What is remarkable about Narendra Modi’s triumph is that none of the factors which were expected to undermine his position has had any effect on the popular support for him.
Neither the hugely disruptive measures like demonetization and GST, nor the continuing unemployment and agrarian distress has limited his appeal. Instead, it appears to have grown and placed him in a virtually invincible position.
It isn’t only the economic factors which Modi has been able to brush aside as something of little consequence, even the concern expressed by the intelligentsia about the erosion of institutional autonomy as in the Reserve Bank, the CBI and even the Election Commission does not seem to have bothered the general public.
Moreover, if the latter had faced any inconvenience, they convinced themselves that only Modi could solve them. The belief apparently was that he deserved another five years.
A possible reason for this conviction is the government’s success in ensuring what has been called by a supporter as “delivery” on the ground in the matter of providing cooking gas cylinders or houses with latrines and electricity or the opening of bank accounts or the provision of loans to entrepreneurs.
There is little doubt that these micro economic programmes have enabled the government to divert attention from its failures on the larger macroeconomic front such as on the creation of jobs which the opposition had tended to emphasize.
The opposition’s main disadvantage, of course, was the absence of an inspiring leader. Modi fitted the bill in every aspect in this respect with his rousing oratory and commanding presence.
In addition, the constant whining of the opposition parties about the reliability of the electronic voting machines showed them up as petulant losers resembling bad workmen who blamed the tools.
The whining was also accompanied by their inability to get together in durable alliances. Except in Tamil Nadu, where the DMK-Congress tie-up appeared stable, the other such combines – as in Bihar and Maharashtra between the Congress on one hand and the RJD and the NCP on the other – seemed wobbly.
It is also undeniable that at the ground level, the BJP could deploy far more foot soldiers than any of the opposition parties not only because it had greater resources at its command, but also because it had a wide network of fraternal outfits affiliated to the RSS to come to its aid.
The BJP’s tactics, too, were far superior to those of the opposition with Modi being a past master in turning a narrative in his favour.
This was achieved not only by suppressing inconvenient statistics about unemployment and the economic scene, but also by a no-holds-barred attack on the credibility of his opponents, whether dead, or alive like opposition alliance, which, the BJP proclaimed, would be unable to save India from enemies like Pakistan.
It was such an onslaught which derailed the gains which the opposition had made by its 2018 victories in the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assemblies and in the earlier by-elections in U.P., Bihar and elsewhere.
It was those successes which made the opposition believe that it had hit a winning streak. But if it was unable to capitalize on them, the reason was, first, a failure to understand the kind of challenge which the formidable Modi-Amit Shah duo posed with their indefatigable energy and never-say-die attitude.
And, secondly, by a lethargic attitude (compounded by internal bickering) which made the victors rest on their laurels, as in Rajasthan, and not conserving and building on the gains that had been made.
Nothing underlined this contrast between the Congress’s relaxed attitude and the concerted effort made by the BJP president, Amit Shah, in what to most observers would have appeared to be a lost cause, viz., the storming of Mamata Banerjee’s seemingly impregnable bastion of West Bengal.
Considering that the BJP did not have a sizeable ground level presence in West Bengal where the local leadership or the rank and file were concerned, most would have thought that the kind of effort which Amit Shah was putting In would be fruitless.
But the BJP apparently saw the chinks in Mamata Banerjee’s armour in the matter of her overtly pro-minority policies and her failure to bring about the state’s industrial revival. The BJP also saw that the fading out of the Left and the Congress was creating a vacuum which it could fill.
It was the same in Odisha where the weakening of the Congress was seen by the BJP as the thin end of the wedge which it could exploit. Therefore, whether it is charismatic leadership or a keenness to explore the possibilities of political expansion, the BJP does not seem to have a rival at the moment.