The decisive victory of the BJP and the visible rout of the Congress in the elections are attributed by many to the leadership factor.

The decisive victory of the BJP and the visible rout of the Congress in the elections are attributed by many to the leadership factor. The BJP appeared to benefit by projecting a prime ministerial candidate much before the start of the election campaign and made every effort to make this election a choice between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.While the BJP’s victory was propelled by the campaign of its prime ministerial candidate, it was also greatly helped by the leadership crisis in the Congress party. The second term of the United Progressive Alliance government faced a huge credibility crisis. A Prime Minister announcing his retirement just prior to the start of the campaign did not help in boosting the image of the Congress party. In most parliamentary systems, if Prime Ministers plan to step down or retire, they announce their decision much before the elections to allow the new leader to consolidate his position. The leadership factor also appears to have played a vital role in halting the BJP’s march in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Odisha.

The rise of Modi

In the 2009 elections, only two per cent of the respondents referred to Narendra Modi when asked who they would like to see as their next Prime Minister. In 2013, soon after his declaration as the head of the campaign committee, the support rose to 19 per cent. After the BJP announced that he was their prime ministerial nominee, over one-thirds of the respondents mentioned his name. It is also relevant to note that Mr. Modi has maintained a clear 20 percentage point advantage over Mr. Gandhi since 2013. Also, in 12 States where the BJP did exceptionally well, the support for Mr. Modi as Prime Minister was much higher than the national average.

The post-poll survey also asked if people would vote for the BJP even if Mr. Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate. Around one-fourth of those who voted for the BJP said they would have changed their vote in such a scenario. This was significantly higher in States where the party did well. The response to this question merits detailed scrutiny, especially among BJP supporters. In Karnataka, six of every 10 of those who voted for the BJP stated that if Mr. Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate, they would have changed their party choice. In Bihar and Rajasthan, four of every ten respondents took this stand. Even in States like Tamil Nadu and West Bengal where the BJP expanded its presence, a significant chunk of those who voted for the party took the same stand.

The post-poll survey asked a series of questions on who the respondent would pick as his/her leader if asked to choose from among the top leaders of political parties, keeping in mind critical leadership qualities. No choice of names was given; it was left to the respondents to name a leader. The leadership qualities included concern for people, trustworthiness, getting things done, taking other leaders along and experience. On all five indicators, four of every 10 respondents mentioned Mr. Modi’s name. Mr. Gandhi was behind on all indicators by more than 25 percentage points. Similarly, when a set of questions was raised on which leader was best suited to deal with issues such as national development, price rise, controlling corruption, national security, and the upliftment of Dalits, close to four of every 10 respondents mentioned Mr. Modi’s name.

It would be difficult to concede that this was a Presidential-style race as only one party announced its prime ministerial candidate. The BJP’s victory had much to do with a well-planned leader-driven campaign but it also had to do with an uninspiring and ineffective ruling coalition and leadership.

(Sandeep Shastri is Pro-vice-chancellor, Jain University, Bangalore.)

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