Seven ways to unpack Modi’s handsome victory

I always believed Narendra Modi would be prime minister again and wrote as much in the pages of this newspaper last week. But, as in 2014, I was wrong — as was nearly the entire journalistic fraternity — in reading the scale of the victory and the gigantic groundswell of support.

I called it the “Lekin Aur Kaun Hai Election” because most voters I met in the course of my travels asked me: “Who else is there?” But this was clearly much more than a TINA vote; it really was the #AayegaToModiHi Election, a more than enthusiastic endorsement of Modi as prime minister.

Here are seven ways to unpack Modi’s handsome victory.

There is a genuine hunger among people for visible and assertive leadership. Pundits can call this the Americanisation of parliamentary democracy and the morphing of a complex election into a referendum on one individual. But that is just semantics. Many voters I met referred to the prime minister as mazboot or strong. The Balakot strike may not have had as enormous an impact as everyone thought. But it subliminally reinforced the image of Modi as an authoritative persona who is unafraid of risk. People clearly like that. The absence of any prime ministerial candidate on the other side only reinforced the status of Modi as being above the fray.

Political liberals were unable to claim nationalism and ceded it entirely to the BJP. When asked about what will swing their vote, Indians may not list nationalism as a concrete and easily definable issue. But it is quite evident that a vote for Modi was also seen as a vote for India in whatever amorphous and subjective way different individuals may have defined that for themselves. While the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)’s “tukde tukde” barbs and calling fellow citizens “anti-national” are unfortunate vitriol, the failure of competing parties to offer their own construct of patriotism played a part in framing the narrative of this election.

Anti-Modism and caste arithmetic miserably failed to stop the BJP juggernaut. There could not have been a more perfect alliance in terms of numbers than the gathbandhan (alliance) in Uttar Pradesh. But the results show us that Modi has beaten maths and transcended caste politics. And it is not just upper caste consolidation of the Hindu vote. A closer reading of the data shows us that in reserved constituencies, the BJP has done hugely better than other parties, taking the lead in 67% of the SC/ST seats. Of course, we need more details to know what percentage of Dalits and Adivasis in these constituencies voted for him. But it does show Modi’s expanding appeal across caste groups.