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Decoding the Narendra Modi verdict

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-05-2014 Manisha Priyam

With 325 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats falling in the lap of the National Democratic Alliance, and with a decisive majority of 282 for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) itself, mandate 2014 is a very decisive verdict. Not since 1984 had a national party won a majority on its own and not since 1989 has there been anything but a coalition government at the Centre—with no single party having a majority.

Furthermore, when state components are analysed for a disaggregated picture, in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has rivalled the historic performance of its bête noire—the Congress in the very first general elections with a vote share over 40% and 72 seats of 80. With the Congress tally in the Lok Sabha falling below three digits, and the party approximating in stature regional parties like the Trinamool Congress, the All lndia Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Biju Janata Dal, the victory seems even more formidable.

The BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi, it appears, has fought at once a multi-faceted battle with a national party—the Congress on one side, and many regional parties and their leaders in the states. An important parameter, therefore, of judging this verdict is the phenomenon of a “Modi wave”—how much, how far and in what ways is the contribution of one person to the formidable outcomes.

This question had dominated political discussions on the eve of the result day, across the country’s media and among its people. On the day of the results—even with early trends trickling in, it was evident that this phenomenon is indeed the cornerstone on which the outcomes must be analysed.

One way of quantifying the wave in a fragmented multi-party situation is by calculating the effective number of parties by votes—the Taagepera Shugart index—that must begin to approximate “one” so as to indicate a near uni-polar situation. This test has indeed been upheld in this case. But it tells us little about the “how” question—the moods and sentiment, or the strategies with which political markets in a competitive, federal political system have indeed been maneuvered. In understanding the first, I consider critical the extensive campaign by Modi addressing more than 440 rallies across the country. All claims and questions about turnouts, and the references to the Gujarat model as being marketing hype must now be put aside for a nuanced understanding of the note of optimism and trust (implicit in the BJP’s promise of its campaign tagline Accche Din Aane Waale Hain, or good days are coming) that these rallies were able to cultivate.

The first important dimension is that these were done with a regional tone and flavour, and a distinctive connect with prioritizing of regional issues as also a clear statement of national problems. In one of his early rallies in Dumka, in Jharkhand, notwithstanding fears of a Maoist call for a general strike, thousands appeared at the venue. The stage had an array of tribal leaders, and there was a reference to the outstanding historical contribution of leaders such as Siddhu-Kanhu, Nilamber-Pitamber, Birsa Munda, and Shadeo.

It was a straight message about economic problems—of poor agriculture due to severe droughts and what lessons efforts to bring water in the deserts of Gujarat could hold for Jharkhand. Even more, a clear challenge to the Maoists to drop the gun and hold instead the plough or the hal. “Khoon ke rang se nahi, vikaas ke rang se rangne ki zaroorat hai”—not the colour of blood, but what we need is an immersion in development.

Earlier in October in Patna, Bihar—Modi’s rally continued despite six bombs detonating at the rally site—he made an inclusive appeal, saying the real enemy of the people was poverty. At the fag end of the elections, in Chapra, Bihar, he arrived after casting his vote in Ahmedabad, and addressed a rally attended by hundreds of thousands in temperatures breaking the 40 degree Celsius barrier. Here, he lampooned the weak and ill-motivated alliance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, with Sonia Gandhi addressing no joint rallies with Lalu Prasad. Once again, a focus on the problems, in this case a direct communication with students taking the Class XII exams—the aspirational young ones, and what the state needs to do for them to succeed in life.

Direct communication with new constituents—scheduled tribes, youth, using a language that was not of caste or jaati, or forward-backward caste groups (agada-pichada), but an appeal to the political rationality of India’s poor electorate. And a hope that with correct neta, neeyat and neeti (leader, good intention and right policies), things can change.

He knew that in 2014, the whole cannot simply be the sum of its parts—the political reality of a state-oriented, competitive federal system, with Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, J. Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik, and a broken Andhra Pradesh were taken into account. The political alliances with the Apna Dal and Anupriya Patel in Uttar Pradesh, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha’s Lok Samata Party in Bihar, and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh were the alliances he stitched together. None of these were in power in any state. In fact, Kushwaha, Patel, and Paswan were only seen as leaders of a small proportion of the backward castes they belonged to. Yet, put together, they broke the idea of a vote bank for any Mandal—or Dalit ideology-led leader—Lalu Prasad, Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav all included.

The BJP also reaped the benefits of a strong anti-incumbency wave against the Congress. At the end, what we have is a clear mandate—made as a compact between the state and its under-privileged yet aspiring citizens to create a rule-bound idea of India. The challenge now is to lead it in a manner to achieve these ambitions.

The author is ICSSR Fellow Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. She is India coordinator for London School of Economics research project on Study of Elections in India.

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