Modi’s ‘Overexposure’ & Choice of CM Adityanath, May Cost the BJP

BJP’s decision to go into almost every assembly election post-2014 with Modi as its mascot, may cost it heavily.

4 min read
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The incumbent BJP-led NDA is facing a tougher-than-expected contest in the ongoing parliamentary elections. While this has rightly been traced to its overall disappointing performance in power, particularly on the economic front, it would also appear that at least two political calls made early in its tenure – both by the BJP – have now come back to haunt the NDA.

The first was the BJP’s decision to go into almost every assembly election post-2014 with Narendra Modi as its mascot.

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Local issues and leadership questions were relegated to the background, consciously. This had its dividends, keeping inner party squabbling at manageable levels, and ensuring that the carefully-crafted, systematically-magnified Modi persona papered over anti-incumbency and blunted entrenched rivals.

Fallout Of Modi’s ‘Overexposure’ & Constant Quest For A ‘Saffron’ Map

There has however been a flip side to Modi’s high-visibility embedment in poll after poll. It has left his equity vulnerable, making him more culpable than past prime ministers for lapses on the part of his party governments and colleagues. This can be spun by BJP sympathisers to suggest that it makes Modi more invested in the democratic process, and more accountable to the people compared to his post-1980s predecessors, but that it has steadily eroded Modi’s credibility, remains undeniable. (Other controversies that have more directly to do with how the central government is run have, of course, played a sizeable part in depleting Modi’s stock.)

The division of roles at different levels of government based on subsidiarity principles, provides a certain cushion to the central government, allowing it to distance itself from at least some of the flak for what unfolds at the macro and micro levels.

The frequent staking of Modi’s equity in search of victory, notches and an all-saffron electoral map, has robbed BJP of this cushion.

It has also meant that:

  1. The 2019 parliamentary elections is not the first, but effectively the n-th time Modi is making a re-bid for power – and that he is hobbled by the accumulated baggage of disappointments that have occurred after each ‘re-bid’
  2. There is a feeling of déjà vu with every strand of rhetoric the BJP is currently deploying

Modi’s ‘Apolitical’ Interviews Reveals BJP’s Fatigue

The long-drawn election is not helping with the déjà vu. The BJP’s pitch is sounding more tiresome with each passing phase, negating any of the supposed advantage the poll schedule was supposed to give the party. Suddenly, the BJP arsenal looks depleted, flailing for lines that can recapture popular imagination.

A spate of televised interviews, essentially a charm offensive, with an emphasis on the prime minister’s ‘apolitical’ side, suggests that Modi is aware of the fatigue his party campaign is inducing. Whether this helps in expected measure, remains to be seen. For now, these have drawn attention mainly for scripted content, wild claims, and fawning interviewers.

The second slip that the BJP may come to rue relates to its choice of chief minister in Uttar Pradesh.

The state voted generously for the party in 2014, and indeed ensured Modi’s prime ministership, and went on to reward the BJP once again in the 2017 assembly elections, ignoring the pains of demonetisation. In picking Adityanath to lead the state however, the BJP either misread the verdicts as endorsing Hindutva and not vikas, or believed that its chief ministerial pick – if reined in to deliver the development agenda Modi was supposedly shaping – could keep both the Hindutva and vikas constituencies happy.

The Mess That Uttar Pradesh Is, Thanks To ‘Thakur Raj’

As it has turned out, Adityanath is now among India’s least popular CMs as per one tracking survey, while another survey shows his government having among the lowest net satisfaction scores. That is hardly surprising given that the UP government has been making news for all the wrong reasons – for the pains its cow protection agenda has inflicted, for failing to achieve any appreciable improvement in law and order and check atrocities on dalits and Muslims, for callously reacting to hospital deaths in Gorakhpur, and for ushering a perceived ‘Thakur Raj’.

One cannot help but think that an individual with a softer image and pro-’vikas’ orientation (think Nitish Kumar of circa 2014) might have given the BJP a better chance at taking on the formidable ‘gathbandhan’.

Using the space her party’s legislative majority offered to do something meaningful, such a person could have cemented the BJP’s pole position in UP at a time when the gathbandhan constituents were on the mat – and ensured that the party enjoyed the backing of India’s largest state for some time to come.

At this point however, the BJP’s fortunes in UP rest on the extent to which the ‘Modi factor’ – dwindled and exhausted but not fully contained – can salvage Adityanath’s mess.

(Manish Dubey is a policy analyst and crime fiction writer and can be contacted at @ManishDubey1972. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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