During the ongoing national election in India, there is a perception widely held across the country that the present prime minister, Narendra Modi, is busy trying to spin success from all his epic failures. Perhaps the greatest danger to Modi’s political future is the cost of these negative perceptions to his brand, created by himself.
Modi was elected in 2014, in part, by giving his supporters an impression that he stands for good governance and economic development .This was, in fact, the image carefully cultivated by him through media (mostly funded by his Bharatiya Janata Party), while Modi himself claimed to be a person of integrity. These claims can now be believed only by the ideologically addled.
According to India’s opposition leaders, Modi’s party is exploiting voters through false emotional-nationalism propaganda, continuously promoting a psychosis among voters that there is a danger to citizens’ survival from across the border and also provoking citizens through a wrong notion that Hinduism is in danger from insiders (mostly critics of himself).
That Modi has ended up in abject humiliation was perhaps fated by biology: You can angrily hold your breath for only so long. Amit Shah, the national president of the prime minister’s political party the BJP, recently told an election meeting, “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Hindu, Buddhists and Sikhs.” Political analysts are linking such desperation to the BJP’s poor performance in the last two phases of voting in the country.
The key question is, why are people not taking Modi seriously as a statesman? People have found that Modi has a great talent for weeding out the talented and responsible. There are a large number of instances of Modi taking a fluctuating stand on several conflicting policy views on the same topic – be it demonetization, welfare schemes, the goods and services tax (GST), Kashmir policy, Indo-Pakistani relations, “Make in India,” job creation, the Smart City program, the Rafale deal, the list goes on – in a matter of days. Voters have often found that the prime minister has no clear goals, and lacks attention span, and is consistently ignorant of details, facts and data.
A few sections of those who voted Modi into power in 2014 may be impressed by his destruction of norms or enthused by his promotion of exclusion on religious lines. They may want a prime minister who speaks his mind, even when it is hateful gibberish (Modi in a recent election rally said, “Congress insulted Hindus. People have decided to punish them in this ongoing national election … hence, they are now scared of fielding candidates from constituencies dominated by the majority [Hindu] population”). They may want a prime minister who is an institutional arsonist, even if the result is mere destruction.
But no one can reasonably claim to believe in Modi’s brand as it was sold in 2014. People have plumbed the shallows of his boasts, and they have been refuted as lies. And whatever else the prime minister may be, he has proved that he is not capable of leading an aspirational, inclusive and secular India.
Indian voters are looking for authenticity, credibility, and viability in their leader. As people watch the present prime minister, they are now inevitably asking, does this person have the gravitas to withstand the pressure that comes with leading this secular and liberal country?
India’s independent voters are more desperate to win than ever before. They’ll be willing to support a candidate who doesn’t agree with them on every issue – just so long as that candidate is capable of evicting Modi from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The present prime minister’s unpopularity is reflected in the undercurrent of dissatisfaction of voters who are not convinced on what this government has done to address unemployment crisis, agriculture-sector distress and infrastructure development. Many analysts believe that looking at Modi’s poor performance as prime minister, he will be an underdog in the ongoing national election.
At least 85 million new voters are likely to participate in this election. With unemployment at a 45-year high, these new voters, many of them younger job-seeking graduates, will make Modi’s re-election all the more difficult. So, on May 23 (vote-counting day), there is a widespread expectation that these new young voters will make sure to gift India a new prime minister.