Lok Sabha Elections: Modi has his back to the wall
There is an anti- Modi wave in India and many trends prove that the BJP government may find it difficult to repeat its 2014 performance this time
Things are clearly not looking up for the BJP. After the end of two phases of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, ominous news is trickling in from all corners of the country for the BJP. The nervousness is clearly showing in their leaders’ speeches. Lok Sabha election, 2019, is surely not shaping up to the likings of the saffron party. It is becoming distinctly clear that an undercurrent of anti-Modi mood is sweeping across the country, barring big cities and committed Modi bhakts. After two rounds of polling on April 11 and April 18, reports from the ground suggest that the BJP is likely to end up on the losing end on a vast majority of these seats. Data analytics started painting a gloomy picture for the BJP right when polling in the first round ended. Centre For Studies of Developing Society (CSDS) director Sanjay Kumar has predicted that the lower turnout in the first round itself does not ‘auger well’ for the incumbent BJP. The way elections are shaping up gives out a sense that the BJP is at a clear “disadvantage.” Our correspondents travelling across the length and breadth of the country paint a picture that should leave the BJP jittery and its star campaigner Narendra Modi nervous.
From various reports that Team NH has been filing, a broad and distinct pattern of voting is emerging which is unravelling a political story that is very much along the lines that should have logically happened after five years of misgovernance under Narendra Modi’s rule. Sifting through the reports, NH has been able to identify the following trends emerging in all the four corners of the country:
1 There are no signs of any Modi wave in any part of the country so far. The BJP is losing ground even in Modi’s backyard of Gujarat where it swept all the 26 seats in 2014. Our correspondent from Gujarat reports that is “not the case” any more.
2 Instead, there is an under-current of anti-Modi wave/mood which is caused by five years of Modi’s complete failure on the governance front. Voters are asking questions to the BJP campaigners about their failures.
3 For the average voter, other than Modi’s committed bhakts, BJP’s star campaigner Narendra Modi has turned into a bluffmaster who could promise anything without delivery to capture power. This means people have lost faith in Modi, leaving him facing a serious credibility crisis.
4 Narendra Modi is no longer Mr Clean. The Congress slogan chowkidar chor hai is resonating in even those corners of the country where Hindi is not spoken.
5 The average voter has not forgotten the hardships caused to them by moves like Demonetisation and unimaginative implementation of the GST regime which have caused massive unemployment and loss to businesses. Sufferers are now voting to avenge their hardship. A voter in Western UP, for instance, angrily pointed out to our reporter that he could hardly manage to host his daughter’s marriage reception. “How can I forget it at the time of voting,” he told NH.
6 Expectedly, farmers across the country are terribly angry and are now voting for ‘achche din’ without Modi. Widespread farmer distress has heavily turned villages against Modi which is a massive loss for the BJP because majority of the parliamentary seats come from rural areas.
7 Another significant trend observed in the first two rounds is that the anti-Modi voter is largely casting his ballot to defeat the BJP. Anti-Modi vote largely is not wasted with divisions as it happened in 2014 when Modi romped home to power only with total 31 per cent vote while the 69 per cent anti-Modi vote got divided amongst various parties.
8 There seems to be two clear divides emerging this time round. There is a rich and poor divide and the rural and urban divide. The rich and middle class majority is leaning towards the BJP while the poor is tilting towards anti-BJP parties. For instance, our reporters pointed out that Ghaziabad and Noida urban middle class voters largely voted for the BJP while the villages in the same segments voted in large numbers against the BJP.
9 The election so far seems to be progressing more along caste lines rather than personality lines. The Modi-centric BJP campaign is, therefore, not working to the BJP’s advantage.
10 The second largest voting block of the Muslims is largely doing strategic voting. Its first preference is the Congress. But its priority remains defeating the BJP. So, it is largely avoiding splitting its vote and voting in favour of a candidate who is better placed to defeat the BJP.
The BJP in these circumstances is a clear loser so far because the overall picture gives a sense of an anti-Modi undercurrent to the elections unfolding in phases. But what has gone wrong with Narendra Modi and the BJP despite the mainstream media cacophony still supporting the saffron party? It seems that Narendra Modi had the feeling that his failures on the governance front could work against the BJP in 2019 elections. So, the Prime Minister had worked on a “clever electoral strategy”, as senior journalist Shekhar Gupta has written. Modi right from the word go very consciously played a deflection game to divert peoples’ attention from basic issues like Demonetisation, GST reform hardships, farm distress and rampant unemployment, etc, to a mega non-permanent issue. The Pulwama terror strike and then retaliatory Indian Air Force airstrikes at Pakistan terror camps came handy for Modi. If you look at the BJP campaign, it entirely rests upon nationalist sentiments generated on the Balakot airstrikes. Modi basically is banking on his old Gujarat election tactics wherein a larger-than-life enemy is first projected to generate fear and then Modi himself enters the scene as a saviour. It was Godhra train tragedy in 2002 which left the Gujarat majority community numb. Then, came the massive Gujarat riots and finally Modi stepped in as Hindu “ang rakhshak” (saviour) to emerge as Hindu Hriday Samrat. After the Pulwama terror strike killed nearly 50 Indian security personnel, the Indian airstrikes, for which Narendra Modi took full credit, sought to send out the message that he has settled score with Pakistan to attempt to emerge as the saviour again.
Mainstream media backed Modi to the hilt in this endeavour and, initially, it seemed that people are raging against Pakistan with nationalist sentiments sweeping across the length and breadth of the country. But as the election campaign started picking up, people started questioning the BJP on its performance in the last five years. Voters are so agitated with Modi’s five years of misrule that some of them even started questioning Modi on Pulwama. “Why did he (Modi) fail to stop terrorists from attacking our security men,” asked an angry Jaat in western Uttar Pradesh while talking to one of our reporters covering the election.
The problem with the Modi game plan is that Pakistan is no longer such a mega threat in peoples’ perception as it used to be till Indira Gandhi taught Islamabad a lesson in 1971 when its eastern wing broke away from Pakistan and morphed into an independent Bangladesh. Pakistan had already been taught a lesson during the Bangladesh crisis and then again during the Kargil War in 1998. If Pakistan is a threat at all, it is confined to the Kashmir Valley and not beyond. So, Balakot generated nationalist sentiments but they were soon overtaken by five years of Modi’s misgovernance which was weighing heavily on the majority of the voters. Any kind of smokescreen that Modi and his team was trying to build did not work. “Our campaign has hit a wall,” admitted a member of the BJP core election team.
Voters’ anger, combined with the total collapse of the BJP campaign plan, seems to be pushing Narendra Modi and the BJP into a corner in 2019. Even Narendra Modi seems to be realising that his campaign has hit an iceberg. In an interview with a national daily, Modi said: “Those accusing us of hyper-nationalism mock deshbhakti.” It is an admission by itself that ‘hyper-nationalism’ is being questioned on the ground.
It reflects collapse of the BJP election campaign strategy. The nervous Modi-Shah team is now desperately trying to boost its prospects by playing the Pakistan card and by stressing on Hindu-Muslim divide. But nothing is working. That is why possibly, the latest ploy Modi has adopted is to harp on his backward class identity. If the trend of the first two phases persists, Narendra Modi could face the jolt of his life when results come out on May 23.