The Bihar election results have shocked the BJP. Till a day before, the cadres of the party had been expecting a victory. The party had ordered 100 kg. of sweets and firecrackers to celebrate the anticipated victory. However, as the trends of the Bihar election results began coming in, the party embarrassingly had to cancel the order placed for the celebrations. The BJP got a massive reality check when the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) emerged as the single biggest party with 70+ seats. The Lalu Yadav who was supposed to be the biggest liability for Nitish Kumar’s Grand Alliance proved to be the biggest vote-catcher in the elections. A gloomy Sambit Patra was seen singing paeans to the virtue of humility in various television studios and the otherwise combative BJP spokespersons were meek and subdued due to the shock given by the Bihari voter.
The BJP’s explanation for their defeat is that they lost to the “arithmetic of caste”. It is a dishonest explanation and one that shouldn’t be bought, for while one cannot write off the relevance of caste, that made Nitish ally with Lalu, it was the same factor that made the BJP ally with Manjhi and Paswan! The real reason for their defeat is that they are still campaigning as if it is May 2014 and they have formed a government with majority for the first time in 30 years. By not declaring Chief Ministerial candidates in other states where they have won since, they thought they could perennially ride on the Modi wave to win election after election. Delhi busted that belief. And now Bihar has shattered it.
Alarm bells are ringing in Nagpur and Ashoka Road. Has the Modi wave begun to fade? It is this writer’s submission that the Modi wave has not only faded, but it has now become a vapour. The people of the country are slowly beginning to shake off the veil of development that the BJP had used to hide its real Hindutva agenda and are now watching the ruling party’s actions with apprehension and dismay. Here are the factors which are responsible for this change in the mindset of the common man.
Modi’s hubris is damaging people’s trust in him
The largest share of the people of the country (though a minority) voted for Modi in May 2014 because he represented the kind of qualities one expects in a leader. A supposedly decisive, no-nonsense, development-oriented, incorruptible man was pitted against an unprepared, reluctant, blundering dynast defending the possibly most corrupt government in independent India’s history. Since then, Modi has transformed into a globe-trotting, arrogant, know-it-all who bends colleagues to his will to get his wishes fulfilled. He has under-delivered on his promised reforms agenda, has been too pre-occupied with image-building on the international stage while displaying none of the qualities of a statesman. He is seen as an admired orator who is silent on the rampant inflation, repeated deaths of witnesses to the corruption of the Vyapam scam and blatantly communal politics being practised by his party. The manner in which the Modi sarkar mismanaged the agrarian crisis, with paltry sums given in compensation to farmers, other than the inflation of pulses and reduction of expenditure on public welfare schemes for the economically backward, was something that alienated many voters. We are supposed to believe that he is a tough leader who will teach Pakistan a lesson, rein in the bullying tactics of China and forge relationships with superpowers like the United States, while at the same time accepting the fact that he is helpless and cannot rein in potty mouths from his own party. The common man has begun to see through the ridiculousness of this proposition and has begun to realize that like others before him, Modi has surrounded himself with yes-men, who do not give him a reality check and keep him immune to any constructive criticism.
Although he has become the PM, he still has a street fighter image
Despite becoming the Prime Minister, Modi still speaks and behaves like a RSS pracharak. He uses the kind of language that does not suit anyone of his stature and has an extremely contemptuous attitude towards the Chief Ministers of the opposition. His angry, confrontational and high-pitched tone did not actually resonate with Biharis, who had benefited in the realms of law and order, rural electrification, access to schools etc. under Nitish. Continuous victories had made him hallucinate and dream of himself as an ideologue whose sermons would be consumed by the people like samosas and jalebis in festive season. But not only does he have no action to live up to that image, he is in fact colluding with the more rabid elements of his party to reorient the plank of his government from Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas to ‘ramzaade vs. Haraamzade’, ‘Go to Pakistan’ etc. He believes that plastic surgery was pioneered by ancient Indians when Lord Shiva rejuvenated Ganesha with an elephant’s head, attributing God’s powers to Indian mortals’ scientific genius, while at the same time, slashing the funding for science and technology related research. It is hard to follow such a ‘leader’ seriously.
Besides, the BJP didn’t have any strong regional face pitted against Nitish, with the prime minister stooping to the level of petty politics.
He has a non-inclusive approach
While many writers, artists, filmmakers, scientists etc. have been returning their awards protesting against the growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country, in the wake of one BJP member after another justifying or making statements amounting to shying away from condemning the Dadri murder, the Prime Minister does not even have the courtesy to allay their fears by taking a note of their concern and promising to work in a direction that includes everyone in the development story. Instead, his and his party’s PR machinery is busy discrediting and assassinating the character of such dissenters. Modi is very reluctant to admit that communalism is vitiating the atmosphere of the country, tearing apart the social fabric and is hurting India’s economic prospects, and he, in fact, himself went on to speak the communal language by ridiculing taweez (he would never do that for rudraksh) and suggesting that Muslims would steal quotas from Dalits if the BJP came to power, which is highly unworthy of a prime minister! His Mann Ki Baat programs do not tackle these uncomfortable topics, his tweets do not mention the same and his speeches and rallies are full of chest-thumping and braggadocio. The reason is that it has become his habit to see his party as the nation and all others as its foes. Also, it would be a folly to imagine that among Hindus, religious tolerance is something that only the middle class Hindu cares about, and we have had instances of a rural Hindu widow protecting innocent Muslims in the recent riots in Muzaffarpur (not to be confused with Muzaffarnagar), Bihar, and a village in Bihar even named itself ‘Pakistan’ commemorating its former Muslim inhabitants who left for Pakistan at the time of the partition. Hindus and Muslims do interact with each other, often making best of friends, in rural societies too, and often go to school alongside each other as well.
Besides, the electoral outcome in Bihar reflected a victory not only of religious pluralism but linguistic pluralism as well, given that the BJP has seldom given focus on local dialects like Bhojpuri or Angika or Magahi.
All quiet on the Economic front
As shown by this brilliant article in the Indian Express, all Modi has done in the last 18 months is to repackage old schemes of the UPA-II and relaunch them with a glitzy marketing campaign. Inflation is rising and the budgets of key social sector schemes have been heavily slashed (such as Mid Day Meal scheme by 32.6%, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan by 22% and for health and education by 15 and 20% respectively). His non-inclusive approach has meant that the Parliament has seen frequent logjams early in his tenure and the key GST bill is still pending. In addition, Arvind Subramnian, the NDA’s own Chief Economic Advisor has cautioned the government that its attempts to tamper GDP figures to fit its political agenda is hurting India’s credibility in the international market. While the assets of some business leaders close to the prime minister continue to grow manifold, the rest of the country is still waiting for the economic miracle that the prime minister and his enthusiastic followers promised in the run-up to the national elections. As has already been mentioned, the manner in which the Modi sarkar mismanaged the agrarian crisis, with paltry sums given in compensation to farmers, other than the inflation of pulses and reduction of expenditure on public welfare schemes for the economically backward, was something that alienated many voters.
A stunning defeat in the Bihar Assembly elections has meant that Modi should forget about getting a majority in the Rajya Sabha at least during this tenure. The only alternative before him now is to reach out to various sections of the opposition and work with them in the parliament to pass key economic reform legislation while at the same time gagging the vitriol flowing out of the hyper-Hindutvawadi pracharaks in his party. If he fails to do that, both Modi and the BJP would have lost a historic opportunity to prove themselves worthy of their mandate and the Modi wave would turn around and become an anti-Modi tsunami.