Journalist | Writer | Analyst
19 October 2014
Results Show Strength – and Limits – of the Modi Wave
The BJP’s victories in Haryana and Maharashtra mark the dramatic advent of a new political reality in these two states, but their consequences are likely to be felt across India in the months and years ahead.
True, the BJP may not have managed a majority of its own in Maharashtra but the shift it has effected there, and in Haryana, is nothing less than tectonic. In both states, the party took a bold gamble in deciding to fight alone. The break with the Haryana Janhit Congress – which made impossible demands — came soon after the BJP’s poor performance in the Bihar by-elections and seemed counter-intuitive at the time. The end of the alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra also had its immediate origins in the Sena’s unrealistic assessment of its own strength. In both cases, however, the BJP decided to gamble on the Modi wave and a strong anti-incumbency trend coming together to put the party in a commanding position.
There was both a tactical and a strategic element to the BJP’s gamble. The tactical element was to see, if in Maharashtra, the party could reconfigure its relationship with the Shiv Sena by demonstrating its ability to win more seats. But the strategic element was just as important: would the BJP be able use Modi’s leadership to emerge victorious and form a government by itself in states where it had a negligible presence (such as Haryana, where the most seats it had ever won was six out of 90 in 2000, that too in alliance with the Indian National Lok Dal) or had been a junior partner (such as Maharashtra, where its best performance had been to win 65 seats in 1995 in alliance with the Shiv Sena)?
This strategic challenge is important to the BJP because making inroads in virgin territory like Haryana, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Kerala is essential for the party to become a truly “national” player and to compensate for eventual seat losses in north India, which it swept this year. The 2014 Lok Sabha election demonstrated the “national” appeal of Narendra Modi but the party was unable to fully harness that appeal because of its weakness in several states. For the BJP then, the Haryana and Maharashtra gambles were about seeing whether the “Modi wave” could be leveraged to generate organizational momentum in states where the party lacked institutional strength, cohesion and strong leadership.
Amit Shah, who implemented this strategy, has every reason to feel satisfied about the success of the experiment in Haryana as far as the BJP’s seat tally is concerned. The party also trebled its vote share compared to the 2009 assembly election, though the 33 per cent it has won now is around 1.5 percentage points less than what it won in the state in the Lok Sabha election.
In Maharashtra, the BJP doubled its vote share compared to 2009 and has emerged as the single largest party. However, Modi’s inability to push the BJP vote share beyond what it won in the 2014 Lok Sabha election suggests that the outer limits of the wave he has generated in Indian electoral politics might already have been reached in Maharashtra. Despite 27 Modi rallies across the state, 71 per cent of the electorate voted against his candidates. Unless the Modi wave gathers force again — this time on the basis of the Prime Minister’s ability to actually deliver on his promises — or is supplemented by the performance of the BJP-led government that will soon start running the state, the party may find it hard to cross the 29 per cent vote barrier.
While the BJP’s allies in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh will take solace from the somewhat indecisive Maharashtra result, both ruling and opposition parties in states like Assam, West Bengal, Odisha and Tamil Nadu have every reason to be worried by the Haryana result.
After all, if the BJP could come out of nowhere and trounce the two leading parties in the state, it is likely to try and replicate the same blitzkrieg tactics elsewhere. Coming soon after the BJP’s success in the recent Assam and West Bengal by-elections, the Haryana result will encourage Amit Shah to aggressively target these two states. Tamil Nadu will also figure in his sights; the battle there will be much tougher, but given the difficulties both the AIADMK and DMK are in, the BJP could try and emerge as a credible third force in alliance with its NDA partners.
Two final points: the BJP’s performance in both states has demonstrated the appeal of “development” as an election theme instead of the communally-charged campaign that the party ran in the recent Uttar Pradesh by-polls. Is this a lesson Modi and Shah are willing to internalise? Or will they continue to rely on the likes of Yogi Adityanath, who specialize in the politics of polarization and hate?
Second, Shah said on Sunday that the results meant Modi was the “undisputed leader” of India. If this is really the case, perhaps it is time for the BJP to place its faith in the appeal of our undisputed leader and allow elections to be held for the Delhi assembly instead of resorting to backroom manipulation as a means of forming the government there.
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Story First Published: October 19, 2014 22:44 IST