Narendra Modi's biggest selling point in this year's elections has been the ability to fire people's imagination and hope. A sharp contrast from what the country was known during Congress rule of being hapless against non-performance and corruption!
I traveled across key districts in Uttar Pradesh – precisely the Yadav-heartland of Firozadabad-Etah-Mainpuri stretch for election coverage. For obvious reasons, I could feel the ‘Modi wave’, so did another colleague and friend who also traveled extensively in this region, other parts of Uttar Pradesh and also in Bihar.
Thus, we had one question in mind, why and how did Narendra Modi click in the cow-belt states.
A few key aspects that came during on-field interactions in hinterland would be worth discussing here. Actually, Narendra Modi represents different aspirations to different set of people and perhaps that’s the yardstick of a mass appeal of a leader. Call it a ‘wave’ or something else.
To middle class and educated lot, Modi’s appeal was more fundamental to economy. The Gujarat chief minister casts himself as the economic reformer India needs.
Over the last 6 months sustained campaign, BJP and Modi played ‘developmental plank’ and ‘governance’ ostensibly for twin reasons – first to expose the ‘decade long mis-governance’ of Congress-led UPA. Secondly, and it is presumed more importantly, the BJP had to conceal or even dump Modi’s Hindutva anti-Muslim image of 2002.
Thus, it goes without saying from the very beginning of electioneering season to elect the 16th Lok Sabha, how to achieve inclusive growth stared highly as a key election issue. Indian economic growth dropped from over 9.5 per cent in fiscal 2006-07 to under 5 per cent in 2012-13.
There have been different facets of economic doldrums and BJP campaign too. The saffron party line has been that Congress has devoted crores to its hyped welfare schemes and often sending the economic management to disarray. The Congress decisions were largely guided by vote bank politics. They cite various studies including Mckinsey Global which claim that over 680 million Indians do not have sufficient access to clean water, schools and health services.
BJP believes and frankly, we found endorsement that an overwhelming section of people think such goodies do not help people. Many voters across cow-belt states said they would rather prefer a new approach. It is in this context, one experienced even Muslim voters in known ‘secular’ bastions like Mainpuri (Mulayam Singh Yadav’s fiefdom) stressed on the key factor of performance by both the Samajwadi Party government in UP and the Congress-led UPA in New Delhi.
A 65-year old Maulana Badruddin was trembling in anger at Konchi village under Mainpuri parliamentary constituency. He said Muslims should not vote for Mulayam or Congress or get carried away by the mob mania.
Instead, he said people could prefer voting for Mayawati’s BSP. His views were endorsed by one Binod Ghiar in Mainpuri town. “The free doles and concessions have never helped us. People these days want livelihood support not favours,” he told me.
The result of freebies had left its impact clearly on more ways than one.
On April 24, 2014, the day country went for 6th phase of polls, the Food Ministry-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) had floated a tender inviting bids to meet the working capital expenditures.
In 2013-14, the government had provided Rs 75,500.02 crore as subsidy to FCI, while subsidy incurred during the year was at Rs 1,03,791.85 crore. The total subsidy arrears, including arrears carried over from the previous years amounted to about Rs 50,000 crore.
Thanks to hurriedly brought in Food Security Act, the subsidy burden had gone up throwing financial management into disarray. On the other hand, former president of business chamber FICCI, Rajya Vardhan Kanoria said people and industry thought that under Modi’s focused approach, Gujarat could successfully attract investment.
Then comes the constant 12-year-old lambasting of Narendra Modi for the 2002 mayhem. This perhaps angered a large section of Hindu elites and middle class who sympathized with the Gujarat chief minister.
Surjit Bhalla summed that paradox well in ‘Indian Express’.
“Two wrongs do not make a right, but isn’t it a terrible wrong for the intellectual to not even mention, let alone acknowledge, that a major wrong took place in their (the Congress’s) secular India in 1984? They know full well that the Gujarat rioters took many cues and directions from the Delhi pogrom murderers — they got their strategy of pinpointing victims (from the addresses on electoral rolls) and their belief that they would not be punished for their crimes because nobody had been punished for the 1984 riots. Indeed, the accused political leaders involved in the 1984 riots had been given cabinet posts in subsequent Congress administrations. If these intellectuals had acted post the 1984 riots with even a quarter of the dedication they are mustering now, maybe, just maybe, Godhra 2002 would not have happened.”
True, Modi has been accused of mishandling the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which over 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims. His detractors say he and his administration sided with the Hindu rioters.
However there are different views too. “He has been cleared of any wrongdoing by a Supreme Court-monitored investigation, although others have been found guilty of killing Muslims, including a former state education minister. In interviews with the local news media this election season, Mr. Modi has reiterated that he did everything he could to stop the religious violence,” said The New York Times.
There are other reasons for people to have rested so much hopes on Modi.
“The negative reasons why the middle class “votes for Modi” are most obvious. There is a total rejection of the UPA regime, because of corruption and dynastic politics. There is also a fatigue with the government’s style of leadership and distrust vis-à-vis its policies,” wrote French writer Christophe Jaffrelot, senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences, Paris and professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London.
During Uttar Pradesh rural hinterland travel, we found there was an additional factor that was swaying voters towards BJP and Modi. An overwhelming section of voters in UP were getting disenchanted with the Akhilesh government failure in the state, their abject poverty-stricken conditions in known secular-leader ruled havens like Mainpuri and “growing goondaism” of Yadavs and Muslims since March 2012, when Samajwadi Party regime took charge of UP.
We look into the issues of poverty and even Muslim frustration with perceived secular leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav. But what is also important is that a section of the middle class and even poor perceives Narendra Modi as a super-CEO. This view was endorsed by rich and elites as well.
In my previous book ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’ I had spoken at length on these aspects.
My general observation has been that Modi “functions like a modern day CEO laying emphasis on the outcome and often allegedly putting the rules and normal norms in the backburner”.
Christophe Jaffrelot analyses these well and says Modi’s ‘super CEO’ image actually relies on a whole set of beliefs: he is considered less a politician than a manager and he is for the liberalisation of the economy.
True, industrialists operating in Gujarat and those interacted with him have only positive experiences – like the Ratan Tata’s nano car model was allowed entry within no time or Canadian company Baombardier could set up their Savli ‘metro compartment’ project in record 18 months.
The quality of being pro-industry is actually a good selling point and has affinities with the middle class’s trust in the private sector to modernise the economy.
The middle class and industry had in the past benefited from Manmohanomics of 1991 more than any other social group, but they resented Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s inability to make growth sustainable.