Opinion: When I searched I couldn't find Modi wave anywhere, what are people saying about the election?

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
8 Min Read

Author: Ruchir Sharma
Modi knows how to create waves. Ten years ago, he had given the BJP an absolute parliamentary majority for the first time in three decades. Five years later, on a wave of support amid tensions with Pakistan, he transformed that narrow majority into a more decisive majority. So when the Prime Minister, his party and polls began predicting another big win this year, very few people doubted that a third wave was coming. I had no doubts at all.

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Then I set out on the election campaign with a team of 20 media colleagues with whom I have covered more than 30 national and state elections over the last 25 years. This time we tracked the election campaign from the east coast to the west, through Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra. And as is often the case, conventional wisdom did not stand the test of road reality. We did not hear a wave anywhere on this 2,000-km, eight-day journey.

We did not even hear any reaction against Modi. This is reminiscent of pre-Modi India, with a focus on local issues and leaders – with events in New Delhi given second priority. The urban middle class is taking pride in Modi's main campaign plank for a third term that a fast-growing economy is boosting India's global stature. But many rural voters do not think so.

Despite subsidies for the poor doubling under Modi's rule, he still talks about the daily crisis caused by food inflation. He says that the government should provide some relief immediately. Yes, the government has built many gleaming new expressways, but on the other hand it also has to face the chaos created by the disorganized growth of cities. We are able to travel between cities at an average speed of only 50 km per hour. There has been no improvement in this direction for almost 25 years.

Our journey started from Andhra Pradesh, where voters did not even take the name of the Prime Minister without prompting. Modi gave a grand welcome to his aide Pawan Kalyan at an election rally in Rajahmundry city. Kalyan is a regional film star who has formed his own party. Often people come to the rally in large numbers just to see the celebrities landing from the helicopter. Some people left the place after listening to Pawan Kalyan's passionate speech in Telugu. Modi had to translate from Hindi. His words seemed to melt in the bright afternoon sun before reaching the crowd. The only wave we could feel was the heat wave.

Voters mainly talked about two prominent politicians from Andhra. One is CM Jagan Reddy, who is famous for his welfare schemes and the other is Chandrababu Nadu, who is a development man. A former chief secretary of the state even said that the Andhra Pradesh contest was becoming an intense local 'class war' pitting the poor against the rich and that national politics was no longer relevant. Is.

Three days later, we reached Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, where Congress CM Revanth Reddy said that just six months after coming to power, he is under pressure because the country is in the grip of 'Swiggy' politics. You know that Swiggy is a popular food delivery app. Campaign managers told us that candidates are spending crores of rupees per constituency, which means the total cost of winning elections in the southern states, which are more prosperous than the North, is more than Rs 80-85 billion. In return, voters want immediate benefits.

The global discussion about India focuses on ideology and Modi's brand of Hindu nationalism while ignoring the increasingly transactional quality of Indian politics; As Reddy told us, 'Ideology is for libraries.' Parties and voters are often motivated by pure self-interest. According to one calculation, almost one in four BJP candidates across the country are newcomers from rival parties – requiring no prior commitment to Hindutva.

The second part of our journey took place in Karnataka, where recently whitewashed houses and wide roads spoke of growing prosperity. From there we went to Maharashtra where we encountered state highways full of potholes. Maharashtra, which was once the second richest state in terms of per capita income, is now out of the top 10. Its decline still continues. At the same time, a surge has also been seen in Karnataka and Telangana. Both have climbed more than a dozen places in the last decade to reach the third and second positions respectively.

Local conditions create local mood. A representative of the Chamber of Commerce in the small town of Solapur told us that there are so few industries and jobs in Maharashtra that thousands of young people are migrating away, leaving behind 'retiree villages'. The issues here are particularly serious, such as farmer suicides, struggles to export onions and pomegranates, etc.

Compared to other states, voters here described BJP as very aggressive and very ambitious. He said the BJP had 'broken' the two regional parties by using bribery or intimidation to get local candidates in its favour. Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya also repeated to us what they now tell the voters that Maharashtra is declining because Modi is in favor of development in his home state Gujarat.

The result of all this will be that the BJP and its allies may lose ground in the west and bring some turmoil in the south. Most of the impartial observers we spoke to believe that unlike the NDA's victory in 2019, the two major alliances may end up sharing seats in Maharashtra this time. In Karnataka too, there was talk of Congress winning 10 seats after its defeat in the 2019 elections. The NDA's prospects in Andhra depend almost entirely on its regional alliance partners. Of these four states, the good news for BJP came from Telangana, where the party is likely to gain at the expense of BRS.

India is such a diverse state that it is difficult for even the most charismatic powerful people to completely dominate it. Although Modi is likely to return for a third term, he may not live up to the hype. If this time BJP wins by a small margin then the fear that Modi and his party are becoming too powerful and Indian democracy is in danger will end. Then the discussion will begin on how they can rule with less mandate.

Ruchir Sharma is an author and global investor.

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