Modi government's third term: Why is there a possibility of mid-term elections in Modi 3.0?

Ananya Shroff
10 Min Read

Alka Dhupkar and Arun George New Delhi: Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister for the third time on June 9, but this time for the first time in his career, his government has the support of NDA constituents. This shift could affect the BJP's ideological plans and the party may have to react to some issues even if it doesn't want to. So, elections are likely to be held before the five-year term ends, says Suhas Palshikar, a political expert and co-director of election think tank Lokniti. In our sister publication The Times of India Podcast, Palshikar first analyses what went wrong in the elections and why its Hindutva factor did not work in the Lok Sabha elections, which had worked in the past. He also explains how he expects BJP allies like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the JDU to react to the BJP's policy proposals and how opposition is likely to arise.

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How do you see the election campaign of Modi and BJP in 7 phases?

At the beginning of the election, BJP made big promises like 'Modi ki Guarantee' and 'Modi Phir Aayenge'. The party insisted that PM Modi will come to power again and will continue to serve you. But, in the second and third phase of the election, the opposition changed its strategy. They stopped attacking Modi and started talking about the problems of the economy. Perhaps BJP felt that it would be difficult to counter this, so they tried to take the whole atmosphere to the issues of cultural identity. In this way, the campaign became negative and Hindutva-centric.

Did the BJP believe that the Hindutva issue would work again?

Yes, but I have heard that the problem in politics is that people know what you stand for. The BJP's Hindu identity is now well established and they don't need to emphasise it anymore. In a pre-poll survey we had asked what was the best work of the Modi government, and the answer came without any pressure: Ram Mandir. This means that people clearly knew that this government has done something for Hindus. Now people wanted something more and this is what I have called 'Hindutva fatigue'. People did not reject Hindutva, but they said we already know what you are, now tell us what you are going to do next. This is where the BJP failed, they felt they needed to push the Hindutva issue further.

Is it difficult or impossible to understand Indian voters?

Exit polls and the parties themselves often make wrong predictions. It is very difficult to know what the voter wants because he keeps many things in his mind and does not say them openly. This is why the work of ground workers becomes very important for political parties. A leader alone cannot understand what people want or what they will respond positively to. It is these ground workers who convey the opinion of the public from the bottom to the leaders. Only then the leader is able to understand the sentiments of the public and take advantage of them. It is difficult to tell what the voter is thinking or what he wants. We often think about big issues like caste, religion, economic condition, but along with all this, the voter also thinks about his everyday life. He also keeps in mind the promises of the parties, the possibilities after winning and his dreams. We are not able to know properly how much impact all these things have.

Do the election results mean that BJP's feedback was not correct?

The first reason could be that the party has started trusting only big leaders and ignoring the ground workers and leaders. The second reason could be that the party already knew what the public wanted, so even if they were getting some information from the ground, they were not taking it seriously. The third reason could be that when a leader keeps winning continuously, he starts feeling that he understands the public well. But suddenly the distance between the public and the leader increases. Perhaps the party had become so excited about its ideas that it did not strengthen the method of continuously taking opinions from the ground workers.

Impact of allies like Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu on BJP?

Modi has no experience of negotiating with rivals within or outside the party. He firmly believes that he knows what is best and is always ready to get his way, whether he was the chief minister of Gujarat or the prime minister in Delhi for the last 10 years. Now, a leader who has never been used to compromise will be forced to compromise and it will be a test of how much Modi is able to adapt. This challenging journey will be interesting for the BJP. BJP rule has shown three main pillars. The first is Hindutva, which both alliance partners will not be comfortable with. They are not anti-Hindu, but there is a difference between being Hindu and being pro-Hindutva. These allies will try to slow down this agenda. The second point of the BJP is to give a free hand to major economic players. The BJP believes that wealth creation is the primary objective of a good government because it has a trickle down effect. Naidu, when he first became chief minister, had supported this view. Even today he is likely to agree with the BJP on this matter. He can support the BJP on economic matters and balance the opposition from Nitish Kumar, who has a more mixed stance on these issues.

What about issues like 'One Nation, One Election', which are pending?

Naidu's stance while discussing 'one nation, one election' is uncertain as his state already follows a unified election schedule. There could be a direct clash between Naidu and Nitish Kumar on the issue of delimitation. Their different regional interests mean they would prefer different approaches. In the case of caste census, Naidu may not openly oppose it, but he may feel quite uncomfortable. This is not usually the kind of politics he has practised. In other words, the BJP seems to be returning to the Vajpayee era, where despite being in power, they cannot openly push their ideological agenda.

Can Modi play a role like Vajpayee?

No, that is why I say this is going to be a fascinating era. Not because there is a coalition, we have seen coalition governments before. But if you look at the coalitions we have seen, you will find that they were led by experienced politicians skilled in compromise and negotiation. Now 10 years later there is a coalition government whose leaders are not accustomed to this kind of leadership. Both by temperament and thinking they are opposed to the idea of ​​compromise and give and take.

How will BJP deal with this phase?

The only way out for the BJP is to add more allies to the NDA, either by breaking other parties or bringing more parties into the NDA. Then they can balance these parties like the TDP and the JD(U) on various issues. This balancing can be done not by Modi but by others in the party. The other possible way out for the BJP is to break both these parties. However, Nitish Kumar's party is very weak internally and it may be very easy to break it. Modi will probably be willing for a short time to have a minority government and then say, 'Okay, I am doing this, you do whatever you want, if needed I will go to the people again.' I also do not rule out the possibility that after two years Modi again goes to the voters and says 'Look at my first 10 years where I could do a lot and now there are these chains. I don't want these chains, give us any demand.'

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