Leaders like Narendra Modi run the danger of becoming their own nemesis
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma has been visibly declining since mid-2017. The point that is open for debate is whether or not he can reverse the slide by playing the several cards he is adept at playing. Paradoxically, the onset of the fade-out of Mr. Modi’s charisma coincided with the beginning of the makeover of Rahul Gandhi. The scion is no longer a presumptive leader; he has emerged as Mr. Modi’s prime challenger.
Regardless of how the political narrative concludes this year, Mr. Modi will surely rue his role in the emergence of the Congress president as a credible politician. Mr. Gandhi need not be formally named as the prime ministerial face of the Opposition because in its hurry to convert the electoral battle into a Modi versus Gandhi contest, the BJP willy-nilly elevated Mr. Gandhi’s political stock by unceasingly ridiculing him. Mr. Modi repeated the Congress leadership’s error of ceaselessly targeting him when he was Gujarat Chief Minister and elevating him from a regional leader to a national one.
Leaders like Mr. Modi run the danger of becoming their own nemesis. To assess his current standing, we need to weigh him against his own past. In 2013-14, there was certainty about the BJP’s victory; only the final tally was the subject of speculation. Back then, Mr. Modi was the alternative. In contrast, only a dramatic alteration in the current political narrative can ensure that the BJP gets anywhere close to its 2014 tally of 282 seats in the Lok Sabha. The party’s hopes of preventing a major decline in its tally is now significantly dependent on the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor.
Evidence of decline
The decline in Mr. Modi’s charisma is evident through both anecdotal and empirical evidence. The first signs of decline were seen in Gujarat in 2017 when people began walking out of his election meetings. From the scenario in 2014, when venues of his meetings reverberated with chants of “Modi, Modi”, visuals of people tossing Modi masks while leaving were ominous. Yet, the escape by the skin of his teeth was proof that much of the sheen had worn off. Throughout 2018, empirical proof was added to what was already discernible. The BJP lost many by-elections, and the final confirmation came with the Assembly elections at the end of the year. For a party that won every election in the name of Mr. Modi, even when it nominated chief ministerial candidates, the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan defeats demonstrated that much of the hype around Brand Modi has eroded in the Hindi heartland. This was where the BJP won almost 200 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
A deduction can be made of the erosion of Mr. Modi’s charisma by deconstructing the magnetism which drew people towards him in 2014. First, it was grounded in massive anti-incumbency against the Manmohan Singh government. Over this edifice, myths surrounding Mr. Modi were woven. This included the publicised concept of the Gujarat model, euphemism for single-window administration, which caught the imagination of the people because Mr. Singh spoke of the compulsions of coalition politics. The situation was tailor-made for the emergence of a powerful orator with the image of a decisive leader to raise hopes, and Mr. Modi possessed these skills amply.
An uphill task
The advantage of being an outsider is no longer there. The incumbent cannot blame anyone else any more. Young voters are dependent on hearsay, for they have little direct memory of the perils of coalitions. The resurrection of Mr. Modi’s charisma is therefore an uphill task and explains the decision to bank on Hindutva, ultranationalism and doles.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is a journalist and has written a book on Narendra Modi
Mr. Modi seems to emerge stronger from bold gambles such as demonetisation and GST
Shiv Shakti Nath Bakshi
Sceptics may draw momentary solace from an imaginary fading of Narendra Modi’s charisma in the wake of the recent Assembly election results. Every time such scepticism is built on some unfounded grounds, the consequences prove disastrous for those raising doubts. In Uttar Pradesh, those who felt that the BJP had reached its peak in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and assumed that it would not be able to repeat such a feat were proved wrong when the Assembly election results came out. Mr. Modi has proven his critics wrong time and again since the days he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. His charisma has never waned; in fact, it has been growing overwhelmingly with every passing day. Mr. Modi’s charisma is built on hard work, consistency, commitment and perseverance. He has a strong political will and vision.
The Modi phenomenon
Mr. Modi has emerged as a phenomenon in Indian politics. When scams dominated the headlines, when terms like ‘policy paralysis’ came into vogue, and when everything seemed to be plunged in negativity, Mr. Modi emerged as a ray of hope. Few had predicted such a massive mandate for the BJP in 2014. It was the Modi phenomenon that unfolded in electoral performances and redrew the political landscape of the majority of the States. Mr. Modi not only seems to come out unscathed from bold gambles like demonetisation and imposition of the Goods and Services Tax, but seems to become stronger after them. He is a man of vision who turns adversities into opportunities. He is the daring leader who can match China in Doklam and who has the grit to carry out surgical strikes against Pakistan.
Bringing about change
Living up to his promise of providing a corruption-free government, Mr. Modi has made corruption in high places a thing of the past. His government puts emphasis on changing the lives of the poorest of the poor. A large number of innovative schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Direct Benefit Transfer, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Jan Dhan scheme, and Mudra have brought massive change across India. The rural sector has received more budgetary support and attention. The government’s target is to double farmers’ income by 2022. Health and wellness programmes like Ayushman Bharat, Mission Indradhanush and Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana are addressing the basic health needs of the people.
Even Mr. Modi’s detractors acknowledge his charisma and magnetic appeal among the masses. He has raised the bar for himself. He charms the masses by raising their aspirations and by meeting his targets before deadlines.
As Chief Minister, he led the rise of Gujarat and it slowly became the shining example for other States to emulate. As Prime Minister, he is leaving his mark everywhere, from policymaking to governance, with a result-oriented approach.
As he dominates the political horizon of the country, Mr. Modi’s charisma continues to leave his opponents flummoxed. The more he is doubted, the more Mr. Modi grows.
Shiv Shakti Nath Bakshi is the executive editor of Kamal Sandesh, the BJP’s official journal
There is a decline in Mr. Modi’s popularity, but it is not even across States
Let us make no mistake: there is certainly a decline in the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but this is not widespread. The degree of his popularity changes from place to place, from State to State. Several surveys conducted in May 2018, including those conducted by us, indicate that Mr. Modi’s popularity not only declined over the last one year, but hit an all-time low of 33%, which is three percentage points lower than his popularity in 2014 when he became Prime Minister. The defeat of the BJP in three States — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — in the recent Assembly polls only suggests that there is a further decline in his popularity.
Those who voted for Mr. Modi expected him to bring about positive change and take the country on the path of development. People expected more jobs to be created, resulting in a faster economic growth for India. In the two years following the BJP’s victory, Mr. Modi’s popularity increased. This was a clear indication of people’s growing faith in him. But things seem to have changed in the last one year. Let’s examine this across regions and States.
Popularity is high
The northeastern States have not witnessed a significant decline in Mr. Modi’s popularity — partly because the Congress ruled many of these States for decades and there is a desire for change and partly because Mr. Modi is relatively new in these areas. In Assam, Mr. Modi witnessed a peak in popularity in the beginning of 2018; this has dipped now. In Odisha, his popularity has increased rapidly since 2014. In West Bengal, Mr. Modi’s popularity has not only increased, he has emerged as the main challenger to the Trinamool Congress led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The Congress there has been relegated to a distant third position. In Bihar, Mr. Modi’s popularity is on the rise, from 46% in 2014 to 56% in May 2018, when the surveys were conducted.
Popularity has been constant
In Rajasthan (where the BJP lost in the recent Assembly election), Delhi, Haryana, and Gujarat, Mr. Modi’s popularity has not only remained reasonably high, it has also been constant in the last four and a half years. In Haryana, the State government is perhaps not as popular as other BJP State governments, and the Opposition is weak. But Modi’s national leadership is not in doubt.
Popularity is low
The picture is less rosy in other States. In Uttar Pradesh, surveys have indicated a steep decline in his popularity: from 56% in April 2017 to 35%. It is important to note that this is lower than his popularity rating in April-May 2014 before the Lok Sabha elections. There is a similar decline in his popularity in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Punjab. The most alarming decline is in Andhra Pradesh, where Mr. Modi was considered the most suitable prime ministerial candidate by 56% voters in 2014; now this has come down to 20%. Telangana has also witnessed a significant decline in his popularity: from 33% in 2014 to 17% in May 2018. In Tamil Nadu, the picture is no different. Karnataka is the only exception in the south where Mr. Modi’s popularity remains intact.
The Prime Minister’s popularity has gone down but it is not even across States. The story is not as simple as we think.
Sanjay Kumar is Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Views are personal