Modi with his distinct style of politics and emphasis on development is altering the electoral paradigm in India
Mayank Singh | October 21, 2014
The Narendra Modi juggernaut continues to move forward. With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as a victor in the Maharashtra and Haryana vidhan sabha elections, the Modi phenomenon is pushing political opponents towards political irrelevance.
Setback for coalition politics
The results of the vidhan sabha elections indicate that the electorate has affirmed faith in Modi’s emphasis on ‘good governance’ and its natural corollary ‘development’.
The people have emphatically expressed their abhorrence for caste-based and regional politics which have resulted in egregious governance. As a consequence, coalition politics, the bane of good governance in the country, has suffered a serious setback.
The lok sabha election results in Maharashtra where the BJP, in coalition with the Shiv Sena won 42 out of the 48 seats on offer, was proof of Modi’s popularity and the disillusionment of the people with the ruling Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine. But the internal differences over seat sharing between the BJP and the Sena, notwithstanding their political alliance of 25 years, resulted in acrimony between the partners in the run up to the vidhan sabha elections.
Sena’s offer to retain 151 seats in the coalition while restricting the BJP’s share to 119 was a result of its avarice to obtain the position of chief minister.
The BJP, its confidence on the ascendance after its victory in the lok sabha elections, was bargaining for an increase in its share of allocation of seats in the coalition. The party, which had won 23 seats in the lok sabha elections as compared to the Sena’s 18, was also basing its argument on the results in the vidhan sabha elections of 2009 where it had won 48 seats to its partner’s 44.
But the Sena’s intransigent attitude ruptured the coalition. The Sena, like other political opponents of Modi, however, failed to anticipate the mood of the people. Uddhav Thackeray, the Sena chief, is no patch on the political acumen of his father late Balasaheb Thackeray. The wily Balasaheb, understanding the marginalisation of his party because of its rabid regionalism had gradually shifted tracks towards nationalism and stitched together a coalition with BJP. Uddhav, however, failed to see the straws in the wind blowing in favor of Modi. A gracious withdrawal from the stubbornness would have not only provided him respectability in the emerging political formation in Maharashtra, but also increased his clout in the Modi government in New Delhi.
With Sena coming in a distant second to the BJP, it is caught in a Catch 22. If the party fails to offer support to BJP in the formation of a government in Mahrashtra and decides to sit in the opposition, it faces the prospect of its supporters shifting allegiance to BJP. If it agrees to join the government, it will be compelled to be a junior partner. The resultant failure of the Sena to leverage influential portfolios in the government will adversely impact its political stature in the state.
Uddhav’s error of judgement has reduced the bargaining power of Sena in the new government. Despite the rhetoric, the party knows that it is no longer in a position to play the Russian roulette with BJP. The NCP’s offer of ‘unconditional’ support to the BJP has further queered the pitch for the Sena.
For the BJP, notwithstanding the fact that it has failed to obtain the requisite majority for formation of government in Maharashtra independently; the results have been momentous.
Theoretically, if the lok sabha vote shares for the coalition were retained in the vidhan sabha elections, then the coalition would have won around 240 out of the 288 seats in the elections.
But, the state elections are contested on different issues as compared to the lok sabha polls and do not necessarily result in conversion of votes at the same level.
The BJP, as a party with national outreach also required to redefine its relationship with its regional partner. The comfortable majority in lok sabha, resulting from the ‘Modi wave' had provided the party with the confidence to play the role of a political big brother.
The BJP’s gamble of refusing the Sena's offer of 119 seats and contesting the elections independently has paid rich dividends. Even the best of results arising from its acceptance of Sena's pre-election offer would not have given it 122 seats and the status of the largest party in the state. Sena on the other hand, would have derived electoral benefit by piggy riding on Modi's popularity and become the largest party simply on the basis of contesting greater number of seats. The BJP’s political strategy, though borne out of political compulsions, has increased its political relevance in the state. The results have affirmed the BJP's national credentials. If the party had yielded to the Sena's arm twisting, the coalition might have been saved, at the expense of BJP's pan India expansion.
The growth of regional parties in Indian politics was propagated as the spread of democracy and inclusiveness of regional aspirations. But in reality, these notions remained a chimera. Coalition politics, with regional parties imposing their narrow parochial agenda at the centre has only resulted in nepotism and corruption. Rapacious governance arising from coalition politics has led to increasing disillusionment of the common people with democracy.
Governance has been held to ransom by regional parties who forcibly implement their vested agendas without heeding to its adverse impact on the national stage. The behaviour of regional leaders such as Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa in the recent past has only served to denigrate coalition politics.
BJP's victory in Maharashtra and Haryana has dealt a serious blow to the coalition politics as being practiced in the country. Apart from the shenanigans of the Sena, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), BJP's coalition partner in Punjab had decided to support the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) instead of BJP. The result in Haryana where the INLD finished behind BJP is a manifestation of the fact that the people are repelled by unscrupulous politics where regional parties switch camps at the slightest pretext.
That the BJP’s gamble of taking a divergent path from its partners paid off, is in no small measure a credit to Modi’s extraordinary charisma. Five months into national governance, the Modi effect refuses to ebb. Amit Shah, BJP's national president's description of Modi “as a Tsunami which is sweeping away political opponents," was not a vain eulogy but a realistic assessment of the ground realities.
Modi's election as the prime minister was a manifestation of the people's yearning for change. For a country stuck in pessimism because of Manmohan Singh's servile submission before Sonia Gandhi and his inability to take decisions, Modi symbolised optimism. Manmohan's failure to impose his will on his government because of the diarchy of power with Sonia ensured that errant ministers refused to acknowledge his leadership and directives. The economy remained sluggish because of policy paralysis. The numerous financial scams were a result of Manmohan's inaction against delinquent ministers. Manmohan’s effete governance created a situation where the people started developing an aversion for polity.
It was this resentment of the people which helped Modi achieve a massive victory in the lok sabha elections.
Modi has defied all predictions regarding his ability to govern a diverse society. He has refused to bite the bait regarding his perceived anti-Muslim bias despite provocations from his political opponents. Instead of launching big-ticket economic reforms which fail to fructify in the absence of political will and red tapism, he has been focusing on gradually restructuring the system which would be able to implement the reforms after their introduction. Modi's foreign policy, with hints of Realpolitik, has indeed been a revelation.
But Modi’s charisma lies not in his political strategising alone. Modi has conjured a notion missing in the Indian polity since independence; ‘Hope’, the optimism generated by his persona has made even the decrepit caste system redundant in politics. BJP's performance indicates that people have refused to respond to attempts to allure people on the basis of their caste affinities. It would have been unthinkable that Devendra Phadnavis, a Brahmin could be a contender for the position of chief minister in the Maratha centric politics of Maharashtra. Incidentally, the outgoing Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra did not have a single Brahmin minister in the cabinet.
Prithviraj Chavan’s candid confession, that: “(Brahmins) do not count in local politics," exemplifies this regressive mentality. The venal caste system has ensured the sacrifice of merit at the altar of political expediency.
But the election results indicate that despite the politicians’ attempts to the contrary, the electorate is gradually developing the maturity to reject such divisive agenda. The credit for this shift in political mores lies at the door of Modi who has brought the agenda of development and progress onto centre stage.
Modi with his distinct style of politics and emphasis on development is indeed altering the electoral paradigm in India.