NOW THAT THE dust has settled over the Karnataka elections, it is quite clear that, ironically, south India is BJP-mukt. And Congress is back in the reckoning. A lot is being said about the outcome of the 2024 election and while one is hesitant to predict the outcome as many psephologists would, I will say this: there is no question that Narendra Modi will be the prime minister for a third consecutive term. There is no other leader who is as trusted and perhaps as popular across India as Modi is today and, in many ways, he is Teflon-coated. Many of the steps he took were opposite to what one would deem popular, but then nothing seems to stick to him and to attribute this to just media and perhaps social media is the biggest mistake. Many say that his media management is brilliant but if elections were won on media management alone, Vajpayee (India Shining) and Modi, more recently, would have not lost the state elections in West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.
The India of today has changed: the regional parties have never been stronger, but then neither has the Centre nor the ruling party that governs the Union of India. And both have now mastered the art of coexistence. Look at what happened in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee, in spite of all the odds, prevailed as did Congress in Karnataka, or for that matter, in Himachal. There was no dearth of the Centre pushing projects under the guise of “double engine” governments, but then that didn’t cut any ice too. The reason is simple. Narendra Modi is today a giant banyan tree, and nothing seems to grow in his shade. Look around BJP and there is no person you deem prime ministerial other than Modi. That wasn’t the case with Vajpayee, who had Advani at his heels throughout his tenure.
People trust Narendra Modi. An entire nation rallied around him when he declared the “Janata Curfew” and, before that, demonetisation. Most leaders would have been sent packing but not Modi, and that has a lot to do with three key attributes: there has never been another political leader who has taken as many risks as he has; there has never been any prime minister who has surpassed linguistic barriers to appeal to the whole country; and never have we had anyone in public office who works so hard and so selflessly. Qualities that resonate with today’s Indian. No matter where that Indian may be. In India, or part of the diaspora.
Often, he is criticised for not taking press conferences and so on. Why should he? He doesn’t feel the need for intermediary communication when he can talk to people directly as he has done both on television and through various forms of social media, including his Mann Ki Baat. This requires innate self-confidence and a certain insularity. both of which Modi possesses in abundance.
Remember, he has been in public office since 2002: which is now 21 years as chief minister first and then as prime minister. The other quality is that he has no baggage. None at all. He owes no one anything, which is why he can do the things he does. There was always an unwritten rule among politicians that their children would never be punished for their misdeeds. But Modi hasn’t, nor ever will subscribe to this view. He has broken the mould of tacit deal-making and sly agreements because, in his book, he remains accountable only to the people. Not to any family, or for that matter, any individual.
To defeat Modi would require people to defeat what he stands for. And that is impossible because he ticks all the boxes in terms of what matters to the people. The opposition will not be able to take him head-on within the same strategic imperatives. They will need to shift the battleground and 2024 is too close for that to happen either unitedly as “one opposition”, or for that matter, with great strategic commitment.