The Modi Juggernaut rolls on

Narendra Modi als Grafitti

PM Modi faced its first stern test in the elections to the state assemblies of Maharashtra and Haryana. Avani Tewari explains in the India-Blog why the Modi magic works.

After the overwhelming majority secured by the Bhartiya Janata Party in the parliamentary polls in May this year, the party and its star campaigner, PM Modi, faced its first stern test in the elections to the state assemblies of Maharashtra and Haryana. In both these states the Congress had been in power for between 10-15 years; in fact in Haryana the BJP had secured only 4 assembly seats in a house of 90 in the last elections, while in Maharashtra it had been out of power for the last 15 years. The two states were considered important as Maharashtra is India’s most industrialized state and Mumbai, its capital, is considered as the financial capital of India; and Haryana, borders New Delhi on the north-west and is one of the most important hubs for IT and multinational companies. Further, in the by-elections held after the parliamentary polls, the BJP had not done well and some were already talking of the sheen having faded. An article in the dna stated

“BJP has suffered a severe jolt in the by-elections. In total, it won 14 out of 33 seats that were up for grabs, dropping 12 seats in the process. Congress which looked almost dead and buried, has got a new lease of life as it did decently well in Gujarat and Rajasthan.”

The pre-elections scenario in both the states witnessed hectic political activity. In Maharashtra, the BJP had a long standing political alliance since the last 25 years, with a right wing regional party, the Shiv Sena, with which it had earlier ruled the state and which was also its ally in the parliamentary polls. In Haryana too, it had an alliance with a regional party, the Haryana Janhit Congress(HJC), since the last 3 years with which it had contested the recent parliamentary polls. Similarly, the Congress had been ruling Maharashtra since the last 15 years in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Defying common logic that an alliance would do better, the BJP took a calculated risk and decided to go it alone in both Maharashtra and Haryana. Similarly, the Congress and NCP also decided to part ways and contest elections on their own. In both instances the parties could not arrive at a consensus on seat sharing, with the alliance partners asking for a larger share in the seats as well as a rotating chief ministership.

High voltage campaign

The BJP launched a high voltage campaign in both the states. PM Modi was again its star campaigner and addressed more than 20 rallies in Maharashtra and 10 in Haryana. Economic development, removal of corruption and opposition to dynastic politics were his constant refrains in the election speeches. An article in the Times of India states

“Egged on by the massive mandate he got in the Lok Sabha elections just five months ago, Modi unleashed a poll blitzkrieg addressing over 30 rallies in the two states where he took on the opposition over dynastic politics and corruption.” It further went on to state “With Wednesday's polling in the two states being seen as the first key test of popularity for major political parties after the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP left nothing to chance with Modi addressing over 20 rallies in Maharashtra and 10 in Haryana.“

The election results which were declared on Oct. 19, once again highlighted the winning combination of Modi and his party president and master strategist Amit Shah. In Haryana, the BJP won 47 seats in a house of 90 enabling it to form a government on its own as it had secured a simple majority. This was a tenfold gain for the party which had never governed this state. In Maharashtra, while the party could not get a majority on its own, it still got 122 seats in a house of 288; in the process becoming the first non Congress party to get more than 100 seats in a state long considered a Congress bastion. In both the states, the ruling Congress was relegated to the third place.

Commenting on the reasons for the spectacular performance of the BJP, an article in the Zee news states

“Depending on the way you look at it, the reasons for such a mandate could be numerous or one alone. Factors could include anti-incumbency, desire for change, internal dissent in the Congress, corruption charges especially related with land deals. The single major reason, of course, seems to undoubtedly be the Modi wave, which has overcome major caste and clan affiliations that have long governed voting patterns.” It goes on to add that “At the end, people were looking for change and seem to have clearly backed Modi’s campaign, which centred around development, pro-active governance and greater opportunities for the youth.”

On the other hand, dismissing that the BJP’s performance could be attributed to a Modi wave, columnist Praful Bidwai wrote

“Three sets of factors help explain the BJP’s performance, each more important than so-called  “Modi magic” or hangover of the “Modi effect” from the Lok Sabha polls. These are: state-level anti-incumbency, especially in Maharashtra; the BJP’s success in creating the elements of a new social coalition or bloc across different caste-community layers; and the sheer force of the party’s surcharged campaign which overwhelmed its opponents’ lifeless, timid, often defeatist, canvassing.”

The Impact

Victory in these two states means that the BJP can now deepen and push through economic and political reforms.  An article in the Indian Express says, "The Bharatiya Janata Party’s control of Maharashtra and Haryana, in addition to Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where it is already in power, will ensure that the BJP-led Central government can push through second-generation reforms, largely under the purview of states, with much more ease.” The article further quotes Sajjid Chinoy, Chief India Economist, JP Morgan as saying “Given the nature of India’s federal policy, states will have a crucial role to play in reforming land, labour, energy and taxation laws.”

The victory will also give the BJP more seats in the Rajya Sabha or the upper house where it does not command a majority and hence faces problems in pushing through crucial reforms, which require legislative clearances. Commenting on the BJP’s victory in the two states, Live mint states

“For the BJP, there is more to winning Maharashtra and Haryana elections than controlling two key states. The victory promises to help the party raise its tally in the Rajya Sabha, or the Council of States, where its minority status is a hindrance to its reform agenda. The victory also boosts morale for the party as it seeks to pocket more states. If everything goes according to plan, the party could install its choice as President in 2017, when elections to the top constitutional post are held.”

With elections coming up in the states of Jammu & Kashmir and Jharkhand it is most likely that there will be more consolidation for BJP and further marginalization of the Congress. The election results in these two states have revealed that economic development, good governance and social initiatives are far more important to an aspirational India than divisive, dynastic and caste based politics, which has perpetuated poverty, corruption, backwardness and misgovernance. It also shows that notwithstanding the critics the Modi magic continues unabated.