An Invincible Modi: BJP’s Biggest ‘Strength’ As Well As ‘Weakness’

What’s the BJP’s biggest strength today? The ‘Modi factor’. But why has it become its ‘weakness’? Here’s why.

4 min read

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is by far the biggest asset the BJP has today. The secret of the party’s success over the last five and a half years can be credited to Modi’s persona and mass appeal. Prime Minister Modi’s personal political capital helped the party cross the finish line in two simultaneous general elections.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 32 percent of the people who voted for the BJP said that they wouldn’t have voted for the party had Modi not been the PM candidate – 5 percent higher than 2014. For the Opposition allies, this number was 25 percent, as per a CSDS survey. The ‘Modi factor’ fetched the BJP 7.3 crore, and its allies 1.1 crore votes. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to which the BJP belongs outscored the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) by 11 crore votes in these elections. Out of this, the ‘Modi factor’ accounted for 8.5 crore votes – three-fourth of the difference between NDA and UPA.


Modi’s Emerging ‘Invincibility’

Raghav Bahl, in an opinion piece, calculates the “Modi Delta” in a “fantastic 12, perhaps even 15, percentage points”!

The degree of Modi’s popularity varies from state to state. It is higher in the northern and western states, as compared to the southern and eastern states. Different facets of Modi’s personality appeal to different sets of voters. For the poor, he is a champion of their rights.

For the for middle-class, he’s a development-oriented visionary leader; for the youth, he’s a statesman who promises to make India a world power to reckon with.

However, Modi’s invincibility is now slowly emerging as the BJP’s weakness. Wait a minute. This is confusing. Didn’t we say at the beginning, that PM Modi is the BJP’s biggest strength? Yes.

Confidence is a strength. But both low confidence and over-confidence are weaknesses. Since much of the BJP’s workers and leaders have been leaning on the ‘Modi factor’ to help them sail through, this has also made them complacent. They’ve believed in – over the past five years – “Modi hai to Mumkin hai”. The resultant complacency has also caused these workers and leaders to lose touch with the people and ground realities.

Modi’s Success & Its Impact on Chief Ministers’ Style of Functioning

The increasing thrust on the presidential style of elections, especially in the Lok Sabha elections, has made the candidate ‘irrelevant’. Out of 281 MPs of the BJP in the 16th Lok Sabha (2014 general elections), 165 MPs (59 percent) were first-time MPs who won, riding the ‘Modi factor.’ During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we noticed a lacklustre campaign by some BJP candidates across many states. There has been clamour among BJP leaders to get PM Modi to hold rallies in their constituency. Modi’s strategy of running state election campaigns on central issues rather than on local issues, has made the local leaders and workers complacent. “Modi hai, jita hi dega!”

Modi’s success has also impacted the style and functioning of BJP chief ministers.

Many CMs are seen ‘copying’ Modi. They have big(ger) social media teams and run a PR/publicity blitz pre-election. Both in Haryana and Maharashtra recently, where the BJP’s performance was lower than expected, it is a well-known fact that Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar had concentrated power within the Chief Minister’s Office. The bureaucrats now run the show, and the CMs rely more on external strategists rather than workers and leaders. It has been working well for Modi, so why not for them? What this has led to is the CMs losing touch with leaders and workers, and also with the public.


‘Cracks’ in BJP Visible In Recent Elections

The central BJP has Modi to take care of the government, and Shah to take care of the organisation, now supported by Nadda. This distribution of work can’t be seen in many state units. Further, Modi has an instant mass connect, and even makes it a point to speak to the Indian diaspora on foreign tours. His success didn’t come easy. But today, CMs with five-year terms are being labelled as ‘future PM candidates’, which is giving these leaders a false sense of both hope and entitlement.

This weakness is clearly visible in state elections where the BJP is the incumbent and is defending its turf:

  • Congress emerged as the Single Largest Party in Goa in 2017, ahead of the BJP. However, the BJP still managed to form the government.
  • Congress put up a spirited performance in Gujarat, pinning down the BJP to below 100 seats in 2017.
  • Congress snatched three states from BJP, namely, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2018.
  • BJP fell short of a majority in Haryana, and had to take the help of Dushyant Chautala in the recently-held polls.
  • BJP’s tally in Maharashtra fell by 17 seats, and this is one of the principle reasons why its ally Shiv Sena has hardened its stance and is demanding a 50:50 power-sharing formula.

The BJP is witnessing a structural shift from the Vajpayee-Advani era to Modi-Shah era. However, regional leaders developed by Modi, like ML Khattar, Devendra Fadnavis, Raghubar Das, Vijay Rupani – to name a few – are far more dependent on him, than leaders like Shivraj Chouhan, Raman Singh etc were on Vajpayee-Advani.

A top-down approach doesn’t augur well for a cadre-based party like the BJP. As Michael Lewis writes in ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’, “Every form of strength is also a form of weakness.” The BJP needs to clearly understand this and improvise accordingly.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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