On May 16, 2014 when the results of the 16th Lok Sabha elections were declared, the country was already aware of the saffron shade it was progressing towards. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had shattered the age old Congress stronghold in India and emerged as a powerful national party with tentacles spread firmly across the entire country. But the 2014 election result was really the moment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone. It was the isolated chant of ‘Abki baar modi sarkar’ that had swept across India leading the party to this unparalleled victory.
PM Modi and his party had clearly left no stone unturned to build upon an image that would capture the political consciousness of the entire country. Ever since he was named the PM candidate, Modi addressed close to 457 rallies. The Obama campaign like extensive use of social media for promoting his image was new to Indian politics.
“The people of this country have given their verdict. This verdict says we have to make the dreams of 1.25 billion people come true. I must work hard,” said Modi in Vadodara addressing the nation soon after his victory was declared. He knew, just as his party did, that they had to firmly hold on to the ‘Modi wave’ in order to make inroads in every state of India.
Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir- October to December 2014
Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir were the states that went to polls soon following the general elections. After the sweeping victory made by Modi in the general elections, each of these states were crucial for both the BJP and the Congress. The Congress had been in power in Haryana and Maharashtra for 10 and 15 years, respectively. In Jharkhand, the party had been sharing a good amount of power with regional players. BJP’s eventual victory in each of these states was a huge confidence boost for the party. The fact that the saffron party won the states solely on the basis of Modi’s image and without the propagation of a local party leader further established BJP’s faith in the ‘Modi wave’.
Delhi- February 2015
When Delhi went to the polls on February 2015, BJP’s confidence was unshaken. The party was convinced of its ability to shake away the hold of Congress in the state. However, the first rude shock to the party came when Modi held a rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on January 10, expecting a turnout of one lakh but was met with a mere 40,000 people. Up until now, BJP was not only convinced of defeating the Congress, but was also sure that the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would be no threat to them. But after the shock they received in the rally, it was Amit Shah who decided to take the party campaign in Delhi into his own hands. In every campaign speech henceforth, an attack on AAP was a consistent strategy made use of by him.
Soon after, BJP fielded Kiran Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate, relying on her clean image. However, AAP seemed to have had such an unexpectedly powerful hold on the state that even Bedi lost from the BJP safe seat in Krishna Nagar. The results clearly showed that Modi’s party had lost 14 per cent votes in 2015, compared to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
Bihar- November 2015
While Delhi came as a huge disappointment to BJP, a bigger shock was yet to come in the form of the Bihar elections held in November 2015. When Modi started his campaign in Bihar his message to the state was that only his party could make one of India’s poorest regions an industrial powerhouse. The party remained very positive about their decision to not promote a local leader in the state. Neither did they announce a chief ministerial candidate. The rationale was that relying on a local leader would alienate other caste groups in the region. It was Modi alone who was the face of BJP in Bihar. He held nearly 31 rallies in Bihar, making the law and order situation the focal point of his addresses.
However the mood in Bihar was quite different from that which existed prior to the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. The one incident that particularly went against BJP was the case of lynching of 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq on the grounds that he had consumed and kept beef in his house. While in 2014 a number of Muslims had voted in favour of BJP, the Dadri case resulted in loss of a significant part of the Muslim voter base. But the biggest mistake made by the party as per political analysts was that of the absence of a strong local leader. The party soon received a shocking blow when the alliance between the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal came out victorious with Nitish Kumar as its chief ministerial candidate.
Assam, West Bengal, Kerala- April 2016
The Bihar results were a huge lesson learnt by the BJP and soon after when the Assam elections were held in April 2016, it was convinced of the necessity to rectify its stance. In Assam, unlike in Bihar, the campaign was therefore strongly focused upon local party leader Sarbananda Sonowal. The formula of having a local face worked very well for the party and it made strong inroads in Assam, a state in which it was a rather insignificant force up until the general elections of 2014.
In Bengal however, despite the party’s efforts to gain prominence, it could not affect the strongly established image of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. Even though it managed to do better in terms of number of seats, their vote share came down by 7 percent compared to the Lok Sabha elections. In Kerala, even though BJP lost out to the Communist Party, this was the first time it won a single seat in a predominantly left leaning state.
Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand- March 2017
In Uttar Pradesh, BJP had once again made inroads for the general elections of 2014, wherein the party had won 71 Lok Sabha seats from the state. Not only had BJP won more that 80 percent of the seats, it had done so with a sweeping margin, leaving the ruling Samajwadi Party rather worried. However, when the party started with the 2017 campaign, they were frequently criticised for repeating the mistake made in Bihar of not having named the chief ministerial candidate. However, unlike what they did in Bihar, in UP they did not just depend on the Modi phenomenon. The party posters contained the faces of Modi along with other leaders like Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Uma Bharti, Keshav Prasad Maurya and Kalraj Mishra. Similarly, campaigns in the state were addressed by leaders other than Modi as well.
BJP’s victory in UP was perhaps expected considering the overall political mood of the state. What was not expected, however, was the margin with which it won the state. A victory of more than 300 seats by the BJP in UP is something that is unprecedented in a state that was once a solid Congress bastion, taken over later by the caste politics of Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. In Uttarakhand too the BJP had not fielded a chief ministerial candidate and the campaign was in fact strongly focused upon Modi. However, Congress’ focus being solely on Harish Rawat had successfully alienated other local leaders who decided to join hands with the BJP, leading the party to break Congress rule in yet another state. Even though the party lost out in Punjab, Goa and Manipur, the combined numerical strength of UP and Uttarakhand, makes BJP’s victory in the two states a significant achievement.
Clearly, the Modi wave had managed to overcome its loss in Bihar and wipe away the influence of every other national and regional party in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and this time on, the absence of a chief ministerial candidate did not come across as a hinderance to the party.