Narendra Modi falls to earth after talking all about himself

As everything turns on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his party and its centuries-old network of Hindu nationalism have been propelled to unimaginable heights.

Thanks to his exceptional charisma and political skill, a once religious ideology was drawn into the center of Indian life. The landslide election victory remade Indian politics, which had been dominated by diverse coalitions representing a country that had shaped its independence on secular principles.

But there are always risks in wrapping a party’s destiny entirely in the image of one person, of flooding a country of many religions, castes and cultures with the names, faces and voices of other people. that leader. Voters may start to think that everything is about him and not them. They may even rebel.

On Tuesday, Mr. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, came back to earth. After promising their biggest election ever, they lost more than 60 seats. Modi will stay in power for a third term, but only with the help of a contentious coalition of parties, some of which oppose his core beliefs and want power of their own. .

With this result, India’s strained democracy appears to have risen again, its defeated political opposition reinvigorated. And after a decade in which Mr. Modi’s success in consolidating Hindu supremacy was often seen as the new common sense, India is seeing its leader and itself in a new and trying light. Try to understand this unexpected turn of events.

Most fundamentally, the opposition, newly assembled for what they call a do-or-die moment as Mr. Modi increasingly tilts the playing field, has found a way to use the cult of personality surrounding it to its advantage. for myself.

Opposition leaders focus on basic issues, often at a granular level in specific constituencies. They criticize Mr. Modi for persistent unemployment and glaring inequality. But the BJP, with Mr. Modi as its sole senior spokesman, often has only one answer: Trust “Modi’s assurance.”

“The slogan ‘the Modi’s guarantee turned out to be our ruin. half of the seats of the BJP.

“The opposition makes it sound as if this is not about what he did or tried to do, but about him being an arrogant politician,” Mr. Gaur said.

Mr. Modi has given his opponents plenty to work with, even claiming that he may not be “biological” and that he was sent by God.

So far, he has emerged better than other Indian leaders who have deeply centralized power. He remains in control of the levers of power that could help him and his team restore their dominance. Indira Gandhi, who also glorified herself and went so far as to suspend India’s democracy after declaring a national emergency, was voted out of office at the height of her power before returning to power. again three years later.

But analysts say Modi’s BJP, the world’s largest political party, is in a difficult position after years of centralization and reliance on a one-man government machine. The huge advantage that the party has built in terms of numbers and resources is being eroded due to lack of internal consultation and decentralization of power.

That is the main reason for the failure in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with 240 million people, and neighboring states. Local BJP leaders are unhappy with the top-down approach to candidate selection, as well as what they call a mistaken belief that Mr. Modi’s popularity could allow the party to get away with it. underlying local issues and caste factors.

With Modi sucking up all the oxygen at the top, other senior party leaders are forced to fight for relevance and a voice. His relentless self-aggrandizement also alienated leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, which heads the right wing of the BJP.

During the election season, RSS activates its vast grassroots network to support BJP candidates. While Mr. Modi, a veteran of the establishment, has achieved many of its goals, his consolidation of power goes against its corporate nature and focus on ideology rather than character. personal way.

An RSS insider, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking, said that Mr. Modi’s self-promotion had created such resentment in the group that some of its leaders welcomed it. any kind of reality check on him, short of his dismissal.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, a political analyst who served as an assistant to the BJP’s first prime minister in the 1990s, said Mr. Modi had pushed through unpopular laws — especially the farm laws that caused launched a years-long protest that choked New Delhi – without consulting party officials. in affected states. They were left to deal with the consequences.

“The BJP has never been a party with one leader,” Mr. Kulkarni said. “All that changed with Narendra Modi in 2014. He sought to promote a new authoritarian idea of ​​one nation, one leader.”

Theorizing that Modi’s popularity has peaked, the opposition sees an opening to go after the deciding vote in the Indian political formula.

For decades before his rise to prominence in 2014, neither the BJP nor the Indian National Congress, the country’s two largest parties, could muster a majority on their own. Mr. Modi has expanded his party’s support by consolidating right-wing Hindu voters and attracting new supporters thanks to his personal story of modest caste and economic background as well as The promise to change lives through powerful growth.

A decade later, in this year’s election, the opposition found traction in painting a very different picture of Modi – as an autocratic friend of billionaires. The opposition argues that since Mr. Modi has achieved everything he set out to do, his pursuit of a landslide majority can only mean that he will seek radical change to the Constitution.

That statement sparked anxiety among India’s Dalits and other disadvantaged groups, who see the Constitution as their only protection in a deeply unequal society, guaranteeing them a portion of government jobs and seats in higher education as well as elected bodies. The opposition was able to deliver a stronger message when some in Mr. Modi’s right-wing support base, long seen as biased against the upper castes, called for a withdrawal. quota recovery.

Caste identity is a key factor motivating voters in many states, especially in Uttar Pradesh, with its 80 parliamentary seats. The decline of the Dalit party in the state means that about 20% of the votes are likely to be won.

In Ayodhya, the constituency where Mr. Modi inaugurated a large Ram temple earlier this year in a bid to consolidate his Hindu support base, the opposition has fielded a Dalit candidate. He easily defeated the two-term incumbent from the BJP.

In other cases, voters were angry at the BJP’s sense of impunity. In Kheri, the constituency where a BJP minister’s son crashed his SUV into a crowd of protesting farmers, killing several, the minister also lost.

In his own Varanasi constituency, in Uttar Pradesh, Mr Modi’s margin of victory of nearly half a million votes in 2019 fell to around 150,000 – a disappointing performance after he dispatched several leaders. The top brass of the BJP camped there to help him. win bigger.

Jai Prakash, a tea and samosa seller in Varanasi, said some of the prime minister’s work, especially improving roads, was very popular with the people. But Mr. Modi is losing, Mr. Prakash said, by turning to issues unrelated to people’s daily lives.

“Prices are skyrocketing; Unemployment is the same,” Mr. Prakash said. “He did some good things. But people cannot worship Him forever.”


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