Absence of Modi Wave, Lower Turnout Rattle BJP

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The prime minister has shifted focus in his campaign speeches from stressing the government’s successes in his 10-year tenure to targeting minority Muslims and the opposition Congress party.

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — An apparent absence of the much-touted Modi wave in the first two rounds of the seven-phase general elections has unnerved campaign managers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Political analysts blame a lack of expected electoral momentum on complacency among party workers who strongly felt that victory was theirs for the asking. The general apathy and an unexpectedly lower voter turnout seem to have prompted Modi to change tack in his campaign speeches to try to fire up the Hindu majority, the party’s support base, and get them out to polling centres.

These factors, political pundits feel, have raised the question of whether the BJP and its allies could achieve the landslide victory predicted by opinion polls just a month ago, a Reuters report said on Thursday.

The last major opinion poll predicted that the BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) could win three-fourths of the Lok Sabha’s 543 seats at stake on the back of Modi’s popularity, perceived strong economic growth, handouts, and the consecration of Ram Temple on the ruins of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

At the last election in 2019, the BJP won 303 seats and its allies won around 50 seats. Its slogan before this year’s election began was “Ab ki baar, 400 paar” or “This time, above 400”.

Several BJP leaders and political analysts feel, according to the Reuters report, that a lack of momentum in the two initial phases of the elections has dampened hopes of a huge majority for the party, although they said it was still likely to retain power.

What could be affected is the BJP’s aim to get a two-thirds majority in the chamber, or 362 seats, which would let the party usher in far-reaching constitutional changes.

“The fall in polling turnout is mainly due to apathy among party workers and voters,” the report quoted Sanjay Sharma, one of the members of the BJP’s campaign committee in the northern state of Haryana, as saying.

Sharma also conceded that some party candidates were being affected by an anti-incumbency wave. The party was facing a tough fight in the state where it won all ten parliamentary seats in 2019, he was quoted as saying.

Modi himself has shifted focus in his campaign speeches from stressing the government’s successes in his 10-year tenure to targeting minority Muslims and the opposition Congress party.

“After the first phase, we saw a definite change of strategy by the PM… delivering Islamophobic kind of speeches,” said Arati Jerath, a Delhi-based political commentator. “Obviously, he has now decided to polarise the campaign,” she told Reuters.

A total of 190 seats went to the polls on April 19 and 27 with approximate voter turnout at about 66%, the Election Commission has said. The number was only slightly lower than the last election in 2019, although there was a drop of 5-8 percentage points in voting in the BJP and allied-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.

The BJP had hoped for a high turnout, believing that would signal that its supporters had voted in force.

Polling ends on June 1 and votes will be counted on June 4. The government bans the publication of exit polls until all voting is concluded.

Gopal Krishna Agarwal, BJP’s national spokesman, acknowledged that the voting numbers were below expectations. But he sounded optimistic that the trend would not have much impact on the final results.

“Many voters have become lethargic as they are convinced about the victory of the party,” he said.

The BJP’s shift in tack may have backfired with some voters. “We have lost interest because the BJP is seeking votes by communalising the campaign, and not on its performance,” the report quoted Vikash Kumar, a voter in Chhattisgarh, as saying.

Kamal Abbas, a Muslim shopkeeper in Lucknow, the capital of politically vital Uttar Pradesh state, reflected the sense of apathy. He said he would not waste time and money to travel to his hometown Prayagraj to vote as Modi’s party was set to win the election.

“Minority votes do not stand anywhere in the majoritarian government… there is no point in wasting time,” he said.

Anirudh Singh, one of the district campaign managers of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, said the party would have reaped rich electoral dividends if the election was held during February-March, when the fervour over the construction of the Ram Temple was at its peak.

“The party has failed to encash public support for Modi after the inauguration of the temple,” said Singh, noting that the religious feel-good mood had by and large been replaced by issues like jobs and inflation.

“So far there’s neither a communal wave, nor a Ram wave, nor a Modi wave in the election,” said Jerath, the political commentator, noting Modi would have to re-invigorate his party workers and supporters if he hoped for a sweep.

After being battered by Modi in the two last general elections, opposition parties are hopeful of a better performance.

The shift in the language and style of Modi’s campaign reflected a sense of nervousness, said Jairam Ramesh, a Congress party general secretary.

“The initial voting trends show there is no Modi wave. In states where we were wiped out in 2019, this time the trends are encouraging,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Gilles Verniers, a political analyst who teaches at Amherst College in Massachusetts, said the BJP appeared to have revised its expectations and was feeling a bit rattled at the moment.

“But it’s still a very long campaign. There’s still room for events and surprises that may alter the course of the election,” he said.

“The balance of probability continues to tilt in favour of the BJP, but not maybe as strongly as they would have hoped.”

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