Kishore Tiwari, the head of a government organisation in Maharashtra wrote to Mohan Bhagwat, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief saying BJP’s recent defeat in three states was a result of ‘arrogant leaders’ and asked the Union Minister to replace Modi with Nitin Gadkari to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party if it wants to win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Next year an estimated 900 million Indians would head to the polls to elect their next parliament and if recent results of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, even Karnataka are any indicators, it’s not looking so good for BJP in 2019.
In 2014, Modi came to power because of two reasons: anti-incumbent sentiment against the Congress-led coalition government, mainly as a result of corruption accusations and a downward drift in governance. Modi managed to raise Indian hopes about the country’s future by making several ambitious promises. Despite the fact that he was accused of initiating and condoning the 2002 Gujarat riots that resulted in the death of almost 1,000 people (mostly Muslims), Modi succeeded in presenting himself as a messiah of development throughout the election campaign and people were awestruck and mesmerized by his words but now the curtain has lifted and the show is over.
As the 2014 CSDS survey indicated, 27% of BJP’s voters had supported the party because of Modi (which amounts to 6.5 crore votes) in the Lok Sabha elections. Political scientists Pradeep Chhibber and Rahul Verma used data from the post-election National Election Studies conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies between 1967 and 2014 to establish that the political leanings of Congress supporters are distinct from those supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was earlier the Jan Sangh, as well as Left party supporters. These findings were published in a book, Ideology and Identity: The Changing Party Systems of India.
For nearly 50 years, Congress, BJP and Left supporters have held ideologically consistent positions. Ideology plays a vital role in vote choice than caste identity alone. The BJP will try to convince the Hindu majority to vote along sectarian lines and 2019 will likely be the first election that seriously challenges the country’s inclusive political culture. The battle for 2019 has suddenly become more interesting and the stakes are now higher. BJP can still woo and influence other parties, by using all its charm and tact (or money and muscle) to go into battle with a full complement of allies because having Modi on their side doesn’t guarantee them a win now. The first person to endorse Modi as the PM candidate, outside the BJP, was TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu who walked out of the NDA.
On one level, it can be said that a resolute victory would give BJP hegemonic control over all state institutions, including the media and public discourse which would further undermine the integrity and autonomy of the judiciary, public watchdogs and state-run educational institutions. Most importantly, a pertinent threat of BJP victory could also be viewed in the lens of the religious bias, specifically the ignorance of Muslim interests. With issues such as ‘Love Jihad’, cow vigilantism, ‘Ghar Wapasi’, Padmavati etc., the past few years have not exactly helped the social harmony index.
Further, Modi’s popularity has taken a huge blow because of two controversial economic decisions: the demonetisation in November 2016 and Goods and Service Tax in July 2017. The Indian rupee dropped as much as 1.5% to 72.465 rupees to the US dollar. In 2016, Modi used the Indian military’s so-called surgical strikes against terrorist units which remains a controversial move. Rahul Gandhi’s popularity as an alternative to PM Modi has increased by 14 per cent from 32 per cent in February 2016 MOTN poll. As per India
Today, along with religious lines, Rahul Gandhi is the first choice for 47 per cent Muslims and 45 per cent Hindus among those who said that the Congress president could provide an alternative to PM Modi in next years elections. Barring the South, the rest of India prefers Prime Minister Narendra Modi over Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the country’s next PM, according to the nationwide findings of the Political Stock Exchange (PSE). Yet, South India cannot be ignored as it houses several vote banks. Perhaps the BJP needs to come up with some magical improvements to get a majority or else Congress might just win, even with Rahul Gandhi leading them.
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