It is quite normal for any elected government to remain popular in its first year of governance. So it should not surprise anyone that the Narendra Modi government remains very popular as it completes one year in office in its second term. Evidence from recent surveys does testify that Modi’s popularity has increased during the last few months, especially because of his efficient handling of the coronavirus crisis in India. The mood of anti-incumbency generally sets in after a government completes half of its term, i.e. two-and-half-year in office.
So, the question to be asked is whether anti-incumbency would set in against the Modi government when it is mid-way in its second term or not? There can’t be any definitive answer to this question. Going by the current mood of the people and the complete disarray in which the Opposition is at the moment, I am sure the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is comfortably placed to win the third national election in 2024.
Modi’s popularity is the key
The BJP under Narendra Modi has defied various electoral patterns during the last six years. Before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, hardly anyone believed that the BJP would be able to improve its 2014 performance and that the party’s seat share would peak in many north Indian states. It was believed that that BJP might find it impossible to repeat its electoral performance of 2014 in states like UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. But the party defied all past electoral patterns, not only repeating its electoral success in many of these states, but also improving in some of them, taking its vote share beyond 50 per cent in many of them. Before the BJP in 2019, no other political party except the Congress, has managed to win two consecutive terms. Its electoral performance, coupled with the popularity of Prime Minister Modi will help the party defy any anti-incumbency half way through its term.
Modi today is as popular (if not more) as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were in their times. Surveys conducted in various countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic have rated Modi higher than his global counterparts in handling the crisis.
What has worked for Modi govt
What also makes the Modi government popular is its ability to pass long-pending controversial legislations. The dilution of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir; Triple Talaq law and the Citizenship Amendment Act have all made the majority Hindus jubilant, keeping them loyal to the BJP. Modi government’s schemes launched in the first term, like the Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjawala Yojana, Aayushman Bharat, and PM Kisan have helped the farmers, women, poor and other economically margianslied sections of the society. This also enabled the BJP in mobilising additional votes among the Dalits, Adivasis, and the lower segments of the Other Backward Classes in 2019 elections. Push towards digital India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Goods and Services Tax are other important steps which have had far reaching impact on governance and added to the Modi government’s popularity.
What is unique of this government is its ability to turn crisis into an opportunity. When the demonetisation was announced suddenly, leading to immense hardships for a large number of poor and lower-class people, the government successfully turned it into a narrative of fight of the poor against the rich. Just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when concerns were being raised around the economic slowdown and farm distress, the Balakot air strikes provided the government an opportunity to swing the mood of the Indians in its favour.
Corona crisis another opportunity
Today, lakhs of poor migrant workers are suffering due to a sudden lockdown and India is facing its worst economic crisis. But the Modi government has been able to convey to the people that not only has the lockdown been successful and timely, but it has also helped save thousands of lives. The constant comparison with the number of deaths in India due to coronavirus with other developed countries has helped this government in building a positive narrative that has been accepted by a large number of people.
Going by the current political climate and the mood of the people, I have no doubt that the BJP will win a third term in 2024. It is unlikely that the party would easily give away the advantage which it has at the moment. It is also unlikely that people would suddenly begin to show trust in opposition parties and leaders. An electoral competition in 2024 is possible only if things turn upside down. Chances are bleak, but there still remains a possibility. We have seen an extremely popular Congress government led by a popular Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) fall apart only in a few months and lose the next election.
Sanjay Kumar is a Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Views are personal.