There are visible signs of a tide. The slow but certain surge of water, the scampering of crabs, the new lines in the sand. But the more profound effects are in the invisible: In the soil, in marine life, in transferring oceanic heat, and in playing, possibly, with the mind.
The Narendra Modi tide may have visibly worked only in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, but it has invisibly and decisively helped the BJP in the two states where his influence is the least apparent in today’s results: Delhi and Chhattisgarh.
If in two states Modi helped the BJP soar, in two he saved the day.
But before we discuss that, it is important to mention his two quiet, overarching successes. By a relentless, insidious, and personality-focused campaign, he has showed up the Congress’ face, Rahul Gandhi, as its biggest liability. He has also made the Congress the face of everything that is not right with the system.
If the BJP had put up any other leader against Rahul, the damage to the Congress would not have been so great.
Television magnified the gap in their oratory and confidence, social media amplified the difference in their ability to deliver their message loudly and clearly, and rallies showed the chasm between their ability to mobilise cadre and supporters in a determined, disciplined manner.
The two states the BJP has done modestly, Delhi and Chhattisgarh, have seen historic local events in the last two years. Delhi witnessed Anna Hazare’s massive anti-corruption movement of 2011, whose child is Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). And when citizens’ anger inundated Delhi’s streets after the Delhi gang rape last December, Kejriwal was again in the frontline.
While all this happened in Delhi, the BJP was an emaciated, fractious local force. When I met Nitin Gadkari — former BJP president and person overseeing the party’s electoral effort in Delhi — in October, the local party unit resembled a street market. At Gadkari’s office, at least two leaders claimed to me that they are going to be the chief ministerial candidate.
In short, before Modi started campaigning in Delhi and Harsh Vardhan was named the chief ministerial candidate (in which Modi is believed to have a hand), BJP was nowhere in the contest.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress had a sitter. In Ajit Jogi’s own words, the Darbha Ghat massacre, in which Maoists wiped off almost the entire top rung of local Congress leaders, should have been enough to sweep the election. The BJP was fighting a huge sympathy wave and a perception that it was hand-in-glove with the Maoists.
Modi may have saved Raman Singh. Singh openly thanks him for tapping into youth anger, acknowledges his growing popularity even among Chhattisgarh’s tribals.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government faced fairly widespread public disenchantment with its MLAs, especially in key regions like Bunkelkhand. He had to deny tickets to about 60 of his unpopular legislators.
The Chouhan government had another dilemma. Seen as a softer face of the BJP, he enjoyed the kind of Muslim support many in the party don’t. Modi’s campaign in the state could have meant losing that support and inviting minority vote consolidation. It also meant youth vote consolidation for the BJP.
Chouhan gambled for the latter. He has emerged with a stronger verdict despite the anti-incumbency of two terms and the Muslim factor.
The charm of Chouhan’s simplicity and hard work is undeniable. But even by its own calculations, the BJP would not have got such a resounding mandate this time in MP without Modi looming in the backdrop.
In Rajasthan, the Modi effect is a lot more in-the-face. The BJP won 16 of the 20 constituencies that Modi visited. The Congress won none of the eight seats Rahul visited.
The Congress can no longer be in denial of the Modi tide. Visibly, invisibly it is here. If anybody is left with a doubt, just imagine a BJP without Modi going to the polls in each of these states. You will get the answer.