Beyond the Bhakts and Sangh Loyalists, How Modi Became India's Only Choice

Nitya Thirumalai
From the Modi voter's perspective, only he can ensure the safety of India's borders, the growth of India's economy, India's seat at the global high table and the cultural primacy of the majority community.

There are several categories of Modi voters: the hard-core ‘Modibhakts’, the traditional Sangh loyalists, the optimistic 'ek aur chance' brigade, the 'anyone but Rahul/Mayawati/Mamata' lot and finally, those who are anxious about the fate of their investments and want a Sensex-friendly prime minister.

BJP's Lok Sabha elections campaign was overtly presidential and for good reason. The poll managers sensed that Rahul Gandhi's trust deficit vis-à-vis the voter was matched only by Narendra Modi's credibility advantage, which reached dizzying levels post-Balakot.

From the Modi voter's perspective, only he can ensure the safety of India's borders, the growth of India's economy, India's seat at the high table in the comity of nations and yes, the cultural primacy of the majority community.

Pollsters and journalists overlooked the direct connect between Modi and the voter. This peculiar chemistry is invisible because it is not mediated by any organisational structure, be it party or government and is independent of cause-and-effect.

Thus, the voter is immune to the seduction of freebies such as Rs 72,000 per annum to the poor, farm loan waivers, jobs and so on. Yet, had Modi made a similar promise, they would have had no trouble believing him.

Modi consciously avoided making extravagant promises. He demanded votes on faith and got them, no questions asked.

That said, many Modi voters have benefited from schemes launched under NDA-I. Those who haven't, believe that the work is half done and another five years will see it come to fruition. In that sense, Modi had kept the 'hope' factor alive.

The aam voter identifies with Modi in a way he cannot with the leader of the only other national party in the fray, Rahul Gandhi. Modi understands that in today's politics, dynasty and privilege are a burden and humble beginnings an advantage.

Counter-intuitively, ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ pushed voters into Modi's embrace. By owning the 'chowkidar' epithet, Modi made it work for him. Gandhi's jibe was seen as an insult to blue-collar workers in general and to Modi in particular. It reinforced the voters' conviction that the Congress president was para-dropped into the political arena and still does not understand the terrain.

The RSS overcame its aversion to personality cults and pragmatically ran a Modi-centric campaign, correctly determining that he is a bigger brand than the BJP, at least for now. So, it was Modi all the way, 56-inch chest and all.

Every vote for the BJP was seen as a vote for Modi. Delhi bore testimony to the trend. The terrific anti-incumbency against the BJP MPs in the capital may have kept some voters away from the polling booths, accounting for the lower turnout, but most went and voted anyway, for Modi.

The fear of an unstable, short-lived government was very real. So was the terrifying prospect of seeing a volatile Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati at the helm. Traders who had suffered from the double whammy of demonetisation and GST nonetheless voted BJP, on the better-the-devil-you-know premise.

The ideologically-driven Right-wing voters, who are indirectly or directly attached to the RSS, don't weigh him in terms of self-interest. But they firmly believe that Modi is their best bet, in terms of furthering its ideology.

Modibhakts love the fact of his unpredictability and his penchant for chest-thumping and taking big gambles. To them, these are hallmarks of a 'strong' leader, just the kind that a sprawling, chaotic country needs. Equally appealing is his obvious attachment to his mother, even as he keeps his family at arm's length from Race Course Road.

Here is a man, they say, who is teary-eyed when he seeks his mother's blessings but lion-hearted vis-à-vis the enemy: the classic mythological yoddha.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)