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What When The Modi Magic Fades?

December 04, 2023 08:07 IST
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It's great to win election after election on the strength of Modi's charisma and voter appeal, but the larger the Modi myth grows, the more the BJP diminishes, notes Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi greets supporters at the BJP headquarters in Delhi after the party's triumph in the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assembly elections, December 3, 2023. Photograph: ANI

There are quite a few takeaways from the state assembly election results in which the Congress saw its hold in the Hindi-speaking belt slip further, while the Bharatiya Janata Party saw its own southern ambitions come a cropper.

The obvious takeaway is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the BJP's sole matchwinner. He has all the energy of a streetfighter, and the acumen of the best of the backroom boys. He is a complete package, as they say, and the Opposition, on the eve of Modi's 10 years as prime minister, has still not found a way to stop him.

A second takeaway is the myth called caste survey. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar believed, and the Congress's Rahul Gandhi blindly accepted, that the caste survey leading to increased representation for the OBCs/SCs/STs would do to the BJP's golden run what V P Singh's Mandal report recommendations did to the BJP's earlier avatar -- stop it in its tracks -- but these elections have conclusively proved, if any proof was needed, that even the downtrodden communities are not buying into that argument.

If they did, Madhya Pradesh would have not have bestowed a two-thirds majority on Shivraj Singh Chouhan, or Chhattisgarh shown the door to the Congress government which, it was believed till recently, had no rival claimant.

Lesson for the Opposition: If the caste survey/greater reservations for economically backward classes is all you have lined up for 2024 elections, you may as well give the NDA a walkover. This India sets greater store by Modi's assurances than your guarantees and promises.

The third takeaway is that ageism is not a factor in Indian politics. I say this, because of the clamour that it was now time for old-timers like Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh and Ashok Gehlot et al to make way for the next generation.

If age was rejected at the hustings, it does not explain how Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who at 64 is no spring chicken, has managed an absolute majority when experts had predicted a kaante ki takkar in Madhya Pradesh. Obviously, factors like appeal, connect, performance matter more to the voter than the incumbent's age.

73-year-old Modi himself is proof how, so long as you deliver electoral blockbusters at a pace to rival Salman Khan, no one is going to mention age.

The fourth takeaway is for the Congress. Either you are serious about the INDIA alliance, or you are not. You cannot pick and choose when you will stick with the alliance, and when you will go on your own.

You may think you are a prima donna, but until the election results on the ground say so, no one is going to believe that so shed the delusions and get real. You are in no shape to take on the BJP in a one-on-one, so shore up your defences with allies before you plan a counter-offensive. Your allies are not in thrall of you, and are capable of besting you in their backyard, so you need them perhaps more than they need you.

IMAGE: Modi arrives at the BJP headquarters in Delhi after the party's triumph in the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assembly elections, December 3, 2023. Photograph: Shrikant Singh/ANI

The fifth takeaway is the kind of numbers the BJP will muster in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. These results have served a healthy dose of smelling salts to those sceptical of Modi being returned to power next year, and it is now obvious he can win 300 seats without stepping out of 7 Jan Kalyan Marg.

Given that Modi believes he is a man of history, he must already have a gameplan ready to win a third term in office and we are sure to see a blitzkrieg electoral campaign that will put him in the history books.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has already spoken of a 350+ mandate, but even that may not be enough to ensure Modi's place in history. What looms is Rajiv Gandhi's incredible tally in 1984 (external link). Can/will Modi best that and earn his place in the Sun? What will it take to do that?

I am sure the thought is already playing on the think-tank's mind. Party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya has already mentioned 400+ seats as a possibility, but the only thing in the way is the southern citadel where all states are now with the Opposition (except tiny Puducherry, where the BJP is a ruling party ally), and a large outpost in eastern India. Overcoming these challenges is easier said than done, and how Modi goes about it should be a lesson in electoral strategy and execution -- if it happens.

For the Congress, the takeaway remains the same. It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. Rajasthan was mishandled all through as two bickering stalwarts did the party in, and losing Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh must hurt, but the consolation lies in the south, as it did in the days of 'Indiramma', when Dakshin stood like a bulwark behind Indira Gandhi in 1977 even as the north voted her out with a vengeance.

Gaining re-entry into Telugudom, which had stood by the party like a rock, is a good thing, and along with Karnataka could signal the party's revival via south India. Who knows!

But the biggest takeaway still is for the BJP, the winner of this round, dubbed the semi-final.

IMAGE: BJP supporters clamour to get a glimpse of Modi as he arrives at the BJP headquarters, December 3, 2023. Photograph: Shrikant Singh/ANI

It's great to harp on Modi's magic doing the vanishing trick on the Opposition, it's great to win election after election on the strength of Modi's charisma and voter appeal, but the larger the Modi myth grows, the more the BJP diminishes.

Modi has become, and remains, the party's only trick in the book. Ironical, given that the party's calling card in 2014 was 'vikas'. How many of us heard the word mentioned in this round of campaigning, or at any time recently -- unless the party believes 'vikas' has been achieved, in which case extending the free foodgrains scheme to 810 million Indians for five years is wrong, they don't need it!

Having seen the vicissitudes of politics like none other -- from plunging to two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to becoming the larger than life entity it is today -- the BJP knows that just as what goes down must come up, what rises shall also subside. And Modi's magic is no exception to this universal truth. And then what?

Having basked in its effulgence, will the BJP have forgotten what it is like when the lights go off?

If the BJP has a second string of leaders to step up to the plate, it seems like a closely held secret. Sure, there are visible leaders who make the right noises to be heard, but none with the potential to appeal to Indians from north to south, east to west. And that will come to bite the BJP some day.

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