POST TIME: 26 May, 2019 11:04:35 AM
The ascetic turned king
Modi comes across as one who has experienced hardship and therefore is better equipped to tackle its ignominies
Kumkum Chadha

The ascetic turned king

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi equated himself to a fakir, a religious ascetic, he was only understating his larger than life persona that had created electoral history. In his first address after this astounding win in the recently concluded elections, Modi said that the country had filled the fakir’s bag with a lot of hope.
In a record win, the second since 2014, Modi and his right-hand man and BJP president Amit Shah achieved a spectacular win that perhaps surprised even his staunch loyalists. With that he proved, both, critics and cynics wrong who were crying hoarse about how much damage the Modi government has caused to the economy; how unemployment and farmers distress will adversely affect the election outcome and how the much talked about elections would either throw up a fractured mandate or one in which even if the BJP had the numbers to form the government, Modi’s second term could be a question mark.
Add to that the Congress campaign focusing on the Rafale gun deal and Modi’s hands being soiled in the process. Ofcourse not to forget demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax that was expected to sound the death knell of the current regime. There was unrest both within and outside the government with alliance partners being restive at what they described as Modi’s arrogance and authoritarian style of functioning.

Therefore,  when the exit polls threw up figures like 300 seats for the BJP, critics and opposition parties advised caution. Some went as far as saying that the exit polls had been manipulated while others trained their guns at the EVMs tampering were the results favourable to the BJP.

It just took a few hours on May 23 for reality to set in: grim for some but delightful for others. Early trends showed a BJP sweep: far more decisive than the  Modi wave in 2014. This time around he pulled off a miracle to say the least. Modi’s 2014 tally was India’s biggest in three decades, this time around he bettered his own record.

Between 1984 and 2014 no single political party could win enough seats to form a government on its own. It bagged 282 seats. This time around it  swept over 303 seats out of the 542 Lok Sabha seats. It also managed to rout Congress President Rahul Gandhi from his home turf Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. In this populous state, the Congress could only retain one of the 80 seats: that being Sonia Gandhi’s.

So what worked for Modi and the BJP? Almost everything: a straightforward and simple answer: no ifs and buts.

The most important factor is that analysts refused to see the ground reality. They were completely out of touch with it. What skipped their attention is the fact that welfare measures be it gas cylinders in homes, opening of bank accounts or toilets made a dent and convinced the poor that Modi is a doer. Yes, there were issues with the implementation of these schemes and complaints of there being toilets but no water were rampant, but the poor were willing to live with that because they believed that things will happen even if they take time. Therefore, even if one toilet came up in a village it was proof enough that others will follow. Consequently, the intent  rather than concrete action on the ground worked for Modi. This was evident even post demonetization when swords were out and much was being made of the damage it had caused to the economy. But what was missed—even at that point in time—was the fact that the poor saw it as a much-awaited  onslaught on the rich and the fact that the honest had finally got the better of crooks. They also saw Modi as a decisive leader who had the guts and gumption to take hard and often unpalatable decisions. Therefore, despite the hue and cry about the demonetization damage, as it was made out to be, in the assembly elections that followed a few months later, BJP did very well.

Two other factors contributed immensely to the wonder figure of 303 seats: Modi’s humble background and his pitch for nationalism.  

The first naturally connects him to the poor: he understands their plight, so when he speaks about  chullas or earthern stoves emanating smoke that has an adverse impact on health of women working in the kitchen, it resonates. Having lived a modest life, scrubbing floors and even cooking his own food, Modi comes across as one who has  experienced hardship and therefore is better equipped to tackle its ignominies.

On the second, he demonstrated that India can neither be taken lightly nor toyed with.  His tough talk on Pakistan and his hum ghar mein ghus ke marengejibe on eliminating terrorists demonstrated that he is not only a do or die man but one who will not dither when it comes to taking hard decisions. More importantly, there was a sense of security that with Modi at the helm both the country and the countrymen are safe. For the first-time voter and young Indians, he came across as a man with a vision to take India forward and instill a sense of pride and inject fresh doses of nationalism in what till now was a  nation in slumber. While fine tuning India’s foreign policy  Modi had positioned himself on the world stage strategically and made sure that when India speaks the world listens.

Politically, Modi did another thing: he widened the BJP’s base: from its vote bank of the middle class and traders he extended it to the poor: so while the first decried demonetization and unemployment, the poor saw him as a messiah who has, both, the capacity and willingness to address their concerns. The recent results have amply demonstrated that while the poor backed Modi’s policies, its traditional vote bank comprising traders and the middle class has remained  intact.

Needless to say that this election, much more than the last, is about Modi and Modi alone with stray references to the BJP. While the slogan Modi hai to mumkin hai, with Modi everything is possible, was coined to capture the people’s imagination, it drove home the point that with Modi steering the campaign anti-incumbency can become pro-incumbency and the self-proclaimed fakir be anointed king by the people of India.  

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)