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  Opinion   Columnists  27 May 2017  BJP’s winning mantra: Optics over delivery

BJP’s winning mantra: Optics over delivery

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal.
Published : May 27, 2017, 12:50 am IST
Updated : May 27, 2017, 12:50 am IST

Modi has cemented his position as the tallest leader in the country.

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

If the performance of the past three years of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government is to be judged by people’s perception, this government certainly scores high. In India, though the work done by governments does matter, fact is that elections are largely won by people’s perception. Given the current mood in the country, there is no doubt that if Lok Sabha elections were held now, not only will the BJP retain power at the Centre, but it would register a far more convincing victory compared to the previous Lok Sabha elections. The general perception is that the government is working diligently for the development of people at large, thus the BJP’s popularity graph has gone higher in the past three years compared to what it was in 2014.

The BJP’s series of wins in Assembly elections held in various states since 2014 is a testimony to that. The two defeats — in Delhi and Bihar — had raised questions about the BJP’s popularity and there was talk of a decline in Amit Shah’s and Narendra Modi’s popularity. But the resounding victory of the BJP in the recently-held Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh has put a full stop on this debate. In a short span of three years, the BJP has not only become more popular among mainstream Hindus, but also among people belonging to minority communities.

 

The BJP’s growing popularity is not only due to the good work done by the government at the Centre, but also due to the immense popularity of Prime Minister Narendar Modi among the masses. Mr Modi has cemented his position as the tallest leader in the country. From being a relatively low-profile leader in national politics less than a decade ago, to being India’s most popular leader today, Mr Modi’s career graph has been phenomenal.

A study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) indicates that Mr Modi, from being the spontaneous choice of a mere two per cent of the voters in 2009, is now the preferred prime ministerial choice of a whopping 44 per cent of Indians. This is eight points higher than the proportion of those who wanted to see him as India’s Prime Minister during the 2014 election. What adds to Mr Modi’s popularity is a big leadership deficit — none of his opponents is anywhere close to him in popularity ratings.

 

Among the various things that have contributed to Mr Modi’s popularity, like the surgical strikes, welfare schemes, one important issue that has earned him the highest brownie points is the policy of demonetisation. Although many people, including experts, have reservations about demonetisation, it has received tremendous support from the common man. Even though the poor are yet to gain from this policy the perception is that this will help in flushing out the menace of black money from the country.

True, the government has done reasonably well on various fronts, but not on all. There are some questions marks on how it has performed on some important fronts, but people are unwilling to ask the difficult question as they do not see an alternative and even a small improvement in any area by this government seems to be a great achievement compared to how the previous government had generally performed.

 

Mr Modi’s rise to power occurred against the backdrop of a bleak economy and one of his principal challenges upon becoming India’s Prime Minister was to revive India’s sluggish economy and create jobs for millions of unemployed youth. There doesn’t seem to be any improvement on this front. The unemployment rate has increased during the past three years. The various highly-publicised bilateral talks with foreign countries have definitely generated hopes of huge foreign investments, but we are yet to witness any great change at the ground level. There are still big concerns with regard to farmers, who seem to be unhappy, as they do not see noticeable improvement in their economic condition.

 

What seems to be the saddest part in the story of the past three years is the disturbed social fabric of this country. The religious divide seems to have widened, which is not conducive for the development of a multicultural and multireligious society like India. A fairly strong religious divide has been created on the issue of cow protection, a matter that the Modi government and the BJP have been raising repeatedly and a matter that has led to lynching of Muslims in various parts of the country.

In spite of these odds what seems to be working in favour of the government is the strong sense of nationalism that it has been able to generate among Indians, which has been absent in the past few decades. One should also give due credit to the government for creating an “aspirational India”. People of India have very high hopes from the present government, and they have even higher expectations from its leader — Narendra Modi.

 

Surprisingly, these high hopes have been generated even though the government’s performance on important issues — includes job creation and economic development — has been dismal.

This is no mean achievement, but it is more challenging to fulfill those hopes. The big question is, can the government’s delivery be anywhere close to the high hopes of the people?

Under normal circumstances, a newly-elected government enjoys a honeymoon period of two years. Public puts the performance of the government to critical scrutiny soon after that. This government has already enjoyed an extended honeymoon of three years. The question is, will the people be willing to extend it further?

 

Tags: narendra modi, amit shah, demonetisation, lok sabha elections