The upcoming Lok Sabha elections will be a “nationwide showdown between Modi and the rest”, says global investor and bestselling writer Ruchir Sharma…writes Saket Suman
Sharma, who has been chasing election campaigns in India for over two decades, says in his soon-to-be launched “Democracy on the Road: A 25-Year Journey through India” that Modi created “a solo act with one name” by blending “a modern promise of development with an old pitch to Hindutva”.
Sharma says that Modi turned the state assembly campaign into “a celebration of all he had done for Gujarat and could do for India” while Gujarat’s economic success was attributed to Modi alone.
This was the December 2007 Gujarat Assembly elections, by when a personality cult had begun building around then Chief Minister Narendra Modi as he set his eyes on establishing “an unshakable base” among India’s 80 per cent Hindu majority but
Gujarati businessmen were more than won over by how Modi administered Gujarat like a CEO, “reigning in corruption, cutting red tape, promoting competent and honest bureaucrats, and turning Gujarat into a national model of development”, Sharma notes in the book
The author says Modi tapped into two deepest strains of frustration among Hindu voters: “the sense that earlier governments had been coddling Muslims, and failing to generate real economic progress”.
In the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections, Modi presented himself as the man of the moment again, “barnstorming Gujarat, dropping by chopper into eight rallies a day, yet focussing much of the state election campaign on achieving national power in Delhi”.
Sharma says Modi then began positioning himself as a national leader, his tone had become less anti Muslim, and more anti-Pakistan. The author says that he still talked about “Gujarat pride” but in a new context: “Gujarat as the development model for India”.
He says, Modi used his development record in Gujarat to launch his bid for prime ministership in 2014, eclipsing his Congress rival, Rahul Gandhi in a “boxing match with only one fighter in the ring”.
His findings and observations in the book suggest that 2019 election will be a referendum on India’s appetite for strongman rule and commitment to democracy.
“The Modi model of statism is a perfect fit for his own self-confident character, but by promising India that he alone could fix its myriad problems, he ran the risk that many voters would hold him personally responsible for unfixed problems,” says Sharma.
“More likely, the election will shape up as a series of state contests. Modi is likely to win the most votes in many of the critical northern and western battleground states, but the outcome will depend on whether opposition parties work together to unseat him.
“Facing unified alliances, the BJP could win a third of the popular vote, as it did during the Modi wave of 2014, yet lose its majority of seats in the Lok Sabha,” says Sharma, before pointing out that the BJP knows this well.