In the end, this has turned out to be a
Lok Sabha election where India did not vote to elect its MPs but to choose the PM. Without any shred of doubt, this is a vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The verdict is indeed overwhelming.
It shows that India has finally embraced a Presidential form of election where an individual has been voted as an institution.
That it would be only the second time after Jawaharlal Lal Nehru that a prime minister has returned with an absolute majority. Modi, who beat incumbency time and again in Gujarat, has repeated the feat today.
What does it take to materialise a pro-incumbency vote at the centre in India amidst a concerted bid of opposition to gang up against the incumbent? Here are six key takeaways:
1. Is it a vote for nationalism or a vote for development? Modi has successfully blurred the distinction.
The opposition crafted this narrative around Modi’s script accusing it of playing the nationalism card to deflect attention from its supposed failures. The opposition has been proved wrong. Modi managed the narrative as it suited him blending artfully the schemes he popularised over five years with the need to be seen to be the man to go to, to keep India safe and secure.
Come to think of it, the folly lied in the opposition construct. You cannot be celebrating nationalism if you are empty-stomached. The emotive appeal of the strike inside Pakistan might give you a temporary kick but not fill your plate. Modi canvassed his citizen-facing policies to ensure that there are tangible ingests into the voters’ plates. From
empowerment through a bank account to a gas cylinder to a house with electricity, the nationalism pitch got a conviction. 2. Consistency In The Message – Campaign Mantras
That he is hard working and almost played five years in the election mode is an understatement. Truth be told, Rahul Gandhi did work equally hard. What has made the difference? The campaign content – brand Modi has been consistent and he has used every available opportunity to reinforce his credentials. He didn’t divorce the development plank but used it as per his audience.
Being on top of the narrative has been his calling card and for each polling phase he had a campaign trick. The opposition’s campaign edifice was built on ousting Modi rather than having an agenda of its own. Modi stood for muscular nationalism, development and a new India slogan. Delivery is a matter of debate for academicians and political pundits but the voter saw merit in the PM’s pitch for he was consistent. One track where he deviated from his stated position – being pro-business to being seen as a pro-poor messiah. But business isn’t an election constituency. His excessive focus on votes and voters can be faulted at the level of ambition but has to be seen in the context of the age-old maxim - handsome is one who handsome does.
3. Youth and Women Vote Their Heart Out
Modi has made a virtue of his connect and popularity among the young. He didn’t pick up the trait in 2014. He actually built a constituency among the youth in Gujarat as its three-time chief minister. In Delhi, he expanded his reach wooing the woman voter. This happened given his pro-women social schemes, especially aimed at last mile inclusion.
The execution matched the promotion and that has made a difference. His push for ending Triple Talaq brought him closer to the Muslim women vote bank. As things stand today, the 2019 election has been marked by the gender voter gap almost being wiped out.
Modi pushed for a higher voter turnout making it a central piece of his election campaign and this has worked wonders. The UP verdict suggests that there is a strong possibility of Muslim women voters endorsing Modi as the Prime Minister.
4. End of Minoratarianism, Vote for Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas
Modi wore his Hindu identity on his sleeves. He pushed the envelope closer to the election. This greatly enthused his core Hindu vote bank. Doing so, however, he did not speak for majoritarianism. He did make the customary remarks against lynching.
All this while he didn’t shy away from proclaiming his
Sabka Saath pitch and if anyone had any doubt, he would counter-argue that a gas cylinder or a power connection given by his government did not discriminate between a Hindu or Muslim. This obviously has worked well, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. 5. Chemistry versus Arithmetic: The Winner is Chemistry
As they say arithmetic numbers are for either mathematicians or business analysts. In politics, numbers have their say. But here again, the Modi factor helped immensely to trounce the ‘perfect’ Mahaghatbandhan arithmetic. UP was billed to be the new laboratory of Muslims, Yadavs and the downtrodden adding up to a formidable force.
The opposition worked hard to carry favour citing the numbers with the expectations that the voter transfer between foes turned friends would do the magic. But it has been proved now that chemistry with the voter carries bigger influence.
Modi’s personal popularity with the voters in the state has turned arithmetic upside down. The message here is even louder: but for Modi’s personal charisma the story would have turned the other way round. From what we know so far about UP BJP tally, it is clear that voters shed their caste tags and voted for Modi to make him the Prime Minister again.
6. Vote Against Negativity
Pushed to the wall by 24x7 abuse of the opposition, Modi mastered the art of converting it into an asset. He made no bones about it proclaiming that the more he got abused, the more it would help him get the lotus to bloom.
Modi knows how to convert negativity into an asset entry in his political balance sheet. The opposition should have known it from his Gujarat days. But as they say, old habits die hard. Rahul Gandhi made it worse. By repeatedly shouting ‘
Chowkidar Chor Hai’, he got the fence-sitters to see newfound innocence in Modi.
The Supreme Court rebuke added muscle to their belief. The surround and amplification provided to Gandhi attack by the liberal elite only strengthened Modi’s resolve to turn the tables. He fought off the Chowkidar jibe by wearing the title on his sleeves. This was a masterstroke. He offered political respectability to the lowest end of India’s service class running into thousands and lakhs while Gandhi kept repeating himself like a broken record. Doing so, Modi not only strengthened his bottom of the pyramid constituency but also cornered the select elite drawing a political edge.
Rakesh Khar is senior editor, Special Projects, Network 18. He writes at the intersection of politics and economy.