Narendra Modi’s iron grip on India’s narrative tightens

 Modi, Flowers, Iron Grip, Narrative

PM Modi in BJP HQ on Sunday

Source: PM Modi/Facebook

The BJP’S victory in Uttar Pradesh is an event that will change the political discourse in the country.

In north India, in particular, the Mandalera seems to have gone, though it would probably be inaccurate to say that ‘Kamandal’ has won.

More than mere communal polarisation, what the BJP did was to successfully triangulate the caste equations on a message of development and economic change.

Credibility

It managed to consolidate its support among the upper castes and isolate the Yadavs, Jatav Dalits and the Muslims.

The communal agenda came up elliptically (shamshan and kabristan) and subliminally via the ‘surgical strike’.

Read also | If BJP can uplift UP, all of India will gain

It did not really have to convince anyone of its anti-Muslim credentials, its message came through when it simply did not put up any Muslim candidate.

The whole structure was put into place by a well-oiled strategy of Amit Shah. But at the bottom of it all, it was one man – Narendra Modi who made the difference.

Without his credibility and authoritative leadership, it is doubtful that the BJP would have done so well against a well known regional party and leader.

The BJP did not project a chief ministerial candidate and that makes the Modi victory even more total.

Whoever is now appointed will know that he owes everything to the Prime Minister.

And in humiliating the SP-Congress alliance, Modi has established a dominant national leadership position, which is unlikely to be challenged for quite a while.

The victories of 2014 and 2017 will alter the texture of UP politics.

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It is not that that the SP or BSP lost their vote share, it is that their method of consolidating minority voters around one major caste lost out to the Shah-Modi formula of fusing the majority of the castes and leaving out the minorities.

The exclusion of Muslims from its calculations has portentous consequences.

One major reason for the lack of radicalism among Indian Muslims had been their effective integration into the country’s political system.

Alternatives

Victory in UP was important for Modi’s project of winning the 2019 general elections. His comprehensive sweep of the Lok Sabha seats of the state in 2014 set the stage for the equally comprehensive victory in the Vidhan Sabha poll of 2017.

Had the party not done as well, it would have indicated an erosion of support in the past two years.

But the results now show that the BJP retains the base it tapped in 2014, and it is likely to retain it in 2019 because the Opposition has been scattered.

The lesson for the Congress Party is quite the opposite. They projected a strong regional leader Captain Amrinder Singh in Punjab and fared well, as indeed they did in the days of yore when powerful satraps ruled the land.

But successes in Punjab, and relative good performance in Goa and Manipur are insignificant in the face of the UP outcome.

The choices before the Congress are stark – persist with the Gandhi family and witness slow collapse, or strike out on a new path which may prove to be a blind alley.

The election results have been equally cruel for the Aam Admi Party which was hoping that a strong performance in Punjab would propel it into the position of emerging as the national Opposition.

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Then, those who see this as a verdict in favour of demonetisation miss the point.

Make no mistake, demonetisation was a disastrous move, but Modi had the charisma and authority to convince the people that it was, in reality, an attack on the rich on behalf of the poor.

Expectations

His ability to capture the narrative was evident, too, in 2002, when the charges against him were much graver.

Actually, the sheer scale of the victory means that the people simply shrugged away the pains of demonetisation and focused instead on BJP’s larger message that they would rid the state of crime, caste-ist politics and bring jobs and development instead.

Politicians often do promise such things, but with Modi enunciating them, the promises appeared far more credible and enticing.

As of now Modi’s promises remain IOUs encashable in the future. There has been no significant gain in ambitious programmes like ‘Make in India.’

Job creation has crashed and ‘Swachh Bharat’ appears to have had little impact. In the area of foreign policy, too, there have been few achievements.

On the other hand, India’s important relationships with Pakistan and China appear to be in a stasis.

Modi needs to urgently improve the quality of his government and begin meeting the aroused expectations of the people of the country.

This commentary originally appeared in Daily Mail.

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Manoj Joshi