In 2004 when after a spectacular show in 3 state assemblies, early Lok Sabha elections were announced by confident Vajpayee government, little did BJP know that it was in for a big shock. Indian voters are mainly concerned about three basic issues like security, justice and the credibility of the candidate
Security means military as well as economic security. BJP, a right-wing party, under the leadership of Vajpayee took some unprecedented peace measure with Pakistan. Pakistan’s hardliners unhappy with the peace process tried their best to derail it. The romanticism with which Vajpayee government had started the initiative went well with the public. Right when the optimism with ‘Aman Ki Asha’ was replacing animosity, Pakistan did what it is best known for- exercising violent methods. The attack on Parliament, Kargil and Kathmandu plane hijack were desperate attempts of Pakistan to maintain the status quo. Vajpayee government chose not to make security an election issue, which was a mistake. Another mistake was to promote the idea of ‘India Shining’. If India was already prosperous what more it could have done for the people. Congress, on the other hand, has been sailing on the perception of Indira’s slogan- ‘Garibi Hatao’. This slogan may not be used by Congress now but its campaign is always centered around creating an image that’s pro-poor. Congress mocked BJP for ‘India Shining’ and did not leave any opportunity to prove the hollowness of the idea. ‘India Shining’ backfired!
With a strong ecosystem created over a rule of many decades, Congress and left parties are projected as more socially just parties. The fact that left ruled states see some of the most violent incidents and most riots have taken place during Congress rule, is never discussed by left leaning media and intellectuals.
Vajpayee was projected as the PM candidate. Undoubtedly his popularity was sky high at that time but his popularity became immaterial as the image of the local candidates overtook his popularity. Another major factor was that BJP failed to cater to the needs of its core voters. Ram Mandir was an election issue in 1998 but was forgotten soon after. Shockingly BJP faced a humiliating defeat, getting fewer seats than last time. Its vote share never went down and still it got fewer seats, is another matter altogether.
When PM Narendra Modi started his election campaign in 2014, he was fighting against many odds. With a past of his party’s 2004 debacle and internal conflict of BJP regarding his PM candidature, nothing seemed to be in his favor. But his perseverance and dedication wrote a new chapter and created a new dimension in Indian politics. BJP is a party which is not person centric and has never seen a leader greater than the party. But no one even in BJP can deny that 2014 election campaign was only a one man show and the whole party stood behind him. From a partner in coalition governments, BJP became a truly national party for the first time, achieving the impossible looking full majority target. Narendra Modi became the idol of millions, a larger than life figure yet so approachable, so down to earth, so one of us, so real. People believed his election promises. People loved him when he narrated incidents of his humble background. A ‘chai wala’ became the new icon for all age groups- children, youth and old. A statesman was born!
The expectations were extremely high. From day one his focus is on development – economic and social. In 2003 during Vajpayee government, India received around $4 billion as a foreign investment while China received 20 times more than that. Today India has replaced China as a top destination for Direct Foreign Investment. In 2015 India was the highest ranked country with $63 billion worth of projects were announced. With the introduction of schemes for the extremely poor of the country, Jan Dhan Yojana, schemes for farmers, strike on black money and corruption Modi has proved that his government is ‘for the poor’.
India has always maintained its stand on maintaining peace with her neighbors. Whenever any other party except Congress is in power at the centre, Pakistan becomes more aggressive. Modi comes out as a prime minister who does not hesitate to take tough decisions for the safety, security, and welfare of his people, be it surgical strike on Pak terror camps or demonetization.
Even before Modi became PM, he talked about social justice through ‘Sabka sath sabka vikas’. India’s diversity may make the process slow but the change is visible. The only thing left now is to cater to the needs of BJP’s core voters. If that happens, BJP can forget 2004 as a bad dream and start preparing to lead India once again in 2019.