Will Modi win India in 2019?
'TsuNamo' and 'Modi wave' are some of the words, out of many, used to describe the win that saw Narendra Modi become the Prime Minister. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), not only came to power, but did so with a majority on its own which was unseen since that achieved by the Congress in 1984 following the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
Unlike Rajiv Gandhi's victory, Modi's win was nothing to do with emotional repercussions of a major event in the country. It was a vote for change and the Indian voters delivered it en masse and with aplomb.
Such an event and the results of state elections since has recently led to political observers proclaiming that Modi will win hands down in the next general elections in 2019.
While a few, following such over-confidence and other controversies such as lynchings that have taken place in the country, are delivering cautious reminders of 2004, when BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), under then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, lost power.
The verdict had come as a major jolt from the blue for the ruling alliance, which had deployed the 'India Shining' campaign to showcase the government's work and also convey the feeling of the country's people. Given the results that followed, it seemed to have betrayed the actual thinking of the voters.
Like then, now too, the narrative being played out by the government is that of an India that is growing and filled with confidence, yet feelings related to issues of communalism among other concerns linger in the air, as they did following the Gujarat riots in 2002, where members of a minority community were targeted.
As of now the chances of Modi meeting Vajpayee's fate remain slim, but what numbers are thrown up once the votes are counted will depend upon, along with the events that conspire from now till the elections, on the people's reaction to three main players that were part of the last elections and will also be at the centre of the one, in less than two years from now. These are Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and the opposition.
Modi, RSS and UP
In an ideal democracy with a parliamentary system as in India, the voters instead of deciding their vote based on the leadership of the various parties should be looking at the candidate of their constituency and choose the one they consider has the best plan for the area during the term.
Yet, barring a few exceptions in absence of senior leaders of national stature, most elections have been won based on the national leader. Whether it is the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv etc. Following in the same tradition, the 2014 vote was for Narendra Modi.
Modi's personal appeal, which has been the biggest strength for the BJP, remains intact. In addition, the size of the win in 2014 in itself gives Modi a certain advantage over the likes of Vajpayee whose majority was dependent on his party's allies. Even a small fall in the number of seats for Modi should still be enough to ensure a viable majority for the NDA.
After Modi, the second biggest asset for the saffron party for 2019 is its parent organisation, the RSS. Though Modi was the face of the election victory, the role played by the RSS cannot be ignored. The Sangh's importance to first becoming the chief minister and later the leader of the country was never lost on Modi.
The backing of RSS and its hardcore followers were essential to gain the numbers that BJP did, as Modi's pitch on development through his 'Gujarat model,' without their support would have been impossible to spread. The Modi-RSS duo fighting together in 2019, with the 'Gujarat model' replaced by his government's achievement so far, would in all probability lead the Prime Minister back to power.
And even though there is growing criticism of the government in different sections of society related to steps such as 'Demonetisation', or the rise in communal incidents of violence, Modi and RSS seems to have weathered them for now. As election results in various states have shown with the party in power in 17 states, 13 of them by itself and 4 in a coalition.
Out of these, the state of Uttar Pradesh, a state won with a sweeping majority of 312 seats out of 403, mostly on the back of Modi as well as anti-incumbency not only for Samajwadi Party, which was in power, but also poor performances of others before them such as Bahujan Samajwadi Party or the Congress etc.
The state is crucial to any national level arithmetic, given the fact that the most populous state in India sends 80 Lok Sabha parliamentarians. An extremely crucial vote bank for any party in order to win a majority at the centre, as was seen with the BJP winning 71 three years ago. If BJP can sustain the momentum that it has here and the performance of its state government can keep the voters engaged, the state will be one of the major advantages for Modi.
This though does not mean that it will be a walk in the park next time, elections never are, as all of these advantages have the potential to be double-edged swords and could easily end up hurting the ruling dispensation's prospects.
Starting with Modi, the biggest advantage that he had along with being seen by the majority of voters as someone with a proven track record was that of anti-incumbency that the UPA, with a decade of being in power behind them, suffered from.
This factor will not be present anymore even though the image of corruption that the alliance has still not been able to shed will help Modi this time too. The next election will see him being judged on his performance and those of BJP governments in the states.
Even if many, mostly from the right-wing, have read the 2004 results as a mandate for Hindutva, and even if some might have voted down those lines as in previous elections, it was an overwhelming vote for what Modi stood for and the promise of driving India into the 21st century. This potential for change is what led, the younger generation, the middle class and those fed up of corruption-ridden days of the UPA to elect Modi who they hoped would be able to deliver.
And with the data related to key areas such as job addition, the economy as a whole etc., looking bleak or below expectations, no matter what spin the government, party and their supporters might try to give them, are not the kind of performances that those who voted for him had hoped for.
On top of this, the tussle of power between Modi and RSS has been an underlying occurrence in New Delhi. Sometimes coming out in the open. To ensure smooth sailing in elections it will require the party and RSS machinery to work exactly the way that it did in 2014, and make sure issues that are present at the moment do not get out of hand.
Examples of repercussions in case it is not achieved could be seen in the state elections of Bihar and even in Jammu and Kashmir. When statements by Sangh chief, Mohan Bhagwat, on caste and those related to the special status of the northern state had reactions in the election results. The party lost in Bihar and won no seats in the valley, even though it swept Jammu.
Both Modi and RSS have different sets of following, which can have its advantages and bringing them together for the elections being the high point. The same reasons can also lead to clashes, as demands of both sections can also be contradictory to each other. Such a situation can lead to issues developing which can only be solved by one side backing down, a quality that both the prime minister and the RSS are not well known for.
On the state front, though the party keeps forming government's election after election, there are warning signs for Modi as well. Forming governments might have overshadowed the fact that their performance in some states was not as impressive as the narrative would suggest. They were not the party with the highest number of seats in states like Goa and Manipur though they outfoxed the Congress to form governments in both.
The narrative that was totally in the hands of Modi and BJP has recently seen a rise in critics voicing their apprehensions. This was not helped by decisions related to UP such as selection of a known Hindu Nationalist leader and priest, Yogi Adityanath, as chief minister, as well as incidents of cow related violence in different parts of the country.
Opposition in tatters
But one of the biggest advantages for Modi remains that no body from the oppositions seems interested or capable enough to take advantage of these concerns and bring the fight to the BJP in a meaningful way. With the main opposition party, Congress still caught in a turmoil of its own. Its inability to get its own house in order has resulted in a divided opposition.
This was all too clear to see in the case of the election for 14th President of India where the opposition effort to attempt an exercise of coming together as a dress rehearsal of sorts for 2019, failed miserably.
Though it was expected that NDA's candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, would cruise to victory, the opposition was at least expected to show a united front and make sure that its nominee, Meira Kumar, gets all the votes of the members of its 17-party grouping.
But the break down of votes polled for each candidate shows that it failed to do so. Gujarat, Assam, Goa, Uttar Pradesh are some of the states where the legislators of party's, part of the 'united front' against the BJP, instead chose to vote for Kovind.
And it is consistently outmanoeuvred at every turn by the BJP, in not only elections but also setting the narrative and winning the public debate. These include strategy related to the media, handling of ground level leaders or dealing with regional parties to build a viable opposition front.
While Congress has its own issues of lack of leadership at the top level with Sonia Gandhi not keeping well and Rahul Gandhi not taking over from her, and even when he does try to lead from the front, the results are far short of those expected from someone who is attempting to take on Modi.
This is not to say that the regional players have no faults of their own, with many of them ruling over a divided house. Such a scenario came out in the open as cross-voting from members of the regional parties, who are part of the opposition, was witnessed in many states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh etc.
Along with this, other problems hounding the opposition which if not solved will make Modi's chances of a second term even likelier, are infighting, the lure of joining the BJP for its members, being engulfed in crisis after crisis in their own states and governments, among other.
On top of this, the fact that many of those trying to be allies belong to the same state and in most cases are opponents of each other does not help. As could be seen in the case of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal or the TMC and the other Left parties.
Such issues make coming up with joint strategies extremely difficult and even when formed the chances of them becoming ineffective remain high. In addition, the fact that none of the leaders are able to decide on any one leader who all of them can get behind has made matters worse, especially since the traditional party to play this role, the Congress is in turmoil.
These factors clearly tilt the balance in Modi's favour and while history might not repeat itself in next elections, the results of 2004, and the events and feelings that led it, should act as a timely reminder for Modi and Co.