How 'Modi-bashing' backfired
New Delhi, May 25: The BJP may not have fulfilled all of the promises it made in 2014, its handling of the economy could have been better and more proactive efforts were probably needed on the jobs creation front, but all these did not matter to people, and the electorate decided to give Narendra Modi one more term.
Another thing that helped the BJP was a weak and scattered opposition that did not seem to have any vision or agenda other than 'Modi bashing'. After every grand meeting of the so called opposition stalwarts, statements used to be made that gave media good headlines, but essentially meant "Bring down Modi at all cost".
Mamata Banerjee had in February this year organised a massive rally to showcase opposition unity in Kolkata, over a dozen leaders spoke, but what did they dwell on? All they spoke on was how the BJP took control of the Central agencies, how Modi-Shah have turned dictatorial and so on and so forth. The narrative never actually gave a clear picture as to how they would run the country if voted to power.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi took 'Modi-bashing' to a different level altogether, calling the Prime Minister Chor, mocking him, deriding him of being Chowkidar of Ambani. But what Rahul forgot was Modi is a popular figure across India. His ratings may have gone up and down, but in all 'most popular personality' surveys, Modi has been the choice no. 1 throughout his five year rule. Modi commands a respect across nation and across different segments of population. Personal attacks on Modi without substantial proof made Rahul a laughing stock.
Rahul's unsubstantiated allegations and funny jibes at Modi ended up hurting his own party more than the BJP. Rahul is seen as some born with a golden spoon, someone who is privilaged, and with his image it is very difficult for him to connect with the poor in India. Everytime he resorted to personal attacks on Modi, the Prime Minister smartly portrayed it as the attack on the deprived. Modi is seen as a man from humble background who ascended to the most powerful post in India, his rise is seen mainly as rags to riches story. A common man instantly connects with Modi, which is not the case with Rahul Gandhi.
Whenever Congress made personal attacks against him, Modi turned around the slogans to his advantage. Prime Minister Modi would often call himself a "chowkidar" and underline that he is working tirelessly to safeguard their interests. Rahul Gandhi used this to launch the attack on the Modi government on the Rafale deal and coined the slogan 'Chowkidar Chor Hai', only to see it backfire now. BJP got a further boost when Gandhi was hauled up by the Supreme Court for his remarks that even the apex court has said "Chowkidar chor hai".
Even the way BJP created a strong anti-dynasty narrative, somewhere struck a chord with common folks. Modi's speeches and his repeated recalling of anecdotes from childhood may seem like random things, but all this were part of a well planned and executed image building strategy. Modi captured the imagination of a common Indian by projecting himself as being 'one of them'. Rahul just failed in this.
His distasteful personal attacks on Modi were used intelligently by the BJP to turn things against Congress. Elections are about perception and narrative, and the BJP has mastered to control both.
During the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi had repeatedly played up his humble origins. Congress leaders Mani Shankar Aiyar and Bhalchandra Mungekar referred to him as 'chaiwala' in a derogatory manner. This many say played a big role in Congress' demolition in previous general elections. Aiyar went at PM Modi again in December 2017, around the time Gujarat assembly elections were held, calling him 'neech admi'. This backfired immediately and Congress lost to BJP in Gujarat.
Sadly, no lessons were learnt.