The Bharatiya Janata Party’s stunning election victories in the last eight years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi have rattled the Opposition, mesmerised his fans and baffled political scientists accustomed of analysing electoral outcomes in terms of identity politics based on caste, creed or region.
Going by the data, the BJP currently has governments in 17 states and 1 Union Territory, covering 44% of India’s territory and more than 49.5 per cent of its population. The 17 states are Karnataka, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The lone UT is Puducherry.
This reflects a sea change in India’s political landscape since 2014, when Narendra Modi led his party to a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha, securing a clear majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the first by any political party in the last 30 years, the BJP ruled in just seven states against the Congress’ 13.
By 2019, when the next Lok Sabha elections were held, the BJP had increased its tally by another 21 seats and reduced the Congress down to a stage where it couldn’t even qualify for the position of the leader. Barring West Bengal and Punjab, the BJP’s victory march has continued since then, conquering new territories, while the Congress remains on a down the hill roll.
Psychologists trying to decode the electoral appeal of Brand Modi have suggested many reasons for this, apart from the personal appeal of Modi himself. It is unarguable that the BJP’s polarising politics has a committed group of activist supporters and the party has developed a formidable election machine to mobilise the voters. But what has gone unnoticed so far is the fact that Modi has earned the trust of the voters because he promises inclusive growth and demonstrated his capacity to deliver on his promises.
He has earned this trust not through his undisputed rhetorical appeal but ensuring that the benefits of his welfare schemes at the grassroots level. PM Modi has repeatedly said that he is against the dynastic rule and vote bank politics cased on divisive faultlines in India’s social fabric. Ironically, in the process he has built an amorphous vote bank of beneficiaries of welfare schemes that transcends the barriers of ethnic loyalties and appeals of localism.
The recently-held state Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh provide a classic example. The state has 150 million voters. A quick calculation shows that these schemes have altogether 130 million beneficiaries. The BJP victory upset the identity-based calculations because majority of them voted for it.
The strategy of targeting the beneficiaries as a block of loyal voters has been a hallmark of the BJP, starting from the last UP Assembly elections in 2017. It was later used in the General Elections in 2019 to good effect. ‘Modi Hai, To Mumkin Hai’ (If Modi is there, it is possible), says the tagline of advertisements by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, encapsulating its two biggest poll planks in the elections. The party’s first poll strategy is to encash the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the credibility he enjoys with voters. The second is to reach out to millions of people who have benefited from various Government programmes.
The BJP- RSS think tank believes that the beneficiaries of Government programmes hold the key to the party’s return to power for the third term in 2024 General Elections.
Given this hypothesis, Modi’s mega interaction with the beneficiaries of the Government’s schemes from Shimla can be seen as a dress-rehearsal. State Assembly elections are due in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat later this year.