Yearender: Modi wave works magic for India's ruling BJP in 2017

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-26 09:19:55|Editor: Jiaxin
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NEW DELHI, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government completed three years of being in power in 2017. Yet, as the year draws to an end, a look back at its political battles suggests that this has been the year of "Brand Modi" in politics.

The Modi wave that began with Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) emphatic win in the 2014 general elections showed no signs of letting up as the party added some major states to its kitty despite stiff challenges.

In all the state elections that the BJP fought in this year, Modi remained its star face, a masterstroke, underlining the mass appeal that the leader has attained in the last few years.

This is the reason the saffron party has won nine of the 17 state elections that have been held after 2014, the most recent being the victories in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.

Take the case of Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state. The elections in the northern state early this year was considered a test of Modi's sudden demonetization drive which had been put into effect on November 8, 2016, a couple of months before the assembly polls.

While each state election is important, the result in Uttar Pradesh was especially significant as the state accounts for 80 seats in Lok Sabha (the lower house of the parliament), 31 seats in Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the parliament) and has a crucial stake in determining the outcome of the presidential elections.

Modi's government had come under severe criticism for its demonetization agenda, which the opposition parties, led by the Congress, banked heavily upon to rout out the BJP. However, people voted emphatically for the saffron party, giving it 312 seats. Regional parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party were completely thrown out and caste equations were sent for a toss.

"The Uttar Pradesh victory was almost snatched from the mouths of the regional parties, which played a crucial role in the state in the past. From minority issue to that of the caste, the BJP could manage to make everything look small in front of the stellar aura of Prime Minister Modi," said Prof. Ajay Sharma, a Delhi-based political analyst with Delhi University.

"The party did not even project a chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh as it banked only upon the star power of Modi for the win. It was an unprecedented, rapturous response which showed that Modi believes in leading from the front," he added.

While every election has a strategy and a cadre of members working round the clock, the leadership of Modi has become the most obvious first pillar of the victory edifice of the BJP, even though saffron outfit's chief Amit Shah plays a key organizational role in the party, said some observers.

"Shah can be safely credited with reviving the party's organizational base, reaching out to the lowest rung of the party's rank and file and thus energizing the entire party machine. It is also under his vision that more than 18 million primary members were recruited in Uttar Pradesh alone. But it is Modi's charisma and popularity that has been the catalyzing factor for the BJP's overall success," said C.P. Agarwal, who teaches political science in Delhi University.

Why the prime minister has become the most potent weapon in the BJP's armory is also due to his image of being a headstrong taskmaster, the one who never shies away from making decisive decisions in the national interest.

"It was expected that the sudden scrapping of higher denomination currency notes and the introduction of goods and services tax (GST), better known as one nation tax policy, and his whole fight against black money and corruption would go strongly against him and the party in various state polls," said Manoj Singh, another political analyst.

"Instead, he kept making these strong decisions and supplemented them with various pro-poor and pro-people policies These have had a lasting impact on people and benefitted citizens at the grassroots. For all decisions that were expected to backfire, they have only yielded Modi pots of gold," he added.

Such has been the formidable impact of Modi, that state after state started to fall under the saffron wave. The hilly state of Uttarakhand, for instance, had never given any party a consecutive term in the government in its 16 years of existence. But Modi secured a win there.

Similarly, northeastern India, which has traditionally been the stronghold of regional parties, have also started to see saffron. "In 2015, BJP made its first foray into the northeast, which has been a traditional Congress stronghold, and registered an emphatic victory in Assam. The saffron party won 86 out of 122 seats," Prof. Sharma said.

Modi's recent blistering campaigns in his home state of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in the north have given the BJP reasons to usher in the end of the year on a celebratory note.

"BJP fought many challenges in Gujarat. The Modi wave seemed to be dying down as Rahul Gandhi took charge of the main opposition Congress. Also anti-incumbency in the state appeared to be making it a tough ride for the BJP who seemed to be giving these polls their all. It is only Modi's overriding charisma that has helped the BJP retain Gujarat and also given it Himachal Pradesh," said Agarwal.

But political analysts said the results were also a clear message to both Modi and Shah.

"GST, demonetization and rural distress are issues that the BJP will now have to address proactively. The sharp divide in the rural-urban vote in Gujarat was also a clear marker of this," said Ravi Burman, a political scientist based in Delhi.

While the new Congress president Rahul Gandhi has started his tenure with two losses, the BJP also needs to take a reality check and make humbler political approaches.

Its loss in the national capital and Punjab state, followed by the popularity that the Nehru-Gandhi scion is now enjoying, might make it more than a one-horse race in the 2019 general election.