Post the victory of May 16, 2014, there was an understandable level of restlessness in the right wing. For most of us (including me), a clear majority of 272+ seats was a gift straight from the moon. My own expectation was a little over 190, possibly kissing 200. That Modi would propel the BJP into the 272+ orbit was absolutely special.
Suddenly finding itself in the 272+ orbit, Modi was bombarded with expectations. The right wing wanted its core agenda implemented on the spot. But as Modi continued to play good cop, kept talking of “Team India” and went out of the way to give respect and courtesy to the vanquished, the frustration mounted.
I must say that I felt cold and uninspired a day before the name of the UP CM was actually announced. That’s when everyone was convinced that Manoj Sinha was taking over the reigns. I looked up Manoj Sinha, simple man, soft spoken, well educated and well meaning. But what does he have for me, a core BJP supporter? Basically nothing.
For me, saffron in Uttar Pradesh had just gone beige. The win had become so bland it tasted like defeat.
You know when somebody prepares a grand feast but forgets to put the salt? It ruins everything.
And then Modi goes boom and appoints Yogi Adityanath for Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Suddenly, the Lutyens editors are squirming in their seats, rubbing their eyes in disbelief and there are boisterous scenes of celebration in Lucknow.
Victory finally feels like victory.
This smack on the faces of the elite is a symptom of a changing Modi, one who is slowly but surely ratcheting himself up.
We probably won’t know for sure until 2019, but Modi has consistently avoided falling into the traps that the Vajpayee government fell into.
I feel that by far the No. 1 decision that Modi made was the installation of Amit Shah as BJP president. In Amit Shah, the BJP has a President who is full time 100% committed to winning elections instead of hankering after a plum ministerial berth.
Contrary to this, during the NDA-1 government, all talent migrated completely to the government leaving the party and its organization in tatters. If my memory serves me right, they had people like Jana Krishnamurty and Venkaiah Naidu as party president. There’s nothing wrong with these honest well-meaning folks, but they weren’t the type who were particularly good at strategizing for elections.
During Atalji’s tenure, the party kept losing election after election in the states. At one point, the Congress reached a peak of 15 Chief Ministers or so. In fact, it was Narendra Modi’s 2002 win that put some brakes on the Congress’ victory march. Of course those were different times and Atalji had a very different set of challenges running his coalition government, but the fact remains that the BJP organization suffered during 1998-2004.
The second thing that Modi did masterfully is shed the “pro-rich” image. Well, to be fair, his real trick here was to go glacially slow on reforms, unlike the Vajpayee government (the most reformist government till date). So, that’s not much of a trick really. Nevertheless, labels have power and Modi’s opponents tried to hit him with the same club of “suit boot ki sarkar”.
This was the real achievement of demonetization. Modi’s statement of taking on the corrupt was so powerful that it took the imagination of the poor by storm. Of course, Modi could lean here on the lessons from Vajpayee’s experience. Don’t go too quickly on reforms, or you won’t be around to harvest the crop. Manmohan reaped all the credit for what Vajpayee sowed. It still hurts.
Of course, Modi’s opponents did him a favor by trying to hit him with the pro-rich jibe too soon. He realized what could happen, did a tactical retreat on the Land Bill and proceeded to build his own pro-poor image that may now be his strongest point.
Modi understood that he needed to win the states to “demonetize” the Congress party. He understood that the secular establishment had a back up plan. From academia to media to the judiciary, he needed to hit their citadels one by one. You can’t uproot a 70 year old tree in one fell swoop. You have to go slow.
So, that’s what he did. Modi has used his first term in power to build the national base for the BJP. He’s expanded the party into Maharashtra. He’s won back the lost ground in Uttar Pradesh. The Sangh’s dream of saffronizing the North East has become a reality. He’s also picked up Haryana, the only Hindi belt state that had puzzlingly never seen a BJP government. Only the city state of Delhi continues to confound him.
Modi has now created a launchpad of about 200 seats from where the BJP will start in every election. The party’s previous peak was just 183 seats. Modi has now raised the floor to 200. From 2019 onwards, the BJP’s battle will be for the remaining stretch of 72 seats. It will win some elections and lose others … but BJP will be the dominant party of India for the foreseeable future with always a minimum of 200 seats.
Modi now feels safer with the reins of power.
There will be more to come. A new Modi is emerging.
The other day Praveen Patil said that 2014 was NOT NaMo’s electoral Mount Everest. He’s right. The mistake liberals have made from Day 1 of the Modi government is that they have tried to stop BJP from repeating 2014. They never seriously considered the possibility that Modi aims to go far beyond 2014.