Projecting an aggressive image, along with an overwhelming Hindutva agenda, is simply not working for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And Monday’s Jharkhand assembly election results further proves it. It was a lethal combination of welfarism and playing victim – from chaiwala to chowkidaar – that made PM Modi the election-winning machine in his first term, conquering state after state and pulling off a remarkable victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Both these factors, however, are missing in his second term as PM.
On Monday, Jharkhand became the third state in a span of a few months to throw up an embarrassing result for the Narendra Modi and Amit Shah-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party has now lost power in Jharkhand and Maharashtra. In Haryana, it just managed to cling on somehow, but not without a verdict that disappointed the party.
There is a marked difference between PM Modi and the BJP in the first term and now – from a heavily welfare, pro-poor government from 2014-19 to an overwhelmingly Hindutva, akhand Bharat-obsessed government. From a ‘victim’ Modi who was being targeted by the entitled only because he was an ‘outsider’ to a brazen aggressor whose only purpose now is to correct all that his ecosystem perceives to be India’s historical wrongs, and do it no matter what. All this even as India’s economy continues to slide.
The welfare hand
Narendra Modi’s first five years as prime minister had one pre-dominant theme — the emphasis on vikas (development) through pro-rural and pro-poor policies. From a clear focus on rural housing to emphasis on schemes like Ujjwala, Jan Dhan Yojana, construction of roads, electrification, Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, skill development and toilet construction under Swachh Bharat, along with the proposal for each Member of Parliament to adopt a village — the Modi government had put the poor, rural voter at its very core.
This helped the BJP win election after election, with Modi’s goodwill and popularity soaring. Sure, he had the ’56-inch chest’, but he also did his best to convey he had a heart for India’s poor. Initially, even demonetisation was portrayed, and sold, as an assault on the rich that would ultimately benefit the country’s deprived class.
On the ground, it was this focus on rural poor that worked for Modi’s BJP — from Rajasthan to Assam. The assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Assam as well as the eventual Lok Sabha election found an echo of ‘Modiji ne humein ghar, gas, sadak di hai (Modiji has given us home, gas connection and roads)’.
Of course, the 2016 surgical strikes and the February 2019 Balakot operation — besides the running theme of anti-Pakistan combativeness and Modi as the saviour — went a long way in giving the BJP that extra, decisive push. But these only acted as a garnish on a dish that Modi had carefully prepared – with the image of a pro-rural, jan kalyan government being the main ingredient – to the extent that much of the adverse effects of demonetisation and the shoddy implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) were successfully counteracted.
The BJP did lose elections, most notably in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (besides Delhi), but anti-incumbency against the respective BJP leaderships had a lot to do for those results; in Delhi’s case, it was the disastrous CM choice that undid its chances. But when it came to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP swept all these states, and much more.
Since that resounding victory in May, however, things have been completely different. The focus on welfare and rural schemes has all but vanished. Barely do you hear PM Modi, his ministers and other BJP leaders talk about schemes like rural housing and Ujjwala. It’s Article 370, Kashmir, Ayodhya, Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Register of Citizens (NRC) that dominate the discourse and mindspace, and, consequently, the government’s work focus.
From victim to conqueror
Modi was the eternal victim from 2014 to 2019. A ‘chaiwala‘ who had made his way up in a web of dynastic, nepotistic politics; a ‘chowkidaar‘ who was being targeted by the entitled; the ‘neech‘ politician being mocked by the privileged; and the ‘kaamdaar’ (the one who works) pitted against the ‘naamdaar‘ (the dynast).
Narendra Modi used all of this to the hilt, and it worked for him.
But the aggression and combativeness with which he has approached this term has left minimal space for him to play the victim. Modi and Amit Shah are on a rampage, on a brazen agenda to do what they think is right.
The dilution of Article 370 to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status was sudden. But that was only the beginning. From criminalising triple talaq to bringing in the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and hyphenating it with a pan-India NRC, Modi and his troops have so far had a clear agenda, which got a boost by the Supreme Court’s verdict on Ayodhya, ordering the government to form a trust and construct a temple at the disputed site.
Narendra Modi 2.0 has not been a victim. He has been an aggressor at home. All his bellicosity in the previous term was directed at Pakistan; now it is mostly within.
This has also meant that all assembly elections have had Ram Mandir, Kashmir, Assam, NRC and Hindu refugees as key points — instead of the earlier pro-welfare and poor ‘outsider’ Modi.
The voter now has a different version of Narendra Modi, which she is yet to accept completely. An aggressive, Hindu, nationalistic leader may appeal to many voters’ raw, animal instinct, particularly the BJP’s core base, but it doesn’t quite resonate with them as Modi 1.0 did — relatable, a self-made ‘outsider’ fighting against all odds, one who was trying to give a better life to the common people.