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2019 Lok Sabha Polls Won’t Be A Cakewalk For Narendra Modi

What should worry the BJP is not the outcome of the latest sample surveys that show a sizeable dip in Narendra Modi’s popularity as a leader but the public show of strength and discontent by those constituencies that had unanimously backed Modi in 2014

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During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, both the Congress Party and the BJP had made it very easy for the voters to decide which party they should vote for. For instance, when the Congress-led UPA-2 government was reeling under massive corruption charges, the BJP pulled off a political masterstroke by declaring incorruptible Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat Chief Minister, as its Prime Ministerial candidate. Furthermore, in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, some reckless Congress leaders goofed up big time by rejecting Modi as a “chaiwallah not capable of running the country”. This specific narrative of the Congress leaders ignored a fundamental truth of a democracy that the underdogs are the favourite of the electorate. 

The Sonia-led UPA-1 had already done it in 2004. However, in 2009, there was no underdog as the BJP was led by former Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani. Later in this article, we shall ponder over the new underdog in the context of the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections, though you may have already guessed whom we are referring to. What should worry the BJP is not the outcome of the latest sample surveys that show a sizeable dip in Narendra Modi’s popularity as a leader but the public show of strength and discontent by those constituencies that had unanimously backed Modi in 2014.

Here, one should remember that it is the Dalits and farmers and not the urban youth who finally decide the electoral outcomes in India. In 2014, these groups used to see Narendra Modi as a superhero – someone who could emancipate them and radically change their lives. And it is here that the BJP will have to face the biggest backlash because of the monumental expectations but mediocre deliveries. Furthermore, the inability of the concerned authorities to avert violent attacks on Dalit men in Gujarat over the skinning of dead cattle is being perceived as a major failure of the Modi-led NDA government.

Bitcoin, a digital currency, captured the imagination of investors worldwide in 2017. It was seen as the best asset and these expectations elevated its value to unrealistic heights. When realists declared bitcoin does not hold any underlying value, the prices crashed, leaving the investors upset. However, here it may be foolish to compare Narendra Modi with a bitcoin because after taking oath as Prime Minister in May 2014, he has introduced some long-awaited and much-needed reforms during the four years of his rule.

Moreover, he has maintained the dignity and integrity of the office he holds and above all, Modi has been leading by example. But the story of bitcoin definitely has a lesson for the BJP strategists – when people embrace you, the mainstream media across the world start praising you. This, in turn, has a cascading effect where more and more people start talking about you. Though initially, you may gain as a result, you become more vulnerable to decline and abuse when negative sentiments build up.

For Narendra Modi, the negative elements undermining his popularity and acceptance are his own party men and leaders. As if garlanding people who were convicted of lynching by a Union Minister was not enough, a BJP MLA from Maharashtra bragged that he will help hoys kidnap girls and marry them even after those girls have rejected their marriage proposals. The list of such leaders and their controversial speeches and stupid actions is long enough.

The latest addition is the hurried endeavour by another senior BJP leader to win the race of implicating Rahul Gandhi. The said leader went as far as declaring Rahul’s photographs from his Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra fake. However, the Congress Party produced more shreds of evidence later in the day, resulting in unwanted embarrassment to the BJP. In all these misadventures, the BJP lost what it had secured a few years back – a label of being a party with a difference, with upright leaders focused only on good governance.

Even at the macro level, many policy decisions have backfired. That Demonetization could not produce the desired outcomes and almost all money reached back into the system is the new debate that the BJP is finding hard to counter. Similarly, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) – an indirect tax reform hailed by international economists and multilateral financial institutions – brought with it severe challenges for small businesses. And there are verifiable news-reports pointing out the frustration and disappointment it has caused among businessmen who were forced to scale down or even shut operations. Furthermore, many youths have reportedly lost their means of livelihood.

The Aadhaar argument too hasn’t been conclusively won by the BJP. The over-enthusiasm of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman RS Sharma where he revealed his Aadhaar number publicly and threw an open challenge to cause him harm blew the lid off the NDA government’s claim that the Aadhaar data can never be compromised. The Supreme Court’s verdict nullifying the Union government’s attempt at making Aadhaar card linkage mandatory for availing various services also has had a major adverse impact on various service providers as it has pushed up their costs and processing time. The urban youth may take pride in numbers which reveal that thousands of crores have been saved by plugging leakages through Aadhaar. However, MGNREGA workers and ration-card holders who are being declined certain benefits owing to their Aadhaar not linked with the related database or due to incorrect validation may readily vote for anti-BJP candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Those of you who believe that these signs are mixed and don’t point towards a defeat of the BJP in the next general elections, should log in to your Facebook and WhatsApp accounts and compare the current news feeds with how they looked in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. You will then realize that Narendra Modi was the “preferred choice” and “favourite” during the 2014 elections with pro-Modi messages inundating everyone’s social media profiles. On the other hand, now the pro-Modi messages are very rare and the new narrative is “If not Modi, then who?” Furthermore, a new trend that has been observed on the social media is that many sarcastic jokes, hilarious memes and funny images on the rising petrol prices are going viral regularly, with most of them making fun of Narendra Modi and the BJP-led NDA government.

The biggest drawback of the BJP is its excessive dependence on Modi magic and his ability to garner votes and win public support during polls. Two other failures of the BJP are its inability to rein in leaders who are still stuck in the past when Hindu identity, cow politics, patriarchal privileges and underpinnings used to outshine socio-economic development as well as overlooking the need to produce a second generation of leaders who are focused on good governance and meritocracy. Another conspicuous blunder being committed by the BJP is that it keeps criticizing the Congress Party for its past misdeeds even in 2018 when the socio-economic achievements of the NDA government should have become the poll narrative. 

The party that swept to power on tall promises of weeding out corruption from public places couldn’t reform India’s bureaucracy to the extent required. The limited success of ‘Make in India’, ‘Clean Ganga Mission’ and other such government schemes and projects can be attributed to this specific shortcoming. No analyst, thinker, statistician, fortune-teller or psephologist can precisely predict the outcome of polls in a large, democratic country like India. Hence, writing off any party, even the Mayawati-led BSP, which failed to win a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, will prove to be an error of judgment on our part.

However, before we conclude, let us recall the underdog theory that we had discussed at the beginning of this article – one who is criticized the most may garner wide public sympathy. And thanks to the repeated misadventures of the BJP leaders at various levels, the new underdog is the Congress Party President, Rahul Gandhi. As such, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee versus Sonia Gandhi battle of 2004 is likely to see a repeat of sorts in 2019.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Dr Sunil Gupta

Dr Sunil Gupta is a chartered accountant by profession. He has served as a director on the boards of Punjab National Bank (PNB) and Rural Electrification Corporation Limited (REC), General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC) and Dena Bank. Appreciated by national leaders and business professionals, Dr Gupta believes in all-inclusive participation and growth

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