The confidence exuded by Narendra Modi about the BJP’s return to power has been borne out by the exit polls. Although, they are not always reliable if only because the people may not always tell the truth about which party they voted for, the data, especially those presented in what is known as the poll of polls, where all the inputs from the various exit polls are taken into account, can be depended upon to give a fair idea of the prevailing trend.
Going by such an assessment, it seems that Modi is returning to power since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP is expected to get 300-plus seats. The Congress and its allies, on the other hand, may win around 130 while the rest about 110. It appears, therefore, that the belief in the opposition camp that the NDA will not be able to make it was an erroneous one and that the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, was wasting his time when he assumed the task of bringing together as many of the opposition parties as possible in order to be able to form a successor government.
True, hope springs eternal in the human breast and the opposition parties will wait for the final results on May 23 before taking the next step. They will also hope that the BJP itself will fall short of the half-way mark of 272 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha as two polls have predicted. Such an outcome will set the opposition cat among the BJP pigeons. But, for the present, their prospects do not look particularly promising.
What has helped Modi to take advantage of a pro-incumbency factor? First and foremost, it is his alpha male personality which apparently continues to impress a large majority of voters. This macho image was buttressed by the surgical strikes which the air force carried out on the terrorist camps in Pakistan which contrasted sharply, as he and his party were never tired of pointing out, with the Manmohan Singh government’s failure to respond with similar strikes after the terror attack by Pakistani “commandos” on Mumbai in November 2008.
The second factor which helped Modi was the belief he generated that he was actively engaged in uplifting the conditions of the poor via various measures like the supply of subsidised cooking gas, the building of houses and toilets, the encouragement of the habits of cleanliness, the opening of bank accounts, making loans easily available to entrepreneurs, the building of highways and rural electrification projects.
These microeconomic endeavours helped to divert attention from the government’s failures on the macroeconomic front which has caused joblessness and agrarian distress. Hence, the curious outcome, as has been pointed out, of a government returning to power despite a stagnant economy.
The third factor which helped Modi was the inability of the opposition parties to get their acts together. It was not only that they failed to strike effective electoral deals to take on the BJP to fulfil their promise of putting up a single candidate from among them against the BJP in every constituency, but they also made no secret of their innate desire to grab the prime ministerial post even by undercutting a potential rival within their own ranks.
The bickering made it easy for the BJP to label these parties as constituting a khichdi or a hodge-podge, which would be unable to provide a stable government which is Modi’s USP (unique selling point). Not only that, the BJP asserted that such an unstable government will be easy prey to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, which was easily believable.
With so many negative features, it is hardly surprising that the opposition failed to make any headway against the concept of a majboot sarkar or a strong government. It was the nationalist/jingoistic factor which propelled the BJP to the winning post. Apart from being a khichdi, the opposition was also handicapped by the absence of a leader who could match Modi’s oratory or his domineering personality even if it sometimes had a touch of the melodramatic.
In contrast, Rahul Gandhi may have succeeded in overcoming his earlier adolescent Pappu image although BJP president Amit Shah keeps referring to him as “Rahul baba” as if he is a child, but the Congress president still has a long way to go before he can inspire confidence as a leader capable of leading a country of 130 million.
The opposition parties were also being naïve if they felt that their propaganda about Modi’s and the BJP’s communally divisive tactics – portrayed by the Time magazine’s cover story about Modi being the “divider in chief” – would turn the ordinary people against the prime minister and his party.
For them, it was enough that Modi had condemned the lynching of Muslims and ticked off the BJP candidate in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, Sadhvi Pragya, for calling Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, a desh bhakt or a patriot although it is unlikely that the BJP will abide by the advice of its ally, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, to expel her.
Nor do the ordinary people care too much about the erosion of institutional autonomy, whose latest example is the rift within the Election Commission over its reluctance to act against the alleged violations of the model code of conduct during the elections by Modi and Amit Shah.
It is also clear that neither the allegations by Rahul Gandhi against Modi about the Rafale deal nor the Congress’s promise of providing a minimum income of Rs 6,000 per month to the poor had any effect. In all likelihood, therefore, it will be another five years for Modi.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. Views are personal.