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  • Rahul Jain

What is really behind Narendra Modi's landslide victory in the Indian elections?

The election of Narendra Modi as India's Prime Minister for a second term drives home a serious political lesson: there is simply no substitute for hard work. How could Modi pull such a grand success? One need not look far for the answers.

Modi's achievements

Modi's performance on all fronts during his five-year tenure was exemplary. This much is reflected in the number of international awards that have been conferred on him, including the prestigious Seoul Peace Prize for international cooperation and fostering global growth, the UN Earth Award and the inaugural Philip Kotler Presidential Award. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Palestine and Afghanistan ― notably all Muslim countries ― along with Russia conferred on Modi their highest civilian honours.

On the economic front, India will achieve a growth rate of 7.3 percent in 2018-19, surpassing China. The per capita real GDP and the growth in GDP likewise experienced rapid growth. The Consumer Price Index stands at 2.86 percent ― under the rival Indian National Congress Party (INC), it exceeded 10 percent ― and FX reserves remains at a healthy USD 424 billion, as against USD 304 billion under the INC.

He introduced Modi Care, world's largest health insurance scheme, which provides health insurance to half of India's 1.3 billion population. He built 90 million toilets, empowering rural women in particular and increasing safe sanitation coverage from 39 percent of the nation in 2014 to 98 percent this year. The provision of cooking gas to 60 million poor families, the construction of 15 million homes for the poor, a massive push for infrastructure development, Rs 6,000 direct income support to poor farmers, the world's largest crop-insurance scheme for farmers and Jan Dhan bank accounts for all (making it the world's largest financial inclusion scheme ― these are all some of his other notable achievements.

But Modi also emerged as a strong leader after ordering the Indian army to conduct airstrikes inside Pakistan to destroy terrorist hideouts, in response to the terror attacks on Indian paramilitary convoy in Pulwama. His diplomatic success in getting Masood Azhar declared a global terrorist by United Nations Security Council was a feather in his cap, especially given China's opposition.

He has introduced a number of measures to weed out corruption ― including passing the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, amending the 1988 Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Actin order to target the use of pseudonyms, and the appointment of an anti-graft ombudsman (Lokpal). More importantly, his government's scandal-free record stands in stark contrast to the INC's scandal-ridden government.

No wonder so many voters seemed to regard Modi's achievements in five years to have surpassedthose of the INC during its 55 year rule.

The opposition's strategy

What could the opposition offer to the voters in return? Very little, it turns out. For years, the Indian National Congress Party has typically pandered to the minority vote ― comprised of Muslims (14 percent), Christians (3 percent), Buddhist, Sikhs, Parsi, Jews and others ― and exploited the caste-divisions among the Hindus who form 80 percent of India's 1.3 billion population. The religion-based vote-bank politics of the INC boomeranged. INC's Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh's statement, "Muslims have the first right over nations resources," or Rahul Gandhi's recent controversial claimthat the INC is a party of Muslims, or Sonia Gandhi's meetings with the Shahi Imam to plead for Muslim votes and such other appeasement over the years have helped consolidate the Hindu vote bank for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and undeniably helped him win the 2014 election.

Interestingly, Modi never used either caste or religion card in his election campaign. His 2014 campaign showcased good governance and the development record of his 13 year tenure in the state of Gujarat; while in 2019 he stressed national security given the success of the Balakot strike.

To counter this, Rahul Gandhi, President of the INC, began making temple visits to demonstrate that he too is a devout Hindu. But such seemingly superficial gestures undertaken during an election campaign did little to help his cause. In contrast, Modi was associated, since his school days, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a cultural organisation of the Hindus fighting for advancing the Hindu cause.

The INC's attempt to project itself as the protector of the underdogs ― the lower castes ― was also never going to help, because Modi himself comes from the lower caste. Furthermore, the politically savvy Modi appointed Ram Nath Kovind – himself a person from the lowest caste ― the President of India. So the caste card, played by the INC, ended up working in favour of Modi.

To break the INC's lock on the Muslim vote, Modi brought legislation to abolish the triple talaq ― a practice of instant divorce. This received wide-spread support from Muslim women, who bear the brunt of this problematic practice. When the INC opposed the bill in the Upper House, Modi used it to his advantage by pushing the narrative that the INC is against Muslim women. It should be noted that when it was in power, the INC granted Muslims considerable leeway to practice forms of shari'a, to their electoral advantage.

Typically, the issues that have plagued Indian elections over the years have revolved around inflation, corruption and secularism ― which, in practice, has meant minority appeasement. Modi, through his efficient economic management, dealt with the first. He has provided clean administration, in contrast to the financial scandal-ridden administration of the INC. As for secularism, in place of the INC's "divide Hindus and unite Muslims" strategy, which helped them win elections for most of the 70 years of India's independence, Modi came up with a Sabaka Sath Sabaka Vikas ("development of all with the cooperation of all") policy. He acted on his policies by ensuring that government programs benefitted all those eligible, irrespective of caste or religion.

As Modi skilfully outwitted the election winning strategy employed over the years by the INC, the latter was left with nothing substantive with which to attack him. This was obvious from the way the INC ran its electoral campaign.

First, the INC resorted to spreading canards against Modi. Attempts to malign Modi on the Rafale fighter jets deal miserably failed, for the Supreme Court exonerated his government of any wrongdoing. Despite this, Rahul Gandhi continued sloganeering in his rallies, claiming Chowkidar Chor Hai ("watchman is the thief") to counter Modi's self-description as the "guardian/watchman" of the public treasury. Modi countered Gandhi's jibe by means of a nation-wide campaign, Mai Bhi Chowkidar ("I too am a watchman"). Millions of Modi supporters added the word Chowkidar to precede their names in social media interactions. Adding insult to injury, Gandhi was made to submit a written apology to the Supreme Court when a defamation case was filed by the BJP.

Second, Modi skilfully exploited the mistakes of INC stalwarts like Sam Pitroda to his advantage. Responding to a press question on the massacre of 3,000 Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 ― violence that was instigated by senior INC figures ― Sam angrily quipped, hua to hua ("What happened, happened"). Modi used this jibe at every public meeting to drive home the callous approach of the INC to people's issues. Sam's remarks hurt the sentiments of the Sikh community, which was up in arms and held demonstrations in Delhi and Punjab state. This further damaged INC's electoral prospects.

Third, the messaging used by the INC and other regional parties opposed to Modi was also wrong. Instead of telling the voters what they would do if voted to power, they engaged in name-calling. Modi used it to his electoral advantage. He told public rallies that these parties had no positive agenda, no program for the Indian population. Modi said he wanted to "remove poverty" (garibi hatao), whereas all they talked about was "removing Modi" (Modi hatao).

Similarly, the opposition made a huge mistake by undermining the valour of Indian army which successfully carried out airstrikes inside Pakistan to destroy the terrorist hideout in Balakot. To deprive Modi of the credit, the opposition started asking for proof that the strikes have really taken place. Modi, an outstanding public speaker, countered this by saying in public meetings that when the 2008 terrorist attack took place in Mumbai, the INC government did nothing; but hisgovernment would not spare terrorists: "It is my nature to give a befitting reply ... even if they are hidden deep under the Earth, I will pull them out and eliminate them." This was met with thunderous applause.

Fourth, Rahul Gandhi came up with his NYAY scheme for poor families ― a scheme that involves a dole of Rs 72,000 per annum for 20 million families, which is economically simply not feasible. There was confusion among the INC as to how it would be funded. Sam Pitroda, Rahul's mentor, said that the INC would raise taxes on the middle class, though P. Chidambaram, former INC finance minister, denied it. Gandhi said it would be funded by money to be raised from fugitive economic offenders, like Nirav Modi. Given the policy chaos, Modi scoffed at it in public meetings, inviting voters to check INC's dismal past record in implementing its promises.

Fifth, attacking Modi government's unemployment record did little to help the INC's prospects. The opposition was citing the leaked National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report, to claim unemployment rose in Modi's regime. But Modi's finance minister tabled in the Upper House the statistics of employment generated, blunting the opposition's argument. He stated that in the two years, 20 million jobs had been created as per EPFO data. Furthermore, over 40 million new loans have been disbursed under the MUDRA scheme of loans to micro, small and medium enterprises. The actual unemployment rate as per Trading Economics stands at 3.5 percent.

Finally, the election management by Amit Shah, the President of the BJP, sealed the fate of the opposition. Often referred to as the Kautilya, the 300 BCE Hindu strategic thinker, Shah pressed into action a massive election machinery to enlist the support of the beneficiaries of Modi governments' programs ― not least, Modi Care. Such beneficiaries wholeheartedly voted for Modi as a display of gratitude. Modi addressed 142 election rallies nationwide. He also communicated directly with the beneficiaries of various schemes by video link. The BJP formulated 18 committees at national level to ensure that government schemes were communicated down the line. Three thousand dedicated party workers worked without any remuneration in all constituencies, 161 call centres were created, and 15,000 staff worked around the clock. Such election management was absent in the INC and other regional parties.

No substitute for hard work

Narendra Modi understood what concerns the average Indian voter much better than did his detractors. Modi gave voters what they wanted: strong economy, jobs, low inflation, no financial scandals, no major communal strife, real development outcomes and strengthened national security. He projected himself as an incorruptible, decisive leader ― and ultimately a leader the voters embraced wholeheartedly.

Courtesy : ABC Religion and Ethics


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