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Will Narendra Modi Make It in 2014?

The road to Delhi will severely test the Gujarat chief minister but, mentally at least, the ever-flexible Indian establishment is readying itself for a possible Modi-led government in Delhi next summer

Published: Jan 6, 2014 06:52:34 AM IST
Updated: Jan 6, 2014 08:14:53 AM IST
Will Narendra Modi Make It in 2014?
Image: Getty Images
BJP workers and supporters during Narendra Modi’s Vikas Rally in New Delhi on September 29, 2013

The very idea and, indeed, the belief that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is within smelling distance of the prime ministership of India is relatively recent. Although a small group of devoted Modi fans have been doggedly propagating his relevance outside Gujarat, the establishment groupthink in India was equally dogged in rejecting the suggestion out of hand.
Till the BJP made its landmark announcement on September 13, 2013, proclaiming Modi as its candidate for the top political job, there were two beliefs that appeared to dominate. The first centred on the belief that the established leadership in the BJP and, for that matter, the RSS would never give Modi any position of extraordinary importance. His popularity among the foot soldiers was acknowledged but this was offset by the associated fear that Modi would overshadow the rest of the leadership.

Will Narendra Modi Make It in 2014?
Secondly, the sceptics were insistent that Modi was a ‘divisive’ leader who, apart from rallying the faithful, would prompt a counter-polarisation that would be to the advantage of the Congress and its ‘secular’ allies. This assessment appeared credible when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar walked out of the BJP-led alliance rather than accept Modi’s leadership.
It is remarkable that in barely three months the discourse has altered dramatically. Today, as speculators take long positions in anticipation of a Modi victory in May 2014, even the Congress is now convinced that the man they thought was a paper tiger is actually turning out to be a juggernaut. The spate of mega rallies around the country and his whirlwind campaign during the four Assembly elections—and the largely favourable results— have contributed to the mood shift. Mentally at least, the ever-flexible Indian establishment is readying itself for a possible Modi-led government in Delhi next summer.
Since there is a tendency in India to swing from one extreme to the other, there is a danger of over-stating the Modi momentum. That the Gujarat leader is certain to contribute to a significant jump in the BJP’s Lok Sabha tally in 2014 isn’t in any doubt. Dramatic and unexpected developments apart, there is also little likelihood of the Congress retaining its position as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha.

In 2009, the dramatic jump in Congress seats to 206 from 145 in 2004 owed almost entirely to three factors: Its massive haul of urban seats, a significant jump in Uttar Pradesh and sweeping victories in southern India, particularly Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. At the end of 2013, it seems that apart from a ray of hope in Karnataka, the same factors that contributed to its success in 2009 will trigger its demise five years later. As of today, the Congress may find it difficult to cross three figures in the 16th Lok Sabha.

The dire predicament of the Congress is certainly to Modi’s advantage. Yet, for Modi, the bar to success has been set very high. Atal Bihari Vajpayee managed to craft a stable government in 1999 after the BJP’s own tally touched 181. In view of the fierce likes and dislikes of his personality, Modi will have to take the BJP’s Lok Sabha numbers to beyond 200 (and another 25 or so for his NDA partners) to be in position to be prime minister. Short of these numbers there may still be a BJP-led government but Modi may not be prime minister.

Climbing to the top on Modi’s shoulders and then dumping him unceremoniously is a dream project of a section of the BJP which fears Modi more than it dislikes the Congress. However, while the plot has an undeniable ring of cleverness attached to it, it is also premised on the belief that an election result can be carefully regulated.

Illustration: Sameer Pawar

Will Narendra Modi Make It in 2014?
Image: Amit Dave/ Reuters
Modi with Anil Ambani and Ratan Tata at the inauguration of the Vibrant Gujarat global investor summit at Gandhinagar

Present indications are that if Modi is able to shift the focus of the Lok Sabha election from constituency battles to a contest for the top job, he will be the most successful. Disaggregated data from the more credible of the opinion polls suggest that Modi’s personal appeal is significantly higher than that of the BJP. The polls further indicate that whereas Modi’s personal appeal has a national spread, the BJP’s ability to convert that goodwill to victories extends to some 295 seats, with the other existing NDA partners adding a further 30 seats. The conclusion is inescapable: To win, Modi and the BJP must have a spectacularly high strike rate in their traditional areas of influence.

The belief that the effects of a north-western downpour (as it happened on December 8, when the Assembly election results were announced) will be offset by a south-eastern drought makes sense only if the Congress is the principal player in the areas where the BJP has no footprint. As of now, it would seem that the main beneficiaries of anti-UPA sentiment in the east and across the Vindhyas will be regional players such as Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Jagan Mohan Reddy and J Jayalalithaa. Modi has to create enough of a national momentum for some of the regional players to endorse him, either overtly or covertly.

Although predictions are hazardous in politics, the present trends seem to indicate that the chances of a Modi-led government at the centre in 2014 are extremely high. However, such a dispensation is almost certain to be a multi-party coalition with many important ministerial portfolios being held by representatives of the larger regional parties.

This has important implications. Modi’s rockstar like appeal may well stem from his ability to invoke the aspirational urges of Young India and his underlying promise to deliver a more wholesome political culture. However, unless he can generate a visible wave in his favour and emerge from the general election with a measure of unequivocal personal endorsement, his ability to meet the lofty expectations of his enthusiastic supporters will be constricted.

It would be unrealistic to believe that a Modi administration will instantly remove the remaining vestiges of socialism and lead India towards a free market dispensation. In terms of what are commonly referred to as big-ticket reforms that include the deregulation of the entire financial sector and labour flexibility for the manufacturing industry, the Modi impact may not be dramatic. Where it is likely to be more pronounced is in an improvement in the ease of doing business in India. Going by what he has done in Gujarat, Modi will focus on lessening the discretionary powers of the government, making rules transparent and predictable, and removing archaic government control over enterprise. Coupled with a renewed thrust on infrastructure, the overall business environment in India may show a sharp improvement.

In terms of orientation, Modi is unique in that he is the first genuinely popular representative of the economic Right in India. This suggests new possibilities for the future evolution of Indian politics but it also implies that Modi will encounter fierce resistance from an intelligentsia and a political class that is steeped in the Nehruvian consensus.

I don’t believe that secularism and democracy will set the terms of confrontation, but economics will certainly feature high on the agenda. Modi’s real test of resoluteness will happen after he is able to clear the high bar that has been set for him in the electoral arena.

(This story appears in the 10 January, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Parambir Singh

    How can a person having been on the run for wrong reasons from the age of eighteen be the PM of the biggest democracy. A young boy is like a terrorist in the house and he is a threat to his father. Modi at the tender age of 18 was no exception he wad a fire brand and has remained so being fed on the rss ideology committed certain crimes which had the police behind him. Saddam hussain was also no exception, he shot a nan at the age of 11 and kept the smoking gun under the pillow and feigned sleep. After the results are out things shall be automatically revealed.

    on Apr 30, 2014
  • Dr.a.jagadeesh

    If Narendramodi Wins it is not that BJP is strong but Congress is Weak. There is a vacuum that needs to be filled,perhaps BJP(Narendra Modi ) could do it. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    on Apr 24, 2014
  • Bhanu

    Why people are so stupid that they talk about AAP. Arvind kejriwal lives in his dreams. Listen to his speech guys he has no idea what he says. He and aap people keep on accusing people and that also without proof. See how he ran from delhi govt. People who support aap should leave this country along with arvind kejriwaland build a aam admi country for yourself. In india Narendra Modi will rule.

    on Feb 20, 2014
  • Mulchnd

    Excellent article by Swapan Dasgupta. This is a right time for Modi. Not because Congress is at it's weakest, but because India needs a game changer. There is no guarantee that Modi will pull it off but he is the best choice. What India must have is another system of governance to replace the current governance by fiefdoms, fiats and cancerous corruptions. The UPA and its cohorts have managed to push India back 60 years instead of forward. This government must explain to India and every Indians why India and China started at the same point sixty years ago and today China has galloped to the first world status while India is in the third world swamp. Was not Indian Democracy intended to move India ahead faster? The average Chinese have five times the income of an average Indian. Mr. Manmohan Singh owes an explaination before asking for one more vote for the Congress party.

    on Jan 11, 2014
  • Vivek Goenka

    you cannot ignore Arvind Kejriwal. You were saying that AAP is new and doesn\'t know abcd of politics. then why are both of congress and bjp copying them? #aapeffect

    on Jan 9, 2014
  • Tushar

    you should learn form the history,. Delhi voters did not choose the three term CM Sheila Dixit or 128 year Old Congres party.Delhi voters made a prudent choice as experience party and leaders were were loaded with corruption. When voter see corrupt as the major issue , why is NAMO not supporting RTI for political parties? why is NAMO not supporting JANLOKPAL bill, why is NAMO not in favor of a strong Lokayukta inGgujrat what is he afraid of ? BJP talks about black money but it will not disclose from were it got 800 crores of fund, how are BJP candidates spending crores of rupees ? how did the BJP MLA\'s net worth increase by 700% in the last five years ? AAP has clear policy not to accept a candidate with any criminal charges. BJP like Congress is loaded with criminal charges., specialty Modi \'s top lieutenant Amit Shah . NAMO must answer all these questions and more, but he will not because his strategy for 2014 is constructing a gigantic statue of patel spendin$450 M(last time bjp won they launched a campaign to build ram mandir) this is Brand building not service to the nation. Why NAMo spends $25 million to APCO for PR and AAP spends zero for such publicty ? See AAP website sharing pictures statements, ideasl of other AAP leaders too and not just kejriwal;s picture. see any web site of Guajrt Givernemt, any media you see Modi and and Modu. AAP leaders like A, Manish Sisdia, Yogendra Singh, Yadav, Ms,Birla.. WHat I know about leaders of APin less than a week , I do not know about leaders of Modi-Gujarat in 12 years. I do not know what shape, policy exists if Modi dies or get incapacitated. ( The way I see the fate of Tarun Tejpal or Justice A.K Ganguly change overnight anything can happen... or some handky panky is discovered in the snoop gate) BJP will be orphan in terms of prospect if one person is not around ! . I do not have to worry for same in case of AAP if AK goes out of picture . on top of that, the person who you call the greatest leader is always with Z security and often seen him hugging Ambani and giving him freebees! Gujarat is paying 3 5crores interest everyday on the borrowing. check teh government schools in Gujarat in NDTV documentary. he throw so much rubbish in his rallies mainly lies.. on every rally he spends atleats 100 crores , Modi has image and track record that he always puts himslef first. AK has image that he puts people first., Modi\'s style i sdecide first himself and then consult others. AAP style is different ,. Then there is liability of communal factors. BJP has not attracted Muslim votes no matter what PR they do by recriuting Zafar Sareshwala, Nbabasahem Asifa Kahn , , BJP Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi etc PR do more Sadbhavana like shows. Kejriwal is religion-neutral. Modi is religion-centric. Kejriwal unites. Modi divides. These are the images and perceptions , All votes are not likey to give carte blanche or blind check as you do. No one is accusing that AAP used cast or community factor in the last election Even you may rather see AAP get 30 sets and make alliance with BJP than past NDA partners like Jay Lalitha from AADMK or Mamta or Maya when other past partners like BJD ( Naveen Patnaik) Janta Dal ( Nitish Kumar) are now openly against Modi personally , and they have very few partners to count on like Shiv Sena ( I do not think you may Hindu liberals like Shiv Sena) or Akali Dal,.Communist , left and secular party will never support BJP nor they have ever done in past. If Modi is Chanakya as his supporters ardently believe , do you think Modi /BJP make some alliance with them or at least leave door open ? At presnet BJP leaders seem to paranoid and they are aggressively maligning AAP which is barely one week old in power !

    on Jan 8, 2014
  • Sanjay Singh

    well, I agree there is Modi wave in the air. But it will be totally foolish for the BJP to ignore kejriwal factor. I think Modi is just an option for India's youth. If Kejriwal stands for PM's post, majority of them will vote kejriwal.

    on Jan 6, 2014
  • Vineet Agrahari

    No AAP should prove in delhi first

    on Jan 6, 2014