Narendra Modi strode like a colossus in the landslide victory in the 2014 elections, where his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 282 seats out of the 543 on its own. The victory decimated the Congress party. In fact, the National Democratic Alliance (the BJP and its allies) won a record 336 seats, an unprecedented event in India’s electoral history. Although it was a foregone conclusion that the BJP would be voted to power in 2014 due to largescale corruption in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, the scale and magnitude of the win surprised political pundits.
Voters across India gave their unbridled support to Modi, who as the chief minister of Gujarat had played an important role in transforming the state into an industrial powerhouse where the gross domestic product (GDP) was more than the national average. Even the opposition seemed resigned that Modi was unstoppable and he would romp home again in the 2019 elections.
But things can quickly change in India, and Indian voters are becoming disillusioned with Modi’s leadership. Modi had promised to create 20 million jobs for the country’s youth, solve agrarian distress, and bring back the black money stashed in Swiss and other offshore banks by Indian businessmen to evade taxes. He has failed on all three counts. Although Modi has overseen a corruption scandal-free government and has ushered in many reforms, people are angry over his unfulfilled promises.
The anger of the citizens manifested in their voting the BJP out in the recent state elections held in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, a BJP bastion. India’s Grand Old Party, the Congress, won the elections, largely due to the negative vote cast against the BJP.
Now there are also predictions that in the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, the BJP will only win 18 assembly seats, against the 73 they bagged in 2014. This is not good news for the BJP. Along with Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh forms part of the cow belt, where the BJP has been exercising considerable influence. If the BJP fares badly in UP, it will be virtually impossible for it to cross the halfway mark to form the government.
According to the India Today and Karvy Insights Mood of the Nation polls, a survey done in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, if elections were held today the BJP-led NDA would only get 237 seats in Parliament, a drop of 89 seats from the 326 seats they got in 2014. This is less than the halfway mark of 273 seats needed to form the government. Although the Congress party is only projected to get 166 seats and “others” 140 seats, it is quite likely all the opposition parties would unite to prevent Modi from forming the next government. Many of the opposition parties in India have a one-point agenda — remove Modi at all costs.
One could argue that polls are only indicative and do not reflect the reality of voting, but we have seen in the past that pre-polls and exit polls have been largely accurate in predicting the trend.
One beneficiary of Modi’s declining influence has been Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. A person who was almost written off a few months back has now risen like a phoenix from ashes, after his party’s spectacular performance in the three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. However, it is doubtful whether some of the leaders of the opposition parties would accept him as the prime minister. Moreover, the regional parties are riven with contradictions, and the one-upmanship of their leaders, who aspire to the coveted position, may play into the hands of the BJP. There are rumors floating that many of these parties may decide to ally with the BJP on the condition that they replace Modi with a more acceptable leader.
Unfortunately, even with all the failings of Narendra Modi, there is not a single leader who can match his charismatic leadership backed by an unsullied reputation. Most of the leaders in position to replace Modi lack the vision to take India forward.
Politics in India has a strange way of throwing up surprises. Voters may yet have a change of heart and decide to give Modi another opportunity to fulfill the promises he made before the 2014 election.
K.S. Venkatachalam is an independent columnist and political commentator.