Analysts for some time to come will continue to probe what made up the ‘Modi effect,’ which gave the Bharatiya Janata Party a majority on its own in the 2014 national election for the first time.
For the first time a party other than the Indian National
Congress, which had dominated the Indian political scene
for 128 years, came to power on its own, espousing an idea
of India which is very different from the one held out by the
Several non-Congress dispensations have headed the
national government in Delhi in the last 25 years. But barring one, which was led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, all others
were headed by men who had Congress antecedents, and
broadly subscribed to its ideology.
Vajpayee had headed a BJP-led National Democratic
Alliance government from 1998 to 2004, but at the time the
BJP was dependent on almost two dozen parties for its survival.
In 2014, the BJP has formed a government with its pre-
poll allies. But given its numbers, at 282, having crossed the
majority mark, it does not need to depend on their support.
That is the qualitative shift that has taken place.
Today, if the world is looking at India with new eyes as an
investment destination, it is because of the political stability
that the new regime promises. It is not as if the economy
has turned the corner, but there has been a perception
change about India.
There is a difference between 2014 and 1977, when a similar wave was in evidence against the then ruling Congress
party for the internal Emergency then prime minister
Indira Gandhi had imposed, abridging basic freedoms. But
Mandate 2014 was more than just a negative vote. There
was, of course, anger against Dr Manmohan Singh’s government for price rise and corruption. But there was a clear
sentiment in favor of Narendra Modi who caught the imagination of the people as a leader who could bring the
change they craved for.
Surveys later revealed that 25% of voters would not have
voted for the BJP had Modi not been its prime ministerial
candidate. If Modi walks with a confident step today, it is
because of the legitimacy the people of India have conferred
The Modi Vote pointed to how India is changing. Implicit
in it was a reaction against family connections being the
‘open sesame’ to opportunity. Political dynasties may not
have fully come a-cropper, but Congress leader Rahul
Gandhi failed to click and Modi’s ‘chaiwalla’ beginnings
had an additional appeal for the younger voter, who comprise two thirds of the country today, and are no longer
enamored by family rule. (Almost two out of every three
Indians today is under 35.)
This also showed that equity as a principle is not as dead
as some would like to believe, and that India’s democracy,
for all its faults, is constantly devolving.
Most significant about the Modi Effect, however, was that
it cut across castes. It was unprecedented because it happened after decades. It was only in the years after
Independence, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Congress
was still an umbrella party that it was able to reach out to
all castes and communities.
It would, however, be less, than accurate to say that the
BJP did not use both caste and community cleverly, strategically, in specific areas, and through forging alliances, to its
advantage. But it did so under the wider umbrella of development and good governance, packaging in Modi the
promise of a strong leadership.
Clearly, Modi’s victory cannot be credited to the support
of any one caste. The forward castes, inclined to the BJP
Modi himself belongs to the ‘teli’ caste, which falls in the
MBC (Most Backward Castes) category (in Bihar), and the
BJP successfully created a buzz, particularly in Uttar
Pradesh and Bihar, the two states which were critical for
Modi to make it to Raisina Hill that the country was about
to get its first OBC prime minister, and this had its own
appeal for the OBC and MBC communities.
The BJP left nothing to chance. As it could not strike up
alliances with bigger parties, it opted to bring into its ambit
the smaller groups, even those with a 1% or 2 following.
In a four-cornered contest in UP, even a few thousand votes
The BJP’s alliances with Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal, a
party with a following in small pockets of eastern UP, with
Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party in Bihar,
with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, leaving for
him eight Lok Sabha seats in Bihar, so as to win over a section of the Dalits, and Udit Raj’s Justice Party, which has an
appeal among those Dalits who are not enamored of the
Bahujan Samaj Party paid it rich dividends. Clearly, a section of Dalits shifted to the BJP, for otherwise BSP leader
Mayawati would not have been wiped out in UP.
It is the fallout of this churning, which will be fascinating
to track in the coming months. The process of ‘social engineering’ has been renewed inside the BJP. Under Modi, the
BJP has not only seen a swelling of support from the OBCs
of North India, but equally significant, OBC leaders are
seen to be coming to the fore that much more. There is a
subtle shift in the balance of power towards the OBC, tilting
away from the traditional Brahmin-Bania stranglehold of
the BJP over the years.
Will this lead to a process of ‘Mandal 4’ if ‘Mandal’ is seen
not as a decision to give a few thousand jobs to the OBCs in
government jobs, but as the devolution of power to socially
and educationally backward communities?
The V P Singh government’s Mandal decision in 1990
spawned a crop of OBC leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav,
Laloo Yadav and Nitish Kumar. The Congress failed to
encash ‘Mandal 2’ when then human resources development minister Arjun Singh provided for reservations for
OBCs in educational institutions.
While there was an undercurrent of caste which contributed to the Modi effect, the communal divide also
played a decisive role, particularly in UP and Bihar, in the
wake of the 2013 Muzzaffarnagar riots.
The attempts at Hindu-Muslim polarization, more open
than the caste churning, had been going on unabated even
after government formation in May 2014, the idea being to
win by-elections and prepare the ground for the UP assembly election due in 2017.
But, in the September by-election, the religious polarization, which had helped in the Lok Sabha election, became
counter- productive electorally, and the BJP and its ally
Apna Dal lost 8 of the 11 seats it had held in the state
assembly — when only three months earlier it had swept
the state. These were BJP strongholds even in the 2012
assembly election. To lose them to the Samajwadi Party,
which ran a highly discredited government in Lucknow, the
message was unmistakable.
The violent incidents in Moradabad and Saharanpur lost
the brass and wood industry — in the hands of Hindu and
Clearly, BJP MPs from UP could not have indulged in
such rhetoric without a nod from the top. Ever since he
took over as prime minister, Narendra Modi has not struck
a false note and has spoken only of inclusion or called for a
‘moratorium on caste and communal violence for ten years’
in his Independence Day speech, or his more recent remark
that ‘Indian Muslims will live and die for India.’ Yet, he has
been silent on the hate speeches, with no word to chasten
his party MPs. It provoked critics to conclude that the BJP
is pursuing a dual policy, with the prime minister striking
grand notes and party cadres going all out to create a
Hindu-Muslim divide for electoral purposes.
The BJP defeat in the by-polls in UP was therefore a
‘reaction’ vote against this kind of politics. Often Hindus are
angry when parties play the politics of ‘appeasement’ for
votes. They have in the past voted for the BJP as a result.
But Hindus want to live and let live and have showed, once
again, abhorrence for politics of the extreme.
Narendra Modi, who has moved well on the foreign policy
front, and created a perception that the Indian economy is
about to take off again, and also sent a message that he
means business, faces challenges on two fronts. These can
be summed up, according to some, in two words – ‘M’ &
‘M,’ the handling of the media and the minorities.
It is an autonomous media which gives any government
an accurate feedback of what is going on. There has, however, been a drying up of sources and flow of information
since Modi took over.
The other is the challenge of winning the confidence of
the minorities that Modi represents their interests as much
as anyone else’s. One hundred and eighty million is no small
number. Heightening Hindu-Muslim tensions may seem
attractive to a party to garner votes, but for a government, it
can be suicidal. No investor would want to come to a country marked by tensions or violence. And as we have seen in
the September by-polls, it can also be politically counterproductive.
Neerja Chowdhury is a veteran Delhi-based political
If the world is looking
at India with new eyes,
it is because of the
political stability that
the new regime
promises, says Neerja Chowdhury
‘Mandate 2014 was more than just a negative vote... There was a clear sentiment in favor of Narendra Modi who caught the imagination of the people as a leader who could bring the change they craved for… If Modi walks with a confident step today, it is because of the legitimacy the people of India have conferred on him.’
The Modi Effect points to how India is changing
AMI T DAVE/ REUTERS