Is Modi Magic on The Decline?

In one state, the BJP sweeps in Modi’s name — and only because of Modi’s name.
In the other state, Modi’s name did not work.
Himachal underlines the limitations of Modi’s magic, observes Shekhar Gupta.

Three elected entities — two states and a key municipal corporation — went to the polls. The three outcomes have a bearing on the future of all three of our pan-national parties. The results are conclusive in each entity, yet intriguing in the big picture.

For the political analyst they yield no uncluttered analysis, as in three central takeaways that you can link in a straight line. But then, when did we ever claim or even wish that Indian politics should be as simple as that.

Let’s begin with the biggest bull in India’s political ring, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Its landslide is heady, but was always anticipated even by its adversaries. So it isn’t such a big deal. The mood is, however, sobered by the defeats in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh, the state party president Jagat Prakash Nadda comes from.

In the same election season, in one state the BJP sweeps in Modi’s name — and only because of Modi’s name. In the other state, Himachal Pradesh, Modi’s name did not work.

That is when Modi himself, sensing trouble, had put his reputation on the line. Don’t look at the candidate, he said famously — and audaciously. Just look at the symbol and vote in my name.

Himachal underlines the limitations of Modi’s magic.

This reminder, of the limitations of Modi’s vote-catching powers when he isn’t directly on the ticket or in his home state, will sober the BJP’s enthusiasm for 2023 when four major states, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, go to the polls.

The current BJP government in Karnataka, stitched together with begged-borrowed-stolen MLAs, is probably the most unpopular in the country at this point. The chief minister is a joke. Everybody is fighting everybody and the Congress is intact. If the BJP loses this coming May, it will be a big setback.

Will it now risk dumping Shivraj Singh Chouhan in MP, much as it might want to and as its super-vocal favourites in the state demand?

Can it dare to keep Vasundhara Raje sidelined in Rajasthan?

And in Chhattisgarh if not Raman Singh, who?

When the leader’s name wins you everything, as Modi’s does in the Lok Sabha or Gujarat elections, you are forgiven all sins. Or, as we say in Hindi, ‘Saat khoon maaf (seven murders are forgiven).’

But when it doesn’t? How confident can it be going into Telangana, which it so covets?

We list the AAP ahead of the Congress in the chronology of this analysis simply because it’s the rising political force. It hasn’t fully lived up to that reputation. The AAP has become a national party, but a mere four or five seats after such hype, campaigning, and spending must be a bummer.

The victory in the MCD election is a big plus, even if the tally was way below what exit pollsters forecast and the BJP is close enough to cause trouble. Especially in a municipal house not bound by limitations of the anti-defection law and where the mayor is directly elected.

The first big takeaway for the AAP is that just as Modi isn’t such a vote-catcher outside of Gujarat, Kejriwal isn’t outside Delhi. Like UP for Modi, Kejriwal has a Punjab exception. Both those states have peculiar features.

AAP’s score of just 1 per cent of the vote in Himachal Pradesh, bordering Punjab, makes that point starkly. All his candidates have lost their deposits there. This election, therefore, is a dampener on Kejriwal’s national ambitions. At least in the immediate future.

Has it also exposed the limitations of Kejriwal-AAP ideology-free politics? The decline in Muslim and Dalit votes in Delhi is only one indicator.

But, can you build a pan-national politics based on free power, water, free this, free that?

In any case, how far can you go with these when everybody has learnt to flaunt the same freebies? This copyright has been broken.

The result conforms to the definition of bittersweet for the Congress. It’s been routed so thoroughly in Gujarat that it may fall short of the 19 required to at least have a leader of the Opposition. Did the Gandhis dumping Gujarat hurt the party?

Switch to Himachal now. The Gandhis were mostly not there. But the party had local leaders who fought cohesively. The BJP, on the other hand, faced massive internal dissent and had to contend with 19 rebels in a small state. The Congress won itself the gift of a full-fledged state.


This is the first electoral victory for the Congress since the winter of 2018. And while Priyanka Gandhi did hold some roadshows, this has been achieved without the Gandhis.


Lessons for the Congress? The Gandhis can’t get you the votes; they even lose you the votes in a Modi versus Rahul binary. But they sure do contribute, and critically, by keeping the party and its ideology together.

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