign in these places; anything less than a resounding victory in Maharashtra will take some sheen off Modi, analysts added.
Maharashtra BJP president Devendra Fadanavis would like Modi to be in top campaign mode – and available for maximum rallies. As Mangal Bhanushali, chief of the Gujarati cell of the party, said: “Hawa hamesha thodi rehti hain, hawa ban payegi (the mania is not permanent, it will be created).”
It is early days yet. As the campaign picks up and the party cranks up the hype-creating machine, ‘Modi wave’ 2.0 may well hit the Mumbai shores.