Ideological Dominance and Political Longevity of Modi ‘Wave’ In India

9 Mar, 2022 17:23 IST|Sakshi Post
Narendra Modi Image Source: Google

The elections in UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur, and Goa are primarily a formal process for selecting a party or alliance based on voters' feedback.

It will also provide a collateral assessment of the ideological dominance of Modi ‘wave’ in competitive politics.

By ​Praveen Rai

The elections in UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur, and Goa are primarily a formal process for selecting a party or alliance based on voters' feedback, but it will also provide a collateral assessment of the ideological dominance of Modi ‘wave’ in competitive politics. The term ‘wave’ means an electoral phenomenon that leads to major gains or losses for a political party saddled in power based on pro or anti-incumbency sentiments of the electorate. Its usage changed in General Elections 2014, phrased as ‘Modi’ wave, a decisive leader, who can solve the multiple crises plaguing the country. It created a personality wave of mammoth dimensions that altered the political status quo and brought electoral laurels for the BJP. However, it was not a one-off occurrence, as the saffron party riding high on Modi wave2.0 crossed the majority mark (282 out of 543 seats) in Lok Sabha Elections 2019 by winning 300 plus seats. If the 2014 national elections marked the ascendency of Modi as a pan-India leader, the 2019 hustings catapulted him into the pantheon of benign hegemons.

However, Modi’s leadership is highly contestable as left-liberals critics and foreign media dub it as autocratic,and whenever the saffron party loses a state election, they declare it as the end of Modi magic. The decline of the Modi wave has been at crossroads of criticism and the apology by Modito the farmers and repeal of farm laws last year again raised questions about his fast-eroding political capital. Modi wave riddle is quite complicated, but clues can be unearthed in its origin, propagation, and consolidation as an election-winning proposition.

Genesis of Modi ‘Wave’

The origin of the Modi wave as an electoral spectacle is traceable in the tenure of Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The province witnessed a phenomenal economic growth rate, unheard in other parts of India, which became popular as ‘Gujarat Model of Development. The thriving part of the story is least challenged as there was a major spurt in economic growth between 2002 and 2012.The explosive economic expansion had a twin fallout: one it enabled Modi to win back-to-back state elections and upgrade his political stature from an honest and hardworking chief minster to a firebrand Hindutva leader. The economic upliftment created a new aspirational middle class that identified with Modi’s vision for state development.

Two, it created a constituency of Hindus institutionalized in RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS) ideology. The Hindu vote bank not only remained loyal to Modi, but also became the torchbearers of his novel brand of right-wing Hindutva politics. The popularity and majoritarian politics of Modi spread outside Gujarat after his anointment as BJP-PM candidate and it turned into an electoral wave that continues to reign supreme.

Modi wave that painted the electoral map saffron comprised of his charismatic personality and rhetorical firepower. Max Weber, a prominent sociologist defined charisma as ‘a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or specifically exceptional powers or qualities. There have been several leaders with exceptional attributes, but their mass mesmerizing appeal stemmed from different settings. Modi nurtured his charisma through the son of soil and vision of developmental politics, which resulted in economic progress and perceptible improvement in the standard of living of the people in Gujarat. His humble background, ideological grounding in RSS, and self-made credentials, in contrast with the corrupt and privileged political class, created an instant connection with aspirational citizens. The political astuteness of Modi emanates from his strong oratorical skills, first-person narrative and facts, which is a binary of quasi-official facts and negative rhetoric. He reminds the electorate about the negative accomplishments of opposition parties and their minority appeasements to consolidate Hindu votes. It results in supporters of other parties shifting their political loyalty and become his ardent votaries. The positive pitch of Modi’s public speeches is a face-to-face advertisement of the work done by him that creates an echo chamber of his achievements with the people, which translates into votes. Modi mediatized governance by messaging public policies and programmes through media and mass monitored its impact for corrections that eventually benefited him in hustings. ‘There is No Alternative’ to Modi has become ingrained in the psyche of the electorate and his cult leadership not only outrivals the saffron party system but also dwarfs the political stature of opposition leaders and parties.

Longevity of Modi’s Dominance

A recap of elections after 2014 reveals that a combination of electoral waves determined most of the verdicts. The victory of BJP or major gains in vote shares in state elections has been mainly due to synchronous political streaming of pro-Modi wave and anti-incumbency sentiments against the ruling Congress or regional party. In poorly governed BJP states, like Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, Modi’s charisma minimized the intensity of defeat and arrested the dip in vote share, while in West Bengal it helped the party in becoming the runner up and gain substantial vote share as compared with previous assembly election.

Modi’s vision of ‘New India by 2022’, a pledge taken in 2017 aimed to make democracy more participatory and inclusive, a partnership of equals with citizens, a new paradigm of nation building. It was public trust in Modi that development became a people’s movement in the country. He adopted a twin strategy of upscaling the existing national infrastructure and building new ones of international standards. Modi initiated fast-paced economic reforms, which in combination with populist welfarist policies further enhanced his political reputation and standings. He played a key role in implementing the RSS agenda that was hanging fire until a few years ago, like starting the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, revocation of Article 370 that accorded Jammu, and Kashmir’s special status, and amendment of the citizenship act. The rhetorical politics of Modi laid the groundwork for the implementation of long pending issues in the Hindutva project and the rejuvenation of Indian pride by reviving temples and cities. It resulted in a consolidation of the Modi wave and prolonging its dominance. 

However, political scientists and psephologists believe that the Modi wave and BJP system is fragile due to five core reasons. First, its electoral success post-2014 largely depends on the popular appeal of Modi and a marginal drop in its vote share will make it hard to win a clear majority in 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Second, BJP may not be able to maintain its dominance after the exit of Modi, as there is no clear successor in line and it may split or collapse.

Third, it might encounter strong contestations from within, as newly added social groups of OBCs, SCs and STs will demand representation in party leadership dominated by the upper castes.

Fourth, deinstitutionalization of party system might result in fragmentation as it happened with post-Indira Gandhi’s Congress.

Fifth, the complex social fabric is brittle, as voters have multiple identities and it may trigger ‘Political Regeneration’.

The inherent contradictions pointed out are quite tangible and serious, but they are susceptible to solutions. The prognosis that BJP may break in the future as post-Indira Gandhi’s Congress is conjectural, as the pathways of two parties differ in context and political milieu.

To conclude, the Modi wave is indeed prodigious as his vernacular polemics and conversational enticements create a ‘Pied Piper’ effect, as voters step into voting booths and press the EVM buttons for the party with the lotus symbol. He continues to be people’s first choice as India’s Prime Minister, a vindication of his magnetic personality transcending the party organization. His leadership has stood the test of time and the charismatic momentum still seems formidable in perpetuating single saffron party dominance. Modi’s vote mobilization potentiality is an important variable in the state elections and results, particularly of UP that has been the crucible of the Modi wave, will determine its force multiplier effect in winning future elections. A careful reading of Weberian theory of charismatic leader offers pertinent advice, which many Hindutva-focused intelligentsia and vociferous critics studiously ignore. Weber suggested ‘For charisma to be transformed into a permanent routine structure, it is necessary that its anti-economic character should be altered. It must be adapted to some form of fiscal organization to provide for the needs of the group and hence to the economic conditions necessary for raising taxes and contributions’.

Praveen Rai is a Political Analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Also Read: The Return of Mandal Rhetorics in UP Politics

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