Political pundits have given their judgment: This is not a wave election. 2014 was a one-off, and not only will the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) struggle to cross the 200 mark this time, but even Sonia Gandhi might pull it off on the back of regional leaders who, they believe, will dutifully line up, like Rajas of yore, to offer their loyalty and support to her.
They have a point. No wave is visible. The BJP has just lost three Hindi-heartland states to the Congress, and Mayawati and Akhilesh have stitched up a formidable alliance which, more than anything else, will ensure that votes of 80-seater UP’s 17 per cent Muslims are not split and wasted.
It is also no secret that the BJP’s performance in the by-elections to Lok Sabha since 2014 has been dismal, to say the least, with the party failing to win any new seat and losing as many as nine out of 15 seats it held, including the one won five times in a row by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The pundits are, therefore, justified in dismissing the results of various opinion polls which show, in sum, NDA almost touching the half-way mark, BJP comfortably crossing the 200 hurdle, and Congress failing to wrest 100 by some margin.
Nothing in 2014 pointed to an absolute majority for the BJP. Nothing is pointing to an encore this year. In 2014, the impact of the chemistry of Modi, the ‘challenger’, was unknown; in 2019, analysts and psephologists agree that the chemistry of Modi, the prime minister, will not be enough to beat the arithmetic of the caste-religion combinations that have been formed to defeat him and the BJP.
Before the BJP lost three states towards the end of 2018, the Opposition, Congress and its thinkers, Arun Shourie among them, were convinced that 2019 would be lost if BJP was allowed to make it a battle between Modi and the rest. Thus was born the hare-brained strategy of turning the election into 543 independent elections — one per constituency — that would wish Modi away, though no one quite knew how that could be achieved on terra firma.
Victories of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan led to the hasty abandonment of that strategy, as Rahul Gandhi’s advisers were convinced that the only way to beat Modi was by turning the election into a Presidential contest between a triumphant Prince and an under-pressure Prime Minister.
That is how, some argued, LK Advani was trounced in 2009 by Dr Manmohan Singh. With the Congress being weaker than it ever was, they reckoned that all that the party needed was to touch its modest tally of 2004, and the rest would fall into place just as it did then. Hence the cacophony of its ecosystem urging all political parties to come together, effectively under Rahul’s leadership, to take on and defeat Modi, head-on.
Regional leaders, however, had different ideas this time. They saw no logic —where they were strong — in letting Congress increase its overall tally at their expense, with the votes of their vote banks, and then lord over them after the elections. On the contrary, in the death throes of the Congress, they spotted a heaven-sent opportunity to bolster their own chances to head/dictate terms to a rag-tag non-BJP government they believed would run the country if BJP lost.
Not crunching numbers here, but suffice it to say that with the Congress left out in the cold in UP and West Bengal — 122 seats — and facing almost unbeatable alliances stitched up by BJP in Bihar and Maharashtra — 88 seats —it will be a miracle if the party gets into three figures. Thus, having made the election Presidential solely on the basis of recent Assembly election results, has the Congress party made its biggest blunder by playing straight into Modi’s hands, or have Rahul and his election strategists, spotted something not readily visible, and played a masterstroke?
Coming to the BJP, conventional wisdom also suggests that in the absence of a wave, the combination of anti-incumbency and anti-BJP alliances should be enough to pull the party below the 200 mark, and if that happens, and if Congress can’t cobble up the numbers, a face acceptable to Rahul and his ecosystem will become the PM of a chastened and weakened NDA.
But is there, really, no wave?
The two main parts of a wave are the trough and the crest. Before 2014, both Congress and BJP were in a trough, and both had given up on winning. LK Advani, in fact, admitted as much in his blog in 2013, that the best case scenario would be a coalition which could not be formed without BJP’s support. No one foresaw the crest that Modi created, or its amplitude. After 30 long years, a party won an absolute majority, and it was the BJP’s first such win.
In a wave, a trough follows a crest. So, before we say there is no wave this time, we must first find the trough. Did it follow the wave of 2014? If yes, when did it occur? Did Modi’s popularity ever so plummet in the five years that he has been PM?
Now, if in five years in power, the graph has remained generally flat and there is no trough — and most will agree there isn’t — then does it also imply that the crest of the 2014 wave is the trough of 2019, and BJP can only go up from here?
A large number of young Indians are still in awe of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s rallies continue to attract huge, rapturous crowds across the country. The enthusiasm has not dimmed at all. If anything, Rahul Gandhi has inadvertently added to Modi’s mystique with the low-level personal attacks that the latter has brilliantly turned on its head, to convince all except inveterate Modi-haters that India needs this ‘Chowkidar’ even more than it did in 2014.
Pakistan’s generals, influenced perhaps by the belief of some of their Indian counterparts that the surgical strikes of 2016 would make it difficult for Modi to go for another cross-LOC strike, have also done their bit. People are convinced that only Modi could have ordered air strikes on Pakistan proper, a first after 1971. Balakot has reinforced his image as a fearless, disruptive doer who places India’s interest above everything else.
Congress’ tame surrender to Pakistan after 26/11 has come back to haunt it; at the same time, in the battle of perceptions, it has made Modi look much bigger than he was before he ordered the audacious attack. Superman, may we say?
There is no peer — no one even near — nor any trough, and Modi’s popularity, peaking at the perfect time, is at an all-time high. Therefore, a Mahagathbandhan notwithstanding, it is appears to this writer that the crest of 2014 is moving directly to an even higher crest in 2019.
Pundits will see its amplitude on 23 May 2019.
Vinod Sharma tweets at @vinod_sharma.
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