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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | 21 MAY, 2014

BJP’s Narendra Modi has been swept into power by an India that still does not fully understand what happened, despite giving him 31 percent of the vote. This has translated into a full majority in the Lok Sabha with Modi in the midst of fine tuning relations between himself, the RSS a section of which is worried about the absolute power he seems to be set to enjoy, and the old guard in the BJP that has not still come out of its sulk.

Modi’s campaign was that of a master strategist. And in hindsight it is clear that all he was working on so astutely has paid off. One, he was the first to sense the silent wave of anger against the Congress party, and over a year ago moved into the national domain to exploit it. His attack on the Congress leadership and the party was relentless, and in effect he basically buried the little bit of life that was left in the party.

Two, he turned the media spotlights on to himself through a mega-crore publicity blitz so that he became the most visible figure standing to pick up the proceeds, after the Congress party’s demise.

And once both of this had been established he moved to distance himself from the BJP and its follies of corruption and factionalism, becoming the Modi with the capacity to settle even the foibles of the party he came from. The RSS helped here, but even so Modi stood above all, and again thanks to the publicity blitz, succeeded in occupying the high ground insofar as his own Sangh Parivar was concerned.

Then came the substance of the campaign, and this is where Modi tweaked all the issues that worked — Mandal, Mandir and the Market. The three Ms were re-worked as never before, overtly and yet in a sense subtly with the voter unable to fully understand the complexities of the high voltage campaign. The market was what was the most visible all through, with Modi managing to dress himself in the garb of a honest, forward looking politician who could bring an end to employment and spiraling inflation, who could control prices, and who could take India on the corporate path even as he preserved the interests of the not so fortunate sections of society. The youth in particular were galvanised with the promise of ‘acche din aayenge’ and going by the unchallenged picture painted over the years of the “Gujarat model” reposed their trust in Modi for doing the same on the national level. This was in fact a mantra that worked, as he was able to cut across caste barriers with the promise of development.

The market of course, responded to the vision of a stable government, with the corporates already having reposed their trust years ago in a Modi they are sure will cater to their interests. He has become central to market interest, positioning himself in the past as a politician committed to development at all costs.

Mandal was a little more subtle, but after decades in public life, it was a matter of some interest that Modi in his first general elections discovered his backward caste. This added to the chai wallah ‘status’ handed to him on a platter by Congress party’s Mani Shankar Aiyar helped a great deal amongst the larger poor and backward sections of the states he was targeting, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Large sections of the backwards have voted for him, as a man from amongst their own, a leader with humble beginnings, and a politician whose sensitivity to their plight should be accommodated given his backward and chai wala status.

The BJP under Modi’s right hand man Amit Shah worked to spread this message across the districts of Uttar Pradesh, as the party reinforced Modi’s backward message through its well entrenched machinery. The counter by other political parties who have taken the backward support for granted, that Modi should identify his caste if he is indeed backward, was clearly taken as hair splitting by the constituents who rejected the latter argument altogether.

Perhaps the most subtle part of the three pronged campaign was the ‘mandir’ insofar as Modi was concerned. He left this to the RSS and the BJP to articulate, often public, all the time in the field as the cadres spread out bringing the remaining constituents together on this all time emotional card. In the last elections, both state and national, the BJP had tried but had been unable to take the mandir issue forward leading to an analysis within the party, that this card had peaked with the demolition of the Babri mosque, and was no longer working on the ground.

The RSS had never really given up on this. And Modi concurring with the RSS, showed how it could be re-worked effectively on the ground. One, the BJP made it clear that the mandir issue remained well on its agenda, and linked it to the uniform civil code and the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Two, the Muzaffarnagar violence helped like nothing else in fracturing western Uttar Pradesh polity, with the Jats moving towards the BJP along with the Dalits and other sections, and the Muslim vote splitting in desperation. This polarisation was taken by the RSS cadres who had come out in full support, and not by Modi, into other parts of the state where the communal card was presented to the electorate in the light of the violence, and not just the direct rebuilding the Ram Mandir issue.

This became a heady potent, when combined with Mandal and the Market with the hardcore constituency that the RSS has been fearful of losing because of the exploits of the BJP, cementing itself again behind the Parivar. Modi, thus, has become the personality in which all these three Ms have merged, and thereby gave him the sweeping victory that even he was not totally confident about.

It remains to be seen how Modi will handle the three components that have brought him to where he is, and whether he will be able to handle the dichotomy that is inbuilt into the Mandal and Market components. In fact Mandir as well, because violence might consolidate votes but it scares away the big international investors.

Modi now has to give teeth to his campaign, balance the various divergent groups within his Sangh Parivar, and move the country firmly towards inclusive development which is the only kind that works, as the Congress has realised at great cost. Or perhaps not even realised that as yet.

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