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Will Modi breach Rajiv Gandhi's 404?

March 11, 2022 05:53 IST

'It is a well-entrenched belief in the downtrodden, the deprived sections, that Modi cares for them. He has come to occupy their mindspace as their messiah.'
'And it is this deprived, dispossessed section that is powering his electoral performance, breaking ancient shibboleths and shackles like religion and caste and region and language,' argues Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

IMAGE: A Bharatiya Janata Party supporter holds cutouts of Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath during the celebration at the BJP office in Lucknow, March 10, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Seldom have we witnessed an election in which a party in power is re-elected in four states.

But that's not the most unusual aspect of Thursday's election results from five states ranging from the west to the north to the northeast.

Among them, it needs no repetition, Uttar Pradesh has taken the lion's share of attention, naturally because the state has reverted to its electoral primacy in the Indian Union.

However, merely because the Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi has put up a splendid show the hustings here shouldn't blind us to the other significant development which has the potential to overturn the BJP's fortunes, not tomorrow but some time in the future.

That development is in Punjab, where the Aam Aadmi Party has done the unthinkable. No, not breaking out of its Delhi corral, but the fact that it is only the second party -- after the down in the dumps Congress -- to defeat the BJP in more than one state.

No other 'regional' party has beaten the BJP outside its stronghold.

Unlike in Delhi where the AAP broke into a bipolar contest between the BJP and Congress and earned its spurs -- leading many to believe that in case of a multi-cornered contest its chances were toast -- in Punjab AAP managed to do exactly what few believed it could. Enter a multi-polar field and walk away with the lion's share of votes. In Punjab AAP has managed to decimate established parties and new ones alike, signalling its appeal to those yearning for change.

While this by itself shouldn't lead AAP to think of itself as a national party -- even though voices have gone up making this very claim -- the party has shown that like the BJP, it too has focus, dedication, cadres, and the stomach to fight another day.

Again, like the BJP, the AAP is also heavily dependent on one person for its electoral fortunes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have been content to take the backseat in the UP elections this time, but not before releasing a photograph with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath showing him with his arms around the CM's shoulders, but the UP election is as much a win for him as it was for the saffron-clad monk.

Somewhat like AAP's Kejriwal letting it be known that Bhagwant Singh Mann was his chosen one for Punjab chief ministership.

The Punjab outcome has the potential to make the AAP dream big and wide, and think of serving as the fulcrum of a united Opposition to take on the BJP in 2024.

If it happens, Arvind Kejriwal won't be the first politician to be seduced by the thought of a national footprint, nor will he be the last. After all, what is power but an intoxicant that makes intelligent men and women suspend their intellect...

IMAGE: Counting of votes for the Uttar Pradesh assembly election at the Ramabai Ambedkar counting centre in Lucknow, March 10, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

However, if that dream is taken to its logical conclusion, Kejriwal will realise that the limit to his ambition, dream, whatever, will stop in Uttar Pradesh which has shown on Thursday that breaching the BJP in this state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha is easier said than done.

Will the UP outcome have been different if the parties fighting the BJP, and among themselves, presented a united front to the saffron party?

Perhaps, but that will mean subverting individual ambition for a larger cause, something politicians are not wired to do.

They'd rather work out of post-poll arrangement if the situation so warrants, like they did with the UPA in 2004.

That experiment came about two years after Narendra Modi held an elected office for the first time in his life. A shrewd watcher of the game, he had a ringside view of the factors that went into the BJP's first government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee fade out and usher in the UPA under Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

It was felt then, and it was true then, that there was a limit to the Hindu votebank which could bring in only around 175 Lok Sabha seats and which limit had been breached by Vajpayee's moderate face.

In the 10 years of UPA, Modi watched and learned and honed his strategy to prove the limitations of Hindu votebank wrong. The formula he engineered, of Hindutva overlaid with development -- paid him rich dividends in 2014, and in the last eight years of being in power, he and his inner circle have constantly rejigged and reworked the combination to ensure that it can withstand any tectonic change in the electoral landscape in the form of allies coming and going.

Even as I write this, one can be doubly sure that Modi and his brains trust are not resting on their laurels over the spectacular outcome in four states but are reviewing their performance to see what could have been done differently, better, to generate greater numbers.

This constant strategising is a key part of Narendra Modi's electoral success.

Under him and Home Minister Amit Shah the BJP has been dubbed as an election-fighting machine.

Perhaps it is, but it wasn't always one.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party supporters celebrate the party's victory at the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, March 10, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Modi believes himself to be a yug-purush and is determined to leave his mark on history as the most impactful prime minister ever.

Electoral victories are but a step towards this goal, and electoral victories cannot be had without a political party hungry for success. Its absence forms of the crux of the Congress's woes.

But Modi is not winning elections for his party to occupy the levers of power in order to dole out favours.

Change on the ground, is what drives him as this alone, he believes, will set him apart from other politicians, including his bete noire Jawaharlal Nehru and other Congress bigwigs.

Power for them, he believes innately, was never about caring for the last man in the queue.

He himself, coming off a humble background, knew what a life of deprivation meant, and it was this he is determined to change in others.

Has the change come about in eight years of his rule?

IMAGE: A Bharatiya Janata Party supporter plays a dafli during the celebration in Bikaner, Rajasthan, March 10, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Perhaps not. Perhaps quite a bit of the allocations meant for the uplift of the poor is still being filched. Perhaps the toilet and water for all projects are a big scam. But never mind, despite the naysayers, the man at the bottom of the pyramid has come to believe that finally here is a prime minister who thinks of him, who speaks of him, and who puts him first.

Again, that may be more the result of a sharp propaganda machinery than actual change on the ground, but never mind. It is a well-entrenched belief in the downtrodden, the deprived sections, that Modi cares for them. He has come to occupy their mindspace as their messiah.

And it is this deprived, dispossessed sections that are powering his electoral performance, breaking ancient shibboleths and shackles like religion and caste and region and language.

Can Kejriwal get there ever?

Maybe, who knows.

But certainly not in 2024.

Certainly not before 2024, when the various sections that have powered Modi's electoral surge these eight years take him past the 404 Lok Sabha seats that Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress party won in the 1984 general election.