In retrospect, the Congress did understand and appreciate the importance of Modi. They knew, as far back as 2007 when they began targeting him with their maut ka saudagar (merchant of death) epithet. This has continued, and intensified, over the years and may have witnessed its explosive culmination in the just concluded national election. The lowest ever tally for the age-old and old-old Congress party was 114 seats under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi in 1999; in 2014, the tally, with the party continuing under Gandhis leadership, may even be half that number. What went so wrong for the Congress Or stated equivalently, what went so right for the BJP The answer to both questions is the same: Modi.
But you would not obtain that conclusion, inference, or interpretation if you have been following the intellectual debates on the predominantly left-of-center and pro-Sonia Gandhi media. To date, the opinion commentary, in both print and TV, has outlined the following reasons for a Modi win, a win that will be the largest by any single party since the coalition era began when Rajiv Gandhi only obtained 197 seats in 1989. The popular media, and even more popular intellectuals have argued, with varying emphasis, that this is not a BJP win, let alone a Modi win, but rather a Congress loss. There is a lump in their throats the size of Godzilla that prevents them from uttering that Modi seized the imagination of the nation, and that the win was because of him, and him alone.
Several reasons have been offered for the Congresss loss. First, that the economy has performed badly in the last five years. Second, the corruption scams have hurt the Congress, and we know from Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP that corruption is the number one issue facing the voters, as opposed to low growth, high inflation and lack of jobs. But further down the logical ladder, the reasoning gets murkier (in my opinion) but nevertheless has occupied a lot of mind space and discussion time. Third, that the BJP and Modi ran a presidential-style campaign. So! Fourth, that Modi manufactured support for the party by manipulating the media to show that there was a wave. Fifth, that Modis campaign appealed to base communal instincts of the Hindu majority, and the communal Hindu responded with glee by pressing the lotus button. And most important of all, sixth, that Modi himself had precious little effect on the campaign and the (likely) electoral result.
When confronted with these views and explanations, I have offered the following simple counter-factuals. Imagine that instead of Modi, the BJP had fielded LK Advani or Sushma Swaraj as their PM candidate. How many seats would BJP have got Clearly more than 116 they got last time, and more especially because of the slow economy, corruption scams, the disastrous role of NAC, the confused and confusing division of power between Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, etc. But how many more seatsperhaps an additional 50 to bring them within some distance of Vajpayees 182 maximum (in 1999).
My above argument is in the nature of a counter-factualillustrative, but no smoking gun. Fortunately, the CSDS post-election poll brilliantly contained the following question: If Modi was not the BJP candidate, which party would you have voted for Examination of this question can nail the argument about whether Modi had a large (or small) effect on the voting pattern. An average of 26% of the BJP voters said they would not have voted for the BJP sans Modi. In eight states, this percentage of voters was larger than 26%, with a high of 57% in Karnataka.
How large is this magnitude Depends on the voting pattern in the state. Voting data for Maharashtra illustrates the importance of even seemingly small changes in vote shares. Only 16% of the 44% Maharashtra NDA voters stated they would not have voted for NDA without Modi. Sixteen of 44 % is a 7 percentage points swinga vote share that would have gone to the opposition Congress if Modi were not the candidate. Translating into seats, a change in just 16% of Modi voters results in BJP winning only 21 seats in Maharashtra compared to the 35 (with Modi) exit poll prediction.
The NDA is slated to receive about 40% of the vote share in 2014; the same combination of parties received about 25% of the vote in the 2009 election. If Modi were not the PM candidate, the NDA would get 10 percentage points less votes than 40%, i.e., 30%. This vote decline of the NDA is allocated to the different parties depending on their vote share in the exit polls.
On an all-India basis, the Modi effect is large, very large. Without him, the NDA exit poll seat prediction is 160 seats; with him, the prediction is 277 seats! Stated differently, out of the 137 NDA gain (140 to 277), the Anyone But Modi (ABM) BJP configuration contributes only one-seventh of the total or just 20 seats.
Another dimension of the Modi effect is to interpret the seat shares with an ABM leader of the BJP. The seat shares would likely have been as follows: UPA 239 seats, NDA 160 seats and others 144 seats. This is exactly the scenario most Indians were fearinga hodge-podge instability, "with no direction home, like a rolling stone".
Is it a Modi wave, or a Congress self-goal tsunami, you be the judge. The reality is that the Indian voter has shown herself, as nearly always, to be vigilant and concerned about India, and not her caste, religion, or dynasty. As an alliance, the NDA with (my) projected 307 seats, will be about 50 seats higher than the UPA alliance of 2009, and about 10 seats more than that obtained by the BLD against Congress in 1977. That is how big and transformational the Modi effect is.
Surjit S Bhalla
The author is chairman, Oxus Investments, an emerging market
advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company. Twitter: @surjitbhalla