The BJP’s main official slogan this election was “Main Bhi Chowkidar” (I’m a gatekeeper too).
Yet, it is the BJP’s unofficial slogan that has gained popular currency: “Aayega to Modi hi” (After all, Modi will return).
The 2014 general election became synonymous with the BJP slogan “Achhe din aaney waley hain” (The good days are about to come). In the same way, 2019 will be best remembered for “Aayega to Modi hi,” a line that one heard a lot in street conversations and on social media as well.
The “hi” at the end says a lot. It acknowledges all the ifs and buts, the challenges the BJP has faced, the resentment over jobs and economy, the rising index of opposition unity, the lack of enthusiasm, and the campaign mistakes the BJP may have made here and there. Yet, the answer to all the questions is – “Aayega to Modi hi”.
The unofficial slogan became more popular than the official slogan, telling you how the BJP shifted voters’ attention to the all-important question: who will be the PM? Kaun Banega Pradhan Mantri is all that mattered. Unlike 2014, it wasn’t about hope this time, it was only about the persona of Modi.
Indian voters like to figure out who’s likely to win an election and then be on the winning side. At the very least, enough floating voters think this way to change the result. The word of mouth campaign “Aayega to Modi hi” helped answer the questions floating voters asked.
The slogan helped further the sense of Modi’s invincibility and inevitability. For anyone who thought the BJP could end up with 180 seats, and would have to struggle to put together a coalition, the slogan shut them up with ‘Aayega to Modi hi’.
The slogan was also a reminder of how the opposition does not have a PM candidate, and that it can’t even come together in many states. The slogan pointed to the impossibility of the idea of Rahul Gandhi as the prime minister.
As the tone of the slogan seemed to acknowledge there are challenges before the BJP, it indirectly pointed to the TINA factor: There Is No Alternative.
With the BJP likely to sweep the Lok Sabha today, a lot will be said about Modi’s popularity, how everyone voted for him, even Muslims. We’ll be told how Modi and Amit Shah did everything right, demonetisation was great and crores of jobs were created. The BJP, its social media machinery, its spokespersons masquerading as journalists will all conveniently forget how the BJP used the TINA factor as a narrative to shape public debates.
Contrast as strategy
In February 2017, PM Modi launched a surprise attack at his predecessor Manmohan Singh. From then on, he has relentlessly attacked the Congress party, from Nehru to Rahul. The BJP started attacking Rahul Gandhi day in and day out. The negative campaigning was surprising considering how Modi had won 2014 with positive messaging around Vikas, development.
The Congress supporters saw this as a sign of Rahul Gandhi’s and the Congress’ growing importance. In truth, Modi was highlighting the contrast between himself and Rahul Gandhi. As demonetisation’s failure had become clear and Modi knew the Achhe Din would remain elusive, he started asking voters: “Is the Congress better than me?”
In this way, Modi marvellously kept the focus of national politics on himself. Going by latest figures, the Congress is now unable to even double its seats from the 2014 figure of 44 seats. That is a reflection on how people saw Rahul Gandhi as a poor competitor to Modi.
Contrast is an often overlooked but important way of understanding politics. Voters tend to see any election as a contest between two sides, and in national politics, the two sides are the Congress and the BJP. Modi’s presidential campaigning has made regional parties less important in the national discourse. Just increasing the contrast between the BJP and the Congress, between Modi and Rahul, has been central to Modi’s strategy since February 2017.
In Uttar Pradesh, I met many people who said they were voting for the BJP on account of Modi. But if this was a state election, they said, they wouldn’t have voted for the BJP.
Why? Because “Aayega to Modi hi”. They were thinking national, they were thinking of the central government, and in national politics, the other side was Rahul, not Akhilesh Yadav or Mayawati. They knew that a vote for Akhilesh or Mayawati would be a vote for Rahul since they would eventually ally with him. And the thought of Rahul Gandhi as PM was anathema to them.
That is why “Aayega to Modi hi” was a logical extension of “Aur hain kaun?” (Who else is there?)
The result may not be very different in 2024 if Rahul Gandhi remains at the helm of the Congress party.
Views are personal.