Column: The measure of Modi

May 16 2014, 21:57 IST
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SummaryIf he had not been the BJP PM candidate, the instability feared by all would have become a nightmarish reality

As you read this, results of Election 2014 would have begun to appear on your TV screen. Several, indeed all, the exit polls have forecast a majority for the NDA. That is my forecast as well—264 seats for the BJP alone and 307 seats for the NDA, as shown in the accompanying table. If the results are right (last caveat in this article: assume they are right to follow the argument), there will be intense discussion, and speculation, about what the results mean, e.g., what was the effect of Narendra Modi on BJP’s fortunes, whether there was a Modi wave, etc. But the reality will remain that the NDA majority means a radical occurrence in 25 years of coalition India, 1989-2014. The highest seats obtained by any party in the last 25 years was 244 by Congress under Narasimha Rao in 1991. The median estimate of eight exit polls is 281 seats for the NDA—well in excess of the 2009 UPA coalition and a magnitude that will likely transform Indian politics.

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 Gandhi’s 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

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