‘X’ factor in Lok Sabha elections 2019

The just concluded National Council Meeting of the BJP expectedly focused on General Elections 2019. Its emphasis was on its adversaries than self-introspection. Considering its meteoric rise in 2014 under Shri Modi’s leadership and gradually coming under stress for last one year, probably the party ought to do a harsh self-analysis and incorporate the feedback in its 2019 strategy. In 2014 Modi led his party with clear single party majority against determined opposition from both inside and outside of his party, the so-called liberal intelligentsia and bulk of the mainstream media. That it was not a fluke showed up in a stable approval rating for him and his government for over three years thereafter.

However, election results in recent months, especially in three states in the Hindi heartland, suggest some kind of alienation on the part of his core constituency. The questions are ‘what had helped in his unprecedented success’ in 2014 and ‘why’ had his apparent invincibility begun to come under stress in 2018? This article addresses these questions, tries to explore the reasons in an objective manner and finally what he can probably do to regain the people’s mandate in 2019.

WHAT PROPELLED HIS METEORIC RISE IN 2014?

The rise of Shri Modi may have had, irrespective of what he thinks, little to do with his Gujarat model of economic development. Reasons were far deeper. In a country like India with a great civilizational heritage and which was being plundered socially, culturally and economically by successive regimes of self-seeking politicians, the masses were waiting for a leader to deliver them out of their miseries and humiliation. In his 2014 election campaign Modi no doubt spoke about economy and corruption of UPA. But he addressed the civilizational concerns of all right-thinking Indians and struck an instant rapport with them. This helped him lead BJP to the phenomenal victory.

MASSES DESPERATE TO GET RID OF THE SICK POLITICAL CULTURE 

The root cause of the distress of common Indians has been the culture of ‘protection politics’ since August 1947. This has been about creating and or aggravating fear in minds of select segments of the population and promising to protect them from social, economic and political discrimination in exchange of their ‘votes’. It began by the ruling party vis-a-vis the ‘religious minorities’ following the partition and later spread to other parties, they too trying to exploit people on the basis of their caste, ethnicity and linguistics. Parties kept dividing people ad nauseum. Variation of this culture was promising some sops or props, often ‘reservations’, to select segments and in lieu thereof to corner their votes.

Such sick political culture imposed on the really weak and vulnerable masses lives of perennial distress and indignity, while a coterie of politicians, media persons, and the so-called ‘liberal’ intelligentsia ruthlessly exploited the country with the help of a pliant bureaucracy. Interestingly, this coterie consisting of powerful and privileged persons from all religions and castes has been driven by one common consideration i.e., self-interests. The masses did not have any effective ‘say’ in politics that impinged on their lives, nor any effective access to quality education, health and justice. Such political culture was the very antithesis of civilizational values of India. The people were gasping, and they embraced Modi in 2014 thinking he could lead them in the civilizational battle.

WHAT DID HIS CORE CONSTITUENCY EXPECT?

Meeting those challenges called for indomitable courage, unflinching commitment and spirit of disinterested action. To bridge the fragmented society, bringing in ‘uniform civil code’ was a precondition. To make sure better standards of living to billion plus common people giving them access to quality health, education, and income as well as to protect the country’s environment and natural resources for both present and future generations it was imperative to initiate a sound and secular ‘population’ policy with a sense of urgency. To make sure all religious denominations live and practise their faith peacefully on a sustainable basis, it was necessary to put a stop to religious conversions using unethical means. At the same time, ridding Hindus of the evil of casteism was a very important task. The government could help this by creating an ambiance in the country to bring about this transformation. Besides all these, a couple of administrative reforms in the sphere of police and judiciary was essential to fight rampant corruption, ensure law & order and justice and thus to build up a healthy society. Politically, to build a single unified nation from Himalaya to Kanyakumari, complete integration of J&K through abolition of Art 370 was also passed on to Modi government as a long neglected and unfulfilled responsibility.

SYMPTOMS OF DISILLUSIONMENT

These challenges, essentially socio-political in nature, were far more difficult to meet than pursuing series of economic reforms and or building physical infrastructure. Again, though they were certain to give a giant push to the economy along with an assurance of more equitable distribution of income and wealth in longer term, they were apparently not glamourous. During his present term, Modi concentrated on these issues while leaving the critically important socio-political issues practically untouched.

His core constituency kept waiting patiently hoping he has a plan to take up these core tasks at appropriate time. Even in very difficult times like during the implementation of demonetisation and the GST they stood by his side in a solid phalanx with that hope burning bright in their heart. However, as the fourth year of his term began to unfold and still none of the socio-political agenda was practically touched, his core constituency started to show signs of alienation. The marginal victory in Gujarat elections [December 2017] together with a significant number of NOTA votes had served the first warning signal. In as many as 27 constituencies, the NOTA exceeded the victory margin. In Karnataka election [May 2018], his party was the major sufferer of the impact of nearly 3.22 lakh NOTA votes, but for which it could possibly get the reins of the government.

HOW DID THE ALIENATION SPREAD?

This alienation aggravated after his government indicated its reluctance to take positions on a range of important social and civilizational issues. It was rather seen keen about passing the ball to the judiciary’s court. These included inter alia issues such as Gay Sex (Section 377 of IPC), Adultery (Section 497 of IPC), Special rights and privileges to the people of J&K (Article 35A of the Constitution), and also Ayodhya, and Sabarimala. Notably most of these hit the national headlines during August to October 2018 immediately preceding the elections in 5 states [November-December 2018].

In the Sabarimala case his government confused people by adopting contradictory stand and or making U turns. For example, it had cleared Tamilnadu government’s ordinance on Jallikattu [January 2017] to overcome the Supreme Court (SC) order but chose to remain passive in the matter of the apex court’s verdict on Sabarimala temple entry issue [September 2018, Kerala]. Despite differences the common thread of ‘tradition’ and ‘public sentiment’ passed through these two cases.  Adding to the suspicion of its core constituency, his party, after having witnessed the surging people emotion in Kerala, decided to support the agitation.

Another example of its erratic stand was in neutralizing the SC verdict {March 2018] on the provision of mandatory arrest under The SC & the ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 through an Amendment Bill [August 2018]. This aggravated the misgiving of its core constituency about his party’s real intention on a host of socio-political issues which have been their abiding concerns but were not addressed.

On the whole, series of acts of omissions, commissions, and contradictory actions have led to an impression that his government has been trying to please every segment, the so-called westernized liberals, some rights groups, media, and so on, but strangely it is not inclined to address the core concerns of its own core constituency.

The spates of electoral losses in recent times in all likelihood reflects this growing alienation on the part of Shri Modi’s core constituency. The fact that he continued to stand tall in terms of approval rating in the first three years despite demo [2016] and GST [2017] winning state elections one after another, and that his party’s electoral performance began to plummet from 2018 despite Ujjwala (providing gas connections to crores of poor families), and Saubhagya (connecting power connections to several thousand un-electrified villages across the country), building roads and laying down rails, disbursement of few lakh crores of rupees under Mudra Yojana and a host others reinforces this notion.

NEED FOR COURSE CORRECTION & COMMUNICATE     

The foremost necessity for Shri Modi is to understand the true reason for successive electoral losses over last one year. It is clear as long as his core constituency stood with him, his adversaries were hiding for cover. Only after they sensed the fact of his distancing away from it that they have suddenly started smelling an opportunity and launching an all-out attack.  The mischievous mainstream media, a partner in this venture, would never want him to know the correct reason for the sudden decline in his party’s electoral performance.

It may be argued that if, right from the ‘Day 1’ of his term, he had, unmindful of future electoral outcome, led a crusade to bridge the social divide and re-establish the civilizational values of India, unprecedented success would have followed suit automatically in 2019 and beyond.

Unless he understands and frankly admits these unfulfilled tasks to his core constituency, the opposition would be the beneficiary of its alienation by default. This has precisely been the case with Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

It is important for him to realize that he has no competitor in 2019 save himself. People would judge him on the basis of what they expected him to do against what he actually did. Therefore, the best strategy would be for him to assure his core constituency that he would carry out the unfinished and unattended agenda of bridging the society if returned to the helm in 2019.  In his 2014 election campaign he had aroused many of these expectations himself. Now he has to submit the ‘balance sheet’ to his core constituency. It deserves a satisfactory reply.

LESSONS FOR CAMPAIGN STRATEGY IN 2019

But his early campaigning style for 2019 does not give any such indication. On the contrary, he is seemed to be repeating the 2014 style by bashing the ‘Gandhis’. But this strategy may have not only outlived utility but could turn counter-productive as none of the charges he brought amongst them then remains to be conclusively established even after four and a half long years of his tenure.  Further, he needs to be aware of the fact that by criticizing Rahul, he is only raising Rahul’s credibility. The fact is, Modi is poised to fight 2019 election against himself. This in other words refer to the expectations he had raised in his core constituency in 2014 but did not deliver. Unless he admits these mistakes and can convince the latter about the ‘why’ of the non-delivery, Rahul and other opposition parties would be the default beneficiaries.

There is a couple of important things that he needs to keep in mind too. First, his government has achieved many milestones in the sphere of economy and infra development and these must be communicated to the uninformed. However, the political and bureaucratic structure (afflicted in large measures by corrupt practices) which are responsible to reach the benefits to the people may have hindered their delivery to the masses to varying extent. Making taller claim than what reached people on ground may make them angry. It is advisable to carry out reliable sample survey for every such scheme so that he can articulate them in a convincing manner. Second, as far as possible, he should talk about what his government has already done for the people. Promise for the future, if any, must be relatable to what his government has achieved thus far.

CONCLUSION

As against the melee of political parties of disparate ideologies, only Modi appears to hold the key to a stable government in 2019. He is still being seen as the leader who cares for the civilizational values of India and at the same time can lead the country to the league of the first world countries. It is for that very reason that the coterie of vested interests exploiting the poor masses of India for last seven decades has been closing ranks and making a determined bid to barricade him.

In 2014, Modi’s party got 31% vote to get 282 LS seats. In a one to one contest scenario, he would need to add another 20%, which is much more difficult than it appears. The only way to surmount this challenge is to re-establish the direct connect with the vast masses of nationalist Indians and re-assure them. He can do so only when he is backed by right understanding of facts, right agenda and right strategy.

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