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Modi image as industrious, incorruptible stays intact

Published : Dec 16, 2018, 12:15 am IST
Updated : Dec 16, 2018, 6:15 am IST

The Shah roar — “Abki baar 200 paar” (This time we will cross the 200 mark) — for Madhya Pradesh with 230 Assembly seats came a cropper.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)

The saffron dream of a “Congress-mukt Bharat” lay scattered as the party was ousted from Hindi heartland — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. BJP chief-Amit Shah, viewed as the “Shah of strategy”, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led the saffron charge, have gone quiet. The silence in the BJP camp is deafening.

The Shah roar — “Abki baar 200 paar” (This time we will cross the 200 mark) — for Madhya Pradesh with 230 Assembly seats came a cropper.

A fear that the impact of these Assembly polls could spill over to the key state — Uttar Pradesh with 80 Lok Sabha seats — during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has gripped the party.

Yet, all might not be lost for the BJP. The light at the end of the dark saffron tunnel is still the party’s main vote catcher — Narendra Modi. Regardless the poor show in these three Hindi heartland states, Mr Modi continues to be miles ahead of the Gandhi scion, Rahul Gandhi. His image as an industrious, incorruptible, a man striving to make India a powerful nation remains intact.

Dr R. Balashankar, co-convenor, training and publication committee of the BJP, who recently published a book on Modi, Narendra Modi: Creative Disruptor, writes, “He (Modi) is still the BJP’s best bet. He can sway an election and swing votes.”  

Despite the debacle, Dr Balashankar claims that “even now, Modi is the most towering political personality.”

Moreover, the state elections cannot be viewed as a test of Mr Modi’s popularity. The BJP had been in power in both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for the last 15 years. The shadow of anti-incumbency loomed large over Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh.

Rajasthan is known for a change in government every five years. Unlike in the Gujarat and Karnataka elections, the Prime Minister did not campaign extensively. He held merely 30 rallies across five states.

Some BJP leaders feel that local issues played a dominant role during the elections and that they had “nothing to do with national issues.”

It was being claimed that in Madhya Pradesh that many of Mr Chouhan’s welfare schemes did not reach the local population because of red-tape as well as “arrogance and inaccessibility” of the state ministers. Corruption charges against the ruling BJP government also hit the party hard in both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.  

Agrarian distress was another major issue that went against the BJP in all the three Hindi heartland states. The dalit vote bank in the Hindi heartland, which had rallied around Mr Modi in 2014, deserted the BJP and moved back to the Congress and the regional players like the BSP and the Samajwadi Party in these three states.

The Congress’ announcement of loan waivers and free electricity to the farmers tilted the balance in its favour.

Dr Balashankar writes, “Modi, has been resisting all populist measures to save the states finances. Now the BJP will have to rework its strategy and compete with Congress on populism to win.”

Inspite of anti-incumbency and Rajasthan chief minister’s much hyped “unpopulairty”, the BJP did manage to give the Congress a run for its money. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 109 seats and managed to bag 73 seats in Rajasthan. In both these states the Congress had to seek the help of the BSP to form government.

A senior BJP leader, while speaking with this newspaper, argued that the BJP will have to consider course correction on two fronts — “policy decisions and political re-organisation.”

Political analyst Shekhar Aiyer claims, “Modi and Shah may not be so kind with the existing lot of BJP MPs when it comes to the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.”

With barely four months to go for Lok Sabha polls, the Modi government needs to immediately shift its focus to farmers. As a BJP leader predicted, “2019 Lok Sabha polls will be decided by rural India and the farmers.” The government has to take steps to ensure higher prices and look at the option of loan waiver. Dr Balashankar writes, “Fuel prices, farmer distress and upper caste resentment against the BJP’s decision to circumvent changes made by the Supreme Court to the SC/ST Act seem to have damaged the BJP.”

Another section feels that the Prime Minister needs to intervene and bring a blanket ban on the shrill Hindutva campaign unleashed by the likes of  Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and senior party leader, Uma Bharati, among others.

“At the end of the day its economics,” said another BJP leader. “Nationalism, speeches stoking communal fire will not bring use votes. We need to focus on price rise, giving economic relief to the farmers, middle class, rather than harping on surgical strikes,” he said and added, “Remember, the propaganda blitz unleashed by NDA-1 on our victory in Kargil war failed to bring us back to power in 2004.”

Even as the BJP will once again look at Mr Modi to come to its rescue, Dr Balashankar, who feels that the Prime Minister continues to be the “best bet” also went on to state, “the defeat has dented Modi’s image as invincible.”

Tags: narendra modi, 2019 lok sabha elections