Sunil Gatade | As Assembly polls & 2024 LS loom, is Modi now missing his magic masala?

The single pillar has always been shown as the boon of the world's largest party

Whether anyone likes it or not, the fact is that the BJP is a single-pillar structure. The new BJP has been built on the shoulders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hence, it follows that he is bigger than the party. The organisation is an instrument for him to gain power. And the power belongs to him as he has built the party. Simple and clear.

The “single pillar” has always been shown as the boon of the world’s largest party. Mr Modi is like the mythological Atlas or Hercules holding up the heavens. Those who question the PM are almost always portrayed as the “enemies of the nation”.

It flows from this logic that what the PM says in Parliament is gospel. Nothing less. The disqualification of Rahul Gandhi was set in motion as he was incessant in asking awkward questions, and therefore had to pay for his blasphemy. There’s nothing wrong with that, so the faithful feel.

As a political commentator put it aptly, Mr Modi’s strategy is of “eloquence” on certain issues and “silence” in some others. It has so far paid off handsomely. He had put this to good use by turning into a “Mauni Baba” on issues uncomfortable to him, or on which he wants these to resolve themselves to his advantage.

Being the “single pillar” of the world’s largest party, Mr Modi is accorded kid glove treatment in most of the media, especially the electronic media, given the government’s influence. India has further slipped in the world press freedom index. The media knows the government has a lot of clout due to its resources and knows it disciplines those who don’t behave as per its expectations.

However, the Karnataka campaign showed that the PM, hailed by his followers as the greatest communicator of our time, is increasingly becoming hollow and, as a result, failed to deliver.

Alarm bells must be ringing in the ruling party over the failure of its star campaigner to leave a decisive mark despite spending days in the southern state and doing several roadshows. The Bajrang Bali and Bajrang Dal references were atrocious, which showed that a desperate leader was willing to go to any extent to win the election.

What compounded matters further for the BJP was the robust resistance to its campaign by local leaders like Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar who batted effectively. Things may become difficult for the BJP in states where the Congress has strong local leaders.

The Adani issue has made an impact on the credibility of the PM. While his government has stonewalled any debate in Parliament on the alleged mega-scam by the business group, and the media too is not pursuing it diligently, the message has gone that Mr Modi and his governmnet have much to hide.

The Congress’ emphasis on bread-and-butter issues in the campaign, against the BJP’s Bajrang Bali focus, led to loss of face for the ruling side.

The lesson for the BJP from the debacle in Karnataka is shocking. If it failed to work on the ground and did not show results, the high-profile campaigning will not take off. More important than that is the realisation that if the Prime Minister has nothing new to offer and nothing new to say, he too will not be able to lift a campaign. “Ek Modi sab par bhari” will remain a myth.

The BJP’s “Waterloo” in Karnataka has changed things a lot. The supreme leader was shown to have feet of clay. This is unthinkable for all those brought up on the fable of Mr Modi’s invincibility.

In fact, the Karnataka polls were a “Modi versus Rahul” contest, in which Mr Modi lost and Mr Rahul Gandhi won.

This is bound to stir the pot. The mellowing voices in the Opposition on the issue of unity is a grudging admission that the Congress has to be given a prime place if stiff resistance is to be offered to the Modi-led BJP. As the Modi government enters its crucial tenth year and the Lok Sabha polls are just over 10 months away, the threats are growing by the day. It is no more smooth sailing for the BJP, as the waters are becoming choppy, and the winds have started blowing violently.

It is being revealed that while Mr Modi campaigned in 47 Karnataka seats, the BJP could succeed in only 15. The BJP has in the past used such occasions to ridicule Rahul Gandhi’s leadership by keeping up-to-date statistics of his campaign and the result. It is now on mute mode.

The blunting of the effect of its best campaigner will bother the BJP no end. Unless and until remedial measures are taken to bring a better narrative, the ruling party will continue to feel beleaguered. After nine years of Mr Modi in power, the Opposition has suddenly tested the waters. Things are not going to be the same again.

Mr Modi without the magic masala is a flop for the BJP. The ruling party will remain in denial, but its defeat in Karnataka is due to Mr Modi’s defeat. He is undoubtedly the biggest asset the BJP has.

That Karnataka is haunting the BJP is evident from the voices coming out of the poll-bound states. The discomfort is indicated by MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's statement that “Karnataka-Farnataka is not going to have any impact here” because this is Madhya Pradesh.

There is a growing realisation that the BJP will have to fight every inch in the coming Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. The Lok Sabha polls too will not be a cakewalk.

The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi

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