Modi is in need of a fresh narrative

  • In 2019, there will be some species of pre-election Opposition unity. And though uneven nationally and wobbly in some regions,this patchwork of alliances will make BJP’s job of getting a simple majority on its own tougher.
  • For many current Opposition leaders, another BJP term may well effectively end their political careers.
  • Macroeconomic revival has happened just at the right time for BJP and, assuming a normal monsoon, most economic indices will be in the right direction as the country goes to polls. Given the ‘availability bias’, BJP will have an advantage.
  • However, BJP isn’t presiding over an economic boom where jobs are being created aplenty. Neither has its social welfare schemes—many of them innovative—changed ground reality for huge numbers of low income voters radically.
  • Absent these two conditions, the economy will be a useful talking point, but it won’t be a clinching advantage for BJP.
  • It’s entirely to Modi’s credit, therefore, that he went ahead with GST and demonetisation, sacrificing short-term, electorally important growth spurt to force medium-term transformation.
  • Significantly, voters haven’t punished Modi for either demonetisation or GST. But neither is there evidence that they want to generously reward him come 2019 for being a bold structural reformer.
  • Modi will need to find another big idea, another story to tell and sell to voters to come back to power in a convincing manner.
  • Modi’s political charisma hasn’t wilted in the heat of incumbency. He remains by far the most popular political leader. There’s a national vote in national elections that can be captured by a party/leader with a clever, imaginative message.
  • Modi is exactly the kind of leader who can sell such a story— the problem is, as of now, he doesn’t have such a story to sell.
  • BJP’s campaign slogan for 2019, ‘Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikaas’ (Honourable Aim, Right Kind of Progress) is totally unequipped for this job. For one, it again tries to contrast Modi-led BJP’s ‘honest governance’ with Congress’s and the Opposition’s long record of venality.
  • But the corruption story is mostly a spent force electorally. Voters reckon Modi is honest and many anti-Modi leaders aren’t. But they won’t reward him big a second time for that.
  • This is, therefore, not a slogan that takes the maximum advantage of Modi’s political salesmanship abilities. BJP’s campaigner-in-chief needs a fresh narrative for 2019

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