See More on Facebook

Culture and society, Politics

Five reasons why many Indians voted for Modi’s BJP

A analysis piece in Dawn by Supriya Sharma looks at why Indian voters chose Modi, again.


Written by

Updated: May 22, 2019

“Five minutes. Do nothing. Let things happen.”

This is what Bheru Lal believes Narendra Modi said after a train was burnt down in Godhra in 2002, allowing Muslims to be killed under his watch as chief minister.

The 26-year-old Bhil Adivasi, who drives a taxi in Udaipur, Rajasthan, heard this story in 2014.

It pleased him enough to make him vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party that year. In April, he said he was voting for the party again.

We will soon know how many Indians made the same choice – not all for the same reason as Bheru Lal, though his anti-Muslim views seem to have chillingly wide currency in the country.

Majoritarianism surfaced in innumerable conversations I had with voters in four states – Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh – while reporting The Modi Voter series.

The series was an attempt to understand what was drawing voters to the Bharatiya Janata Party – the record of the Narendra Modi government, the party’s majoritarian politics, or the personal appeal of the prime minister.

Here is what I found.

1. Modi remains the BJP’s biggest draw

Which candidate are you voting for? Modi, said a group of daily wage workers in Begusarai, Bihar.

Which party are you voting for? Which party does Modi belong to, asked an agricultural worker in Bhandara, Maharashtra. She was not being ironic.

The prime minister remains incredibly popular and most voters clearly identified him as the reason they were voting for the BJP.

The party knows this and that’s why its campaign was singularly focused on him, to the extent that Modi – and Modi alone – stared back from most of the party’s billboards.

What are the roots of Modi’s popularity? His words more than anything else.

While metropolitan elites bemoan the coarseness of Modi’s speech, calling out his theatrics, diversions and inaccuracies, most voters, even those who are not traditional voters of the BJP, admire him for precisely this: his speaking style.

To them, he comes across as a straight-talking, simple-hearted, purposeful man who does not shy away from making swift decisions in the national interest.

Taadak se bolta hai, muh par,” said a man in Maharashtra – “He speaks forcefully, to your face.”

Even when his decisions are wrong – as some have come to see demonetisation – voters are willing to forgive him.

It takes time to understand the country, many voters said in his defence. We must give him five more years, was the common refrain.

2. Modi proved his mettle with the air strikes (or so, most voters think)

Even those without access to TV news had heard of India’s recent hostilities with Pakistan and believed Modi’s claim that the armed forces had entered enemy territory and caused heavy casualties. Ghus ghus ke maara – voters repeated this claim unquestioningly.

For many men, the demonstration of power by the Indian government seemed to fulfil a personal need.

An upper caste Bhumihar man in Bihar said: “The Congress may have launched attacks [against Pakistan] but it never talked about them. Modi did, which made the public feel powerful.”

The air strikes were by far the most cited reason for backing Modi. But it was not clear how many of the voters who talked about them would have voted differently had the Pulwama suicide bombing not happened.

It seemed the air strikes provided many with a reason to vote cheerfully for the BJP, as opposed to skulkingly.

3. Modi govt schemes kept voters invested in idea of vikas

Houses, toilets and gas connections were the main thrust of Modi government’s work in rural India.

As we explained in The Modi Years project, for all their flaws and limitations, these schemes – the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Ujjwala Yojana – had been implemented furiously on the ground.

The question arose: were the schemes delivering electoral dividends for the BJP? The answer depended on who you spoke to.

Among Dalit and Adivasi voters, who form a large section of the beneficiaries, these schemes had failed to dent the growing anger against the Modi government.

Young people in these communities saw the BJP as an existential threat: it was tampering with reservations and would change the Constitution and take away their protections, they said. (Not everyone shared this view, as evident from the example of Bheru Lal, the Udaipur taxi driver.)

Where the schemes seemed to make a difference was among voters from backward caste communities.

Even those who had not personally benefited from them saw in them an abstract sense of good, a reason to keep the faith in Modi. Achche din(good days) might not have come but kaam hua (work happened), they said.

(Side note: If BJP’s landslide in 2014 showed a majority in Lok Sabha can be won without Muslim voters, a victory in 2019 could signal even Dalit and Adivasi voters don’t matter much.)

4. The Opposition did not have much to offer

Money, ideas and imagination are needed to win elections. The Opposition does not have BJP’s treasure chest and started with a massive disadvantage. But where it had ideas and imagination, it was still in the fight.

The campaign of former student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, for instance, was able to create traction in Begusarai by imaginatively positioning him as ‘neta nahi, beta’ (son, and not politician).

This homegrown appeal was attracting voters more than – and despite – his ideology.

Ideology was at full play in southern Rajasthan, where a new political outfit, the Bharatiya Tribal Party, was doing the hard task of educating Bhil Adivasis about their rights, offering them an alternative to both the BJP and the Congress.

Just how effective were they? Bheru Lal, the taxi driver from Udaipur, spent a few hours with me covering their campaign trail in the neighbouring Banswara-Dungarpur constituency.

It was enough to make him experience momentary confusion – after all, the leaders were people like him and were saying things that made sense.

“But the BTP doesn’t have a strong candidate in Udaipur,” he reasoned aloud, on the way back, as if, briefly, he had been forced to reconsider his decision to vote for the BJP.

The Congress campaigners, in contrast, offered no new ideas.

And the party’s leadership problem had not gone away: not a single voter I met in four states identified Rahul Gandhi as a leader to vote for.

Voters had either not heard of, or did not believe, the party’s promise of a minimum income guarantee.

5. The media amplified the majoritarian instincts of many Indians

What made him hate Muslims so much, I asked Bheru Lal. He said Muslim men had mugged him when he first moved to the city. He had grown up in an Adivasi village which did not have a school. He used to walk to another village to attend school, where he was bullied by Rajput boys. How come this childhood experience of caste oppression did not scar him as much as a chance encounter in the city, I asked – after all, Rajputs were traditional voters of the BJP. He had no answer.

It might be impossible to find the roots of majoritarian hate in India. Perhaps it was always there and all that has changed now is its easy expression. For this, voters credited Modi.

“With Modi, we have found our voice,” said an upper caste Hindu man in Bihar.

A young man in Rajasthan remarked: “Modi is putting the Mughals in their place.”

The emergence of a strident nationalism helped. It made prejudice respectable. Bhagwa ka sabhya naam rashtrawaad hai, a journalist in Varanasi said – Nationalism is the civilised name for saffron.

Strikingly, prejudiced voters shared a common source for their poisonous views: Zee News.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Culture and society, Politics

Modi defends citizenship decision

PM Modi says it has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, that unity in diversity is integral to India while addressing ‘Aabhar Rally’ at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan today to kick start Bharatiya Janata Party’s Delhi Assembly Elections campaign slated for early next year, amid protests in Delhi and all over the country against the contentious Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizenship(NRC). Modi raised slogan of ‘vividhta me ekta, Bharat ki visheshta’ (Unity in diversity is India’s speciality). PM Modi while giving his party and government’s view on CAA and NRC said, “Muslims being misled, I have always ensured that documents will never come in way of development schemes and their beneficiaries.” Citizenship law and NRC have nothing to do with Indian Muslims or with Indian citizens, he clarified. “We have never asked


By The Statesman
December 23, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

Rallies rage on in India over citizenship law

Thousands of students flood streets of Delhi; Assam state sees five protesters shot dead. Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital yesterday, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the north-east, to protest against a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighbouring countries. The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between the police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University. People who student organisers said were not students set three buses on fire and the police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks. Members of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said opposition parties were using th


By The Straits Times
December 17, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

The Chinese version

Muhammad Amir Rana asks what is the Chinese version of Islam.  TENSIONS between China and the US have escalated after the House of Representative’s Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, 2019. The move is of a piece with the allegations of many international media and human rights organisations that China is persecuting the Uighur community and violating their rights — allegations that Beijing has denied. Calling the US action a political move aimed at damaging its international image, China says it is running a deradicalisation programme to mainstream its communities. Read: Amid global outcry, China defends internment camps of minorities in Xinjiang The Chinese claim has not been verified by independent sources and mystery shrouds its deradicalisation or re-education programme. China needs to demonstra


By Dawn
December 16, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

India under Modi is moving systematically with a supremacist agenda, says PM Imran

Imran Khan made the comments after India passed a controversial citizenship requirement. Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been moving systematically with a Hindu supremacist agenda. The prime minister was referencing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by India’s upper house amid protests on Wednesday. The bill will let the Indian government grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants who entered India from three neighbouring countries before 2015 — but not if they are Muslim. Modi’s government — re-elected in May and under pressure over a slowing economy — says Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are excluded from the legislation because they do not face discrimination in those countries. Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister I


By Dawn
December 13, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

Japan: Koizumi offers no concrete plan on coal

The new environment minister needs to offer better ways to tackle climate change.  During a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday, Shinjiro Koizumi, the Environment Minister did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation, for which construction of new plants is currently underway in Japan, during a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday. “I am afraid I cannot share new development on our coal policy today,” Koizumi said at the ongoing 25th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate


By The Japan News
December 13, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

Nepal moves up in Human Development Index but still lags behind in South Asia

Nepal’s human development index of 0,579 indicates that people are living longer, are more educated and have greater incomes, according to the Human Development Report. Despite global progress in tackling poverty, hunger and disease, a ‘new generation of inequalities’ indicates that many societies are not working as they should and Nepal is not an exception, according to a new human development report released on Tuesday. The old inequalities were based on access to health services and education whereas the new generation of inequalities is based on technology, education and the climate, according to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report. “Previously, we talked about wealth as a major driver for inequality. Now, countries like Nepal are in another inequality trap and that concerns


By The Kathmandu Post
December 12, 2019