Factors that contributed to Modi’s remarkable electoral victory in 2019
In terms of marketing, and as an indefatigable campaigner, PM Modi is in a league of his own
With prime minister Narendra Modi having scripted a slice of history by becoming the first leader since Indira Gandhi to win two successive majority government elections, it may be time for him to send out a few thank you cards to those who have contributed to his remarkable political victory.
Amit Shah: No one has exemplified the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)’s relentless desire to win at all costs as much as its party president. Just one statistic should suffice. In the past five years, Shah claims to have made as many as 91 trips to Bengal, a state which was once considered almost off-limits for the BJP. The audacity of ambition when backed by unlimited resources and a robust karyakarta (volunteer) machine made Shah a dominant figure in the Modi re-election. His was an unapologetic ‘saam-daam-dand-bhed’ (by hook or crook) style of netagiri but never short of a ruthless competitive spirit that helps win elections.
Rahul Gandhi: The Congress president ran an energetic campaign but without a coherent strategy. From Rafale to notebandi to critiques of the Goods and Services Tax, the Congress leadership was constantly in search of an issue to pin down the Modi government without offering a credible counter-narrative of its own. When Gandhi did come up with a catch phrase Nyay to define his vision, it was seen as simply too esoteric and ill-defined to capture the public imagination. Moreover, Gandhi’s lineage enables Mr Modi to play the kaamdar (hard worker) versus naamdar (dynast) binary most effectively, especially with a younger India that hankers for merit over dynasty.
The regional Opposition: From Mamata Banerjee to Mayawati to N Chandrababu Naidu, an obsessive anti-Modiism was the trademark of a ragtag Opposition. The idea of a 1977-like mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) never really took off because the internal contradictions were just too great to be overcome by a shared desire to remove Modi from office. The chemistry of a single mazboot (strong) leader narrative turned out to be too strong for the arithmetic of a potential mahamilawat (hodgepodge) coalition.
Masood Azhar and the Pakistan-based terror factory: Modi’s politics have always thrived on the constant search for an ”enemy”. In 2002, when he won his first election in Gujarat, it was the anti-national Muslim and Mian Musharaff who were his prime targets in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning. Seventeen years later, in a post-Pulwama and Balakot scenario, Modi made the Jaish chief and the jihadi machine his focus. “Ghar mein ghus kar maara (by chasing them to their hideouts)” he claimed, creating a nationalistic, anti-Pakistan strident fury. It enabled him to foreground the election as a quasi-presidential leadership battle.
The media: From New Year’s Day when Mr Modi gave an interview to a TV news agency with actor Akshay Kumar to his spiritual yatra to Kedarnath, the media narrative was captured in a manner that almost made the Opposition invisible. Indeed, 2019 will go down as India’s most well-choreographed election aided by some sections of the media which played a biased role. A TV audience research report shows that in April, Modi was shown by news channels for more than 722 hours while Rahul Gandhi was got a little less than 252 hours.
The Election Commission: The EC did not cover itself in glory. It seemed lethargic even when political parties pointed out perceived violations of the model code of conduct. This led to concerns that the institution acted in a less than neutral manner. Even the Kedarnath trip pushed the boundaries of political morality: Should a leader be using religious symbolism on voting day?
The not-so-silent voter: The inscrutable Indian voter has spoken out loud and clear. During the campaign, we heard the frenzied “Modi, Modi” chants almost routinely, an outcome of the sustained indoctrination of a political army of supporters driven by a mix of muscular nationalism and divisive religiosity. But beyond a Hinduised middle class, there are floating voters, many of them living on the margins, who have plumped for Modi by virtue of his ability to convince them that he can deliver on basic welfarism. When a toilet, an LPG cylinder or a low cost house becomes a symbol of empowerment, then there is a willingness to offer another chance to govern. It is this “new India” voter cutting across caste-class faultlines (except in the deep south and among minorities) whose vaulting aspirations have driven the Modi juggernaut to a famous victory.
Post-script: Since Modi is so fond of selfies, maybe he needs to send a thank you card to himself and his core team. From Balakot to Varanasi to Kedarnath, Modi and his core group hasn’t missed an opportunity at artful brand building. The prime minister’s larger than life image has dwarfed the Opposition: in terms of sheer political marketing and communication and as an indefatigable campaigner, he has proven to be in a league of his own. Maybe, he can finally take a breather and treat himself to a bowl of fresh mangoes!
Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author
The views expressed are personal