Is This Modi’s Waterloo? – OpEd


By Rajeev Sharma

So, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has just faced a humiliating defeat in the crucial elections to the Bihar assembly.

But then why the post-Bihar political narrative in India has been focused on Modi?

How come that the political discourse has been centered on Modi versus Nitish Kumar because the former is the PM and head of Indian government while the latter is just a CM or chief minister of one of India’s 29 states?

Well, that is the crux of the whole problem and Modi has himself to blame for this. Never before in the history of independent India had a premier raised the stakes of one state assembly poll so much and campaigned so extensively as Modi did in Bihar. He did not even learn from his party’s complete rout in Delhi assembly polls nine months ago where he had campaigned extensively and the BJP managed to win just three out of 70 seats.

Bihar proved to be a mini-Delhi for Modi and the BJP. Modi personally led his party’s poll campaign and addressed as many as 26 rallies in Bihar. In fact, the joke doing the rounds while the Bihar campaigning was on was that Modi would be back in the state next year for campaigning in village council elections!

The prime minister deliberately kept senior BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha (who is a Bihari) away from the campaign and ordered his ministers to address election rallies. All the ministers roped in for campaigning in Bihar are minions and hardly capable of winning their own elections. They won their seats in the April-May 2014 general elections only because of the Modi wave.

Now cut to 2015 and there is no Modi wave. Delhi proved it nine months ago and Bihar has corroborated it now.

How did it happen? How come the Modi tsunami has fizzled out so quickly? There are several explanations for this.

1. Unification of key opposition parties. The onset of the Modi era has brought forth a BJP versus the rest scenario. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi had said after his party’s rout in last year’s general elections that Modi had got 31 percent votes, which meant that 69 percent votes were cast against him. Nobody took Gandhi seriously till recently and that’s why the Modi juggernaut continued to roll on pummeling the opposition in assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana and even in the Muslim-dominated state of Jammu and Kashmir. Gandhi this time ensured that his Congress party joined hands with two major regional parties opposed to the BJP, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. As a result this grand alliance got two-thirds majority in the 243-seat Bihar assembly and the Congress won 17 seats as against just four in 2010 when the Congress had contested elections on its own.

2. Negative campaigning by the BJP. Modi and his party colleagues initially did the right thing by focusing on development but as the five-phase polling picked up momentum their campaign increasingly became shriller and negative. Modi himself threw barbs at Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav and did not even spare Lalu’s daughter. This did not go down well and hurt the Bihari pride, triggering a very effective slogan by the Nitish-Lalu team: Bihari versus the Bahiri (the outsiders).

3. Increasing intolerance. Filmmakers, historians, literary writers, intellectuals and even scientists increased pressure on the Modi government by returning their government awards in protest against rising intolerance when Bihar polls were at their peak. This was coupled with irresponsible remarks by the BJP’s loose canons, which were aimed at polarizing the voters on communal lines. The BJP sought to milk the beef controversy and came up with posters of cow with the save-cow message. India’s vibrant social media lampooned the BJP for using the cow saying the cow gives milk, not votes. One tweet said how the BJP used the cow for political means but ended up with dung on its face.

4. The Amit Shah factor. Modi gave a free run to his handpicked BJP President Amit Shah who camped in Bihar for months and ran the election campaign like the CEO of a multinational company. After all, Shah had got BJP 71 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh in last year’s general elections. But this time his authoritarian style proved to be counterproductive. His remark that defeat of BJP in Bihar will be celebrated in Pakistan with firecrackers sealed the BJP’s fate.

5. RSS chief’s remark on reservation. The anti-reservation remark by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat before even the first vote was polled gave ammunition to the Nitish-Lalu combine and proved to be the BJP’s undoing as Bihar’s majority population is backward and dependent on reservation. This raises the conspiracy theory whether the RSS did so deliberately to cut Modi to size.

The immediate impact of the Bihar results will be that Modi’s political stature will be shriveled and pruned. Moreover, his stature abroad too will inevitably be reduced.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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