Questioning the Modi-factor

Do Modi and his party still have what it takes to win a clear majority?

Questioning the Modi-factor


he fourth phase of the 18th general elections for the Lok Sabha in India ended on May 13. With three more phases to go till June 1 (including polling in the constituencies where Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are contesting), the cacophony seems to have grown louder. The election that began with both national and international media giving Modi-led NDA alliance (with their popular slogan ab ki baar, char sau paar) a free walk, seems to have started generating an unease across the board, among the ruling BJP and its captive organisations. Let’s look at some of the indicators.

Questioning the Modi-factor

One major indicator is the percentage of cast vote. It has gone down considerably in the regions covered in the first three phases. This is an indicator for many that something is not right. People not turning out in hordes to vote, unlike previous times, has led many to question the effectiveness of the so-called Modi-factor. That the much-maligned Election Commission has revised these figures upwards (after a considerable delay) leading to howls of protests by some opposition parties is another story. A second factor that seems to have worked as an exit poll of sorts is the fall of the stock market in recent days. (It is supposed to be solidly behind Modi and his party). This, too, has created an impression that unlike previous elections many people don’t see the current government returning to power with a clean majority, forget about their ambition to cross 400 seats – a feat achieved only once (by Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress in the backdrop of Indira Gandhi’s assassination).

The most important sign, however, seems to have come from Modi and his ilk themselves. Recent weeks have seen him frequently reverting to his anti-Muslim rhetoric in public rallies. He has called Muslims “infiltrators;” “those who produce 11 children;” and threatening to take over the country with support from the Congress. He has called Rahul Gandhi, the INDIA Alliance face, a shehzada (prince) conspiring to take away people’s (read Hindu) money to give it away to “Muslims.” In a widely shared interview he denied the charges of doing Hindu-Muslim politics with a poker face. As recently as this week, top leaders in Modi’s party were asking for votes in the name of building more temples in Banaras and Mathura etc to replace existing mosques, a repeat of the Ram Mandir feat.

In another twist, he accused Rahul Gandhi of entering into some kind of conspiratorial pact with Adani and Ambani. The world watched in disbelief simply because both these oligarchs are seen as ardent supporters of Modi’s electoral successes. In 2014 elections, Modi was constantly photographed flying in Adani’s private plane (with his name printed bold and clear) for his campaigning. What does this apparent flip-flop mean? That he is falling back with his dog whistle to his core Hindutva support base and is trying to consolidate them is clear. The question though is why is he simultaneously denying those charges? Is it the confidence that electoral politics is a cynical game and he can get away with it, despite seeming to give conflicting messages to different sections of the populace?

Let’s look at these seemingly disparate speeches of Modi and his party leaders to make sense of them vis-à-vis the opposition.

First, there was a general lament all these years that it was always Modi who was setting the agenda and that the opposition was reduced to merely responding to it, hence, their inability to put forth a winning narrative. In at least three instances in these elections, one can see how the turf seems to have changed. Modi accusing Rahul Gandhi of hobnobbing with Adani and Ambani is something the latter has built his career on, repeatedly accusing Modi of backing and nurturing crony capitalism. No wonder, Rahul immediately issued a video challenging Modi to initiate an enquiry against him.

Second, BJP’s rhetoric of crossing 400 seats has led the opposition to go to town saying the BJP has a hidden agenda to change key features of the constitution, including reservations for the Dalits and Other Backward Castes. Their counter-slogan of Samvidhan bachao, desh bachao has put the BJP on the back foot. Its leaders have been telling whosoever is willing to listen, that they aren’t opposed to reservations in jobs and education for the marginalised. They seem to have failed to reassure a large number of Dalits and OBCs who are worried. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, after his release from prison on corruption charges, accused Modi and the BJP of hiding the fact that Modi wanted his office for his right hand man Amit Shah. The BJP has a rule disallowing those older than 75 years to be prime minister. While this appears to be an internal matter for the party, the BJP was quick to deny the claim.

Beyond Modi and his party, this election is being seen as a test of strength for Shah and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Yogi is seen as the hero of the Rajputs who are increasingly worried that their champion is being sidelined at Shah’s expense. Recent public agitations by Rajputs across several states have lent credence to the suggestion. Kejriwal has added the proverbial tarka. In each of these instances there is an indication of a growing disenchantment with Modi. The opposition has tried to leverage each of these.

The question in the end is: will all this be enough to prevent the BJP from gaining a clear majority, which might open a Pandora’s box.

The writer has been in the development sector for more than a decade. He currently works with an international non-governmental organisation based in Delhi. He may be reached at

Questioning the Modi-factor