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A new political paradigm

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By Sidharth Mishra

At the meeting of the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party at Bhubaneswar last fortnight, 13 Chief Ministers from the states ruled by the party were present. This should be signal enough for the Congress and the other Opposition parties that the rise of the saffron brigade cannot be blamed alone on the electronic voting machines (EVMs).
More importantly, the BJP leadership at the meeting said that it did not wish to stop at that with party president Amit Shah claiming that victory in four of the five states which went to polls in the last quarter was just a milestone and not the destination. "We now have 13 Chief Ministers. We can now do it in every corner of the country," Shah said in a terse message to the Opposition, which must have been music to the ears of his party workers.
Such phenomenal rise of the BJP in the past few years cannot also be attributed just to the factors of polarisation and counter polarisation. If Bharatiya Janata Party's victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was successful showcasing of Brand Modi, which overshadowed all other brands even that of his own party, the party's victories thereafter have been an example of building on the advantage.
The party in the last decade has created in Brand Modi an amalgam of Hindu poster boy, development mascot, and OBC leader. The 2014 Lok Sabha polls proved extraordinary for one reason -- a political party, which for long faced isolation, romped home to a thumping victory under a leader named Narendra Modi, who was considered a political pariah both nationally and internationally. The results of 2017 Assembly polls, especially in Uttar Pradesh, too, is significant as the party demolished the caste-calibrated political equations in the India's politically most significant state.
The 2014 polls were the first elections which witnessed both the polarisation of the votes of the majority community and their desire for development aggregate in support of the same candidate. Though a similar phenomenon was witnessed in 1984 too when Rajiv Gandhi led Congress to power but then he had the support of the largest minority group as well – the Muslims.
However, soon thereafter questions were raised on 'Modi wave'. The query became stronger after BJP lost Assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar. This development has been variously explained. One perception being that from debacles in Delhi and Bihar, the party decided to strengthen the organisation and make it more close-knit. On the other hand, in the rival parties, there has been constant erosion in support base and loss of political workers.
This phenomenon was best explained by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at an interaction with people from intelligentsia at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library last month, wherein he said, in a reference to the Congress party outsourcing its poll management in the ongoing Assembly polls, "a party leadership which cannot manage its campaign will find it difficult lead its party to consistent victories in the polls."
There was a perceptible difference in the role of poll manager Prashant Kishor from 2015 in Bihar to 2017 in Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar, he was coordinating and implementing the vision and strategies of political leaders like Nitish Kumar. On the other hand in UP, he was acting as puppeteer and political leaders were playing to his tune. In UP, Kishor ended up hawking political inadequacies of the leadership of Congress and to an extent, the Samajwadi Party. The role of the political organisation had come to be usurped by a corporate entity, which was bound to be rejected by people. The political leadership should have the ability to stand the scrutiny of people, as has been done by Narendra Modi in the past 10 years. People have tried to grill him on Gujarat riot but he has successfully shifted the focus on development reflected in the coinage of the slogan 'Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas'. In the recent times, from development, he has moved onto his unique model of economic reforms -- demonetisation to curb black money.
The role of the political organisation had come to be usurped by a corporate entity, which was bound to be rejected by people. The political leadership should have the ability to stand the scrutiny of people, as has been done by Narendra Modi in the past 10 years. People have tried to grill him on Gujarat riot but he has successfully shifted the focus on development reflected in the coinage of the slogan 'Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas'. In the recent times, from development, he has moved onto his unique model of economic reforms -- demonetisation to curb black money.
The biggest challenge Brand Modi faced was diverting public attention away from the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Initially, Modi's supporters in BJP attempted to engage in public debate and highlighted the clean chit given by courts to wash off the stigma. Then, they changed the track. They toned down the Hindutva rhetoric and focused on development and good governance. While he was Chief Minister of Gujarat he was talking about five crore people of Gujarat but now he is engaging 125 crore people of the entire country.  
The party rightly perceives that people want a better life, but also realises that it has a core Hindu constituency to address. Thus, Modi-BJP offers Hindutva the right dilution. He never apologises for Gujarat, doesn't throw Iftaar parties, doesn't wear an Islamic prayer cap, but at the same time, takes corrective measures to navigate out of his Hindu hardliner image by propping up issues of economic and social developments. When opponents try to grill him, he navigates from one issue to another.
Moreover, Narendra Modi as a political personality has not stopped evolving.
The recent elevation of a strong leader like Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has put paid to the theory that he did not want to promote a strong peer group. The sidelining of senior party leaders like Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi created the perception that Modi did not want to promote strong leaders. But Yogi's elevation has created complexities in this perception.
Another point to mull over is whether Modi's pro-business persona has added value to his efforts to connect with the youth and urban voters. His brand value has been helped in no small measure by business leaders from Ratan Tata to Mukesh Ambani singing paeans to his policies. This has allowed Modi to build his brand as that of a progressive leader who has the ability to deliver economic results. And Brand Modi, for now, is definitely in the bullish phase.
(Sidharth Mishra is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post)
 

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