PThe political and electoral success of former Minister Narendra Modi has been one of the foundations of his social protection programs as well as development projects and their effective execution. Yes, a shameless Hindutva and muscular nationalism are key to his politics, but that is not what wins him the election. Modi’s ability to design blueprints, execute projects with a broader scope has held him in good stead since he came to power at the Center in 2014.
ThePrint’s latest series on the flagship ‘Nal Se Jal’ program reveals something similar: The scheme that aims to bridge the gap in functional tap water connections has produced effective results in the field. Of course, like all new programs, this one also has its share of startup issues, as our reporters have found. But Modi’s success lies in identifying areas where people lack essentials and then ensuring them last mile delivery. And this is what helps the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to win votes in elections.
From rural housing, cooking gas, rural electricity, bank accounts and now tap water, Modi’s model has been clear and the results clearer: one can agree or disagree with his politics, or repelled by polarization tactics, but it cannot be denied that Modi knows the art of connecting with voters. And it does this primarily by identifying what they need and then creating a platform for it.
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Hindutva and nationalism
The BJP would not be itself without its cheeky Hindutva soul. This is what propelled the party to national prominence in the early ’90s and, make no mistake, it’s not going anywhere. The BJP wears Hindutva on her sleeve and in some cases as an entire dress.
No election is ever complete without Hindu-Muslim rhetoric, be it the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election in 2017 with Modis ‘shamshaan-kabrisataan campaign that drove him or the 2019 Lok Sabha election led by Home Secretary Amit Shahs CAA-NRC bogey. Besides the communal prism, nationalism has also become an important part of the BJP. Anyone who does not fit into the party pattern is “anti-national” to break up the country.
While this is a credible mechanism to attract votes, Hindutva and nationalism are not the ultimate factor, otherwise the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee would not have lost the 2004 elections to Lok Sabha de so embarrassingly.
The main ingredient that Modi has added to his formula for success is the achievement of his programs. Hindutva and nationalism have simply acted like the masala which adds spice to the dish.
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Well-being, service, development
Well-being and development would be key in early 2018, when Modi called on leaders of 14 BJP-led states to accelerate the implementation of social protection programs, and stressed the importance of reaching the objectives set for flagship programs.
Modi’s first term was to introduce programs for the needy: Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana, Saubhagya Yojana, Ujjwala, Ayushman Bharat, Jan Dhan Yojana and more. Each of them formed the bouquet that helped bring Modi back to power in 2019 with an even greater tenure than five years ago.
Congress, during its ten years in power as the head of the United Progressive Alliance, had perhaps only one such flagship program, MGNREGA. And even that program, which gave the party a boost in 2009, began to fade during UPA 2, with flaws, flawed implementation, and shadow beneficiaries.
In Modis’ case, the trick was not only to identify what people expected from the government, but also to be able to give it to them. Take, for example, rural housing. Like Indira Awaas Yojana, the system was full of loopholes. But like the reconditioned PMAY-G, it saw production double in just two years.
As I covered the assembly elections in Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh from the field, I met voters who said they wanted to see the BJP return to power because of the Centre’s programs. Very few cited muscular nationalism or Hindutva as the reason. Of course, those factors still play a role, but there’s no denying that Modi’s carefully crafted delivery board won him an election.
In his second term, governance seemed to get lost somewhere in the din of political noise. But Modi is insightful and intelligent. He knows that a Ram temple can give him a boost, but cannot win him an election beyond maybe Uttar Pradesh. Nal Se Jal’s record appears largely positive, but with gaps and many opportunities for improvement. My colleague Moushumi Dasgupta, who traveled to the field to report on the program, found that it had changed the lives of the rural poor, especially those belonging to disadvantaged SC / ST communities. the PMAY (G) and Ujjwala response schemes invoked.
Note the major infrastructure push for states linked to the polls in the 2021 budget, as well as the multitude of projects the PM is launching into a frenzy in those states, and the pattern becomes evident.
You might want to believe that Modi is all about Hindutva and displays a 56 inch chest. But alongside the sensational and emotional, often polarizing elements of communitarianism and nationalism is the core that Modi knows is crucial to maintaining his political grip on what matters most to voters. Call chulha, makaan and paani, its unique ignition wheel, kapda and makaan.
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