What matters to the low-income voter, as also to the first-time voter, is jobs, and whether the government’s welfare schemes have reached last-mile delivery and improved the quality of life.
To deliver quantifiable change within a complex federal structure poses the biggest challenge for any central government.
The predominant sentiments 10 months ahead of the 2019 elections range from fear to extreme paranoia. While the Narendra Modi supporters are fearful of the Prime Minister (PM) missing the mark narrowly and not returning to power, feelings of greater paranoia grip detractors of the government. Both fear and paranoia are negative motivators, and that is a distinct shift from the euphoria of 2014 that delivered the most decisive mandate in 30 years for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance. Coalition it was, but a coalition founded on the stable pillars of a single-party majority.
At the outset, let me dispel the fear of the BJP forming the next government without Modi as the PM, should the party achieve anything close to just a simple majority or at worst, a tally around 200 seats. Undoubtedly, that scenario post-poll would offer antagonists within the party reason to attempt a coup to sideline Modi in favour of a moderate who could attract more allies. However, the fact remains that Modi’s dominance within the BJP and NDA, and outside of it, would make him surpass even former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s stature of the last century. That should put to rest fears of an NDA alliance coming back with a slimmer majority, and thereby dispensing or sidelining Modi.
Clearly, BJP minus its star campaigner lacks appeal, resonance or traction. For a BJP minus Modi, there’s little to differentiate the party in calibre or credo from other political parties, despite the high nationalist and moral ideals of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Perhaps, in a way, Brand Modi towers over even the RSS, much to the organisation’s chagrin. And I validate my surmise by the fact that RSS cadres have grown exponentially since the ascent of Modi, with an increase of “29 per cent in daily shakhas, 61 per cent increase in weekly shakhas and 40 per cent growth in monthly shakhas across India from 2010-11 to 2014-15,” which would have further increased in the last three years.
It’s important to comprehend the intimidating power of such leaders whose overarching eminence determines India’s trysts with the 21st century, and who is now dictating the agenda for socio-economic and political debate, dialogue and discourse for 2019. Modi as the pivot of Indian politics triggers fierce loyalty and equal antagonism; he harmonises, as equally polarises the polity. There is no alternate face of the BJP who can sustain voter interest and who has his riveting appeal in rallies. So, In effect, it’s a double- TINA (there is no alternative) for Modi. Because within the BJP, there is no alternative to him in the party; and even for a voter who may feel the PM has underperformed as against his expectations, it’s TINA again. Because the mature voter will prefer Modi as PM in preference to state leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Tejaswi Yadav or even a Rahul Gandhi. Now, that may not be a positive ‘yes’ in favour of the PM, but could become a default choice for the indecisive ‘swing voter’.
Further, extending my submission that this election is motivated by fear, even industry and investors are voicing alarmist concerns like: “Will the India story be damaged or derailed if Modi is not re-elected?” India Inc. is not likely to give up on Modi, knowing he will rectify some missteps of the last tenure, and well aware that the alternate to the BJP is worse. So, it’s the TINA factor again at play even for ‘Business India’.
For Opposition leaders like Mayawati, it’s a fear of political obsolescence and an existential fight for relevance in a do or die election. For Rahul Gandhi, it’s a challenge whether he can contain and restrict BJP’s 2014 performance, and if he can succeed in salvaging the free fall of the Congress with successive electoral losses in state after state, capitulating 70 per cent of India to BJP dominance. And for Mamata Banerjee, it’s a vascillation between ambition to ascend to pan-India eminence from the sidelines of remaining a local chieftain, to an extreme rejection to the idea of Rahul Gandhi helming another United Progressive Alliance (UPA) like formation at the Centre. Because time and age are not on the side of veteran leaders like her, should they individually miss another five years to leap centre-stage.
The fact is the Modi regime catapulted India to an inflection point in history after re-calibrating to a new world order of tax-compliance, with lesser places for the errant to hide. So, with economic cleansing done with, and legacy issues stemming from misdeeds of UPA II under resolution, we stand at the cusp of change to herald a New India should it be Modi 2.0, where old ways of doing business and old ways of treating politics as business by dynasts of yore will not work. Modi’s greatest success lies in dismantling the “zamindari of a handful of dynastic families” who governed their states as personal fiefdoms through the democratic process by electorally defeating most of these satraps.
Of course, glitches and imperfections remain, because radical reforms are always a work in progress. For that, Modi needs another term to complete repairing of the economy, a job well done, but half-complete. We are a few months away before the BJP-led NDA goes into the 'lame-duck' phase of governance, as all regimes do, in the last few months before elections. That leaves the Government of India with maximum five months, or lesser, of effective time to complete micro-delivery of all PM’s flagship yojanas.
Any incumbent government needs a report card strong enough to qualify it to build a case for a second term. And Modi has a compelling case to push for that aggressively. Because while what he has achieved in four years may be many tads short of the Promised Land the PM has plenty of reasons for to ask the voters to return him to power, of course, alongside with his signature lashings at Opposition's coming together on an agenda-less platform.
Modi must form his electoral strategy for 2019 on 'real issues' more than the 'one-nation issues' of nationalism, Hindutva, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code for a triumphant return to power. Because what matters to the low-income voter, as also to the first-time voter, is jobs, and whether the government’s welfare schemes have reached last-mile delivery and improved the quality of life. To deliver quantifiable change within a complex federal structure poses the biggest challenge for any central government, despite the fact BJP has 20 states under it, which it directly governs or rules with a coalition partner.