Modi magic continues
Karnataka results affirm the lasting impact of Modi magic; Congress has to battle hard for its survival.
By turning all predictions about Karnataka upside down, BJP has shown, yet again, how effectively it runs the party's election campaign. Disproving the belief that there was no wave in favour of or against any party or that the outgoing Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had successfully countered the anti-incumbency factor, BJP has demonstrated through its victory a remarkable rapport with the people. In contrast, Siddaramaiah was apparently living in an illusory world, secure in the belief that a lacklustre opponent like BS Yeddyurappa was no real challenge.
What helped BJP the most was undoubtedly Narendra Modi's continuing popularity and boundless energy. However, BJP also had the advantage of translating this personal appeal of the Prime Minister into votes by operating a well-oiled election machinery which sprung into life not only in the weeks before polling day, but for months earlier when the karyakartas or the cadres kept in touch with the ordinary people, both the supporters of the party and the fence-sitters.
It goes without saying that Modi's oration and the hope he arouses about development helped to turn the spotlight away from what the critics may say about BJP's politics of polarisation. That the expectations remain high from a kaamdar Prime Minister or one who is constantly engaged in working for the betterment of the country must surprise Modi's opponents considering that his achievements in creating jobs or alleviating agrarian distress have not been much to write home about.
But, what the critics do not seem to realise is that the people are willing to give a leader who is seemingly focused on economic betterment enough to fulfil his pledges even if he is not making much headway at the moment. This willingness to wait and watch is all the greater when the opposition fails to convince people that it can provide a better alternative.
Congress apparently expected that Siddaramaiah would seem to be a better bet for the people than Yeddyurappa. But, the local aspirations have far less to do with a state-level leader than with the Prime Minister, who is seen to be the driving force behind vikas both at the state and the national levels.
It is Modi's success in catching the imagination of the younger generation with their belief in the economic reforms set in motion in 1991, which is behind BJP's continuing success stories. He has also been astute enough to modify his image of being pro-capitalist in the period just before the last general elections and a few months afterwards into a person who cares for the poor which has taken the sting out of Rahul Gandhi's jibe of the government being suit-boot ki sarkar.
It is Modi's ability to project different aspects of himself – as being pro-industry as well as pro-farmer or as a votary of sabka saath, sabka vikas while enthusing the hardliners who want the name of Aligarh Muslim University to be changed – which has kept his support base comprising contradictory elements intact and confused his opponents.
In contrast, the opposition appears to be at sixes and sevens. Is it for the economic reforms or for "socialism" which Sonia Gandhi mistakenly thought was her trump card in 2014? Is the Congress ready to align with like-minded parties like the Janata Dal (Secular) as it might have done in Karnataka? Shouldn't Rahul Gandhi refrain from projecting himself as a possible Prime Minister, as this can only expose him to ridicule in the aftermath of the Karnataka outcome?
Congress and the other non-BJP parties will have to realise that they are up against a formidable adversary, the likes of which has rarely been seen in Indian politics with seemingly limitless resources, a charismatic leader who is able to project an inspiring vision of the future, an energetic party chief adept a micro-managing the organisational network and a large number of activists who seem to work round-the-clock for months on end.
True, the opposition has also had its share of successes as in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections in UP and similar other contests in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The Congress, on its part, can look forward with hope to the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh where it is in direct contest with BJP. But, the opposition parties also know that BJP will deploy all its forces in these states with redoubled vigour after the boost it has received in being able to break through, once again, to the south of the Vindhyas, its long-cherished objective.
The opposition will also have to realise that the populist tricks tried by Siddaramaiah like promising minority status to Lingayats or promoting sub-nationalism by encouraging a wider use of Kannada or favouring a separate flag for Karnataka will not work in the absence of a development-oriented narrative in which Modi specialises. On the other hand, BJP's divisive ploys like lambasting Tipu Sultan or the naamdar Nehru-Gandhi family have proven to be successful. In the ultimate analysis, what matters is how much trust a party can evoke about its agenda. BJP is well ahead of the others in this respect.
(The author is a political analyst. The views expressed are strictly personal)