Now that the Assembly elections are over, it is easy to analyse why Modi won and others lost. There is also a lesson for the future, particularly 2019, about the kind of subjects that should not be deployed by political outfits against Modi as they will simply not work.
Let's begin with demonetisation. Modi's attempt to root out black money should have backfired politically, but that did not happen. Over many weeks, economists, analysts and the forgotten Raghuram Rajan laid out facts and figures about the failure of demonetisation. Suddenly stripped of cash, the voters were expected to vent their frustrations by voting against Modi. To everybody's surprise, it did not turn out that way in UP, Uttarakhand and earlier in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Odisha. There is a line of thought that a perverse psychology has been at play, which even Modi could not have hypothesised. The masses, it seems, derived pleasure from the discomfort of the rich and powerful, even if it was transient.
Other politicians are twiddling their thumbs, reduced to side roles as Twitter memes, with RaGa and Kejriwal the lead subjects of internet caricaturing.
Yet, confident about the demonising impact of demonetisation, the mainstream media chose to fall in love with the youthful charms of middle-aged ladke Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav. It was even said that RaGa had finally found his political mojo, while the good-looking Akhilesh and family became the Obamas of UP. The Gandhi-Yadav duo were always more pleasing to play up than the dour Amit Shah, whose most acceptable profile approximates a maths professor, specialising in caste and communal calculations that mostly add up to a winning number. Shah's contribution to TRPs, as opposed to seats, can never be as exciting. But, looks can only go so far in politics—otherwise Bollywood stars would be our elected representatives and Aamir Khan PM. Post UP, there is no doubt the opposition will need to introspect over their failure to take on the Modi juggernaut that's claiming more and more of the country. Modi's UP triple century is not just a massive score, it is also a Sehwag kind of performance in which the opposition has been decimated. As in the case of Sehwag's innings, there is a method in the madness.
Over the recent past Modi has successfully usurped the country's political discourse, good or bad, whether it succeeds or does not. In the 80s, the draw of Amitabh Bachchan was such that the great actor essayed all kinds of roles, often in the same movie. He romanced the heroine, sang songs, danced around trees, performed item numbers; he was the angry young man, action hero, comedian, villain in double role. The producers were clear: they wanted Big B to be present in every shot of the movie. The rest of the actors and actresses, as Rishi Kapoor has lamented in his recently released biography, were left twiddling their thumbs. Modi, like Bachchan, has become a one-man industry—which is a message that's relentlessly underlined by an efficient marketing machinery that ensures the PM occupies screen space 24/7. He fights terror by authorising surgical strikes on Pakistan, crusades against corruption by banning high-denomination notes, pumps more money into pro-poor and rural development schemes, ensures sunlight converts into solar power, beams himself into a Coldplay concert to appeal to urban youth or exhorts them study hard on Mann ki Baat.
Modi models for Reliance Jio to endorse a massive freebie without costing the exchequer anything. Government departments buttress the persona by promoting his ideas such as Digital India, Swachh Bharat, Mudra Yojana, the list goes on. And, when the need arises, Modi can be counted to deliver a hard hitting anti-hero kabrastan-shamshaan narrative to retain polarisation in the mix. Other politicians, like thespians of the 80s, are twiddling their thumbs, reduced to side roles as Twitter memes, with RaGa and Kejriwal the lead subjects of internet caricaturing. Indeed, as things stand, it would probably be wise that Modi's competitors prepare for 2024, as the eloquent Omar Abdullah has said.