Is India experiencing a Modi wave?
There can't be a clear answer to one of the most debated questions in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections: Is there a Modi wave? But one thing is clear, even such an aggressive campaign centred around Narendra Modi has failed in generating a Modi wave across the country. While Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voters seem to be voting for the party due to its prime ministerial candidate in a few states, the party is still the top-most consideration in other states. There are BJP voters who have indicated that they would vote for the party as they like the local candidate fielded. In the southern states, though BJP has managed to increase its electoral support base, the party is still far from winning Lok Sabha seats, Karnataka being the only exception. At the national level, and more so in northern India, more than Modi's charisma, it is the huge dissatisfaction with the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that is helping the BJP march head of all other parties in the electoral contest.
While this is the national mood, there are variations in the trend in different states. Modi's appeal is helping the BJP in attracting votes for the party in states where it has been a relatively small player, or has been in alliance with other regional parties in the past few years—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Odisha and Jharkhand. In Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Haryana, Odisha and Delhi, more BJP voters indicated voting for the party due to Modi, and less due to the party or the local candidate. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, there is a sizeable number of BJP voters who have indicated that they would vote for the BJP as they like Modi, but the number of BJP voters who indicated voting for the BJP mainly due to the party still remains higher.
In states where the BJP has been in power for some time or has won the recently held assembly election, namely Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, a large proportion of voters have indicated voting for the BJP, but this huge support is more due to voters' attraction for the party rather than Modi. In Madhya Pradesh, 32% of BJP voters indicated voting for the party due to Modi while 43% stated their preference for the party. In case they had to choose between Modi and Shivraj Singh Chouhan as India's next prime minister, the preference for Chouhan was slightly more compared with Modi, clearly an indication that Modi is not pulling votes for the party in Madhya Pradesh.
Similarly, in Rajasthan, of all BJP voters 29% mentioned Modi as the factor for their motivation to vote for the BJP, while 41% mentioned the party. The number of BJP supporters voting for the party due to Modi was much smaller (only 18%) compared with those who were willing to vote for the BJP due to the party (44%). Even in a state such as Gujarat, where Modi has been chief minister for more than a decade, only 19% of BJP voters mentioned they would vote for the BJP due to Modi while 41% of them stated that their vote for the BJP is mainly guided by their liking for the party. Clearly, in states where BJP is in power, it is the government's popularity which is attracting votes for the party rather than merely Modi's charisma.
In other states where the BJP has been a marginal player till now, there are mixed trends. In Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, there is a sizeable number of BJP supporters who have indicated voting for the party due to Modi. But in other states such as Karnataka, Kerala, Assam and Punjab, among those who have indicated voting for the BJP in the 2014 election, the choice is largely due to the party and not due to Modi.
Going by these trends, one can hardly say there is a Modi wave across the country. More than a Modi wave, BJP seems to have gained support amongst a cross section of voters, rural and urban, young and middle-aged and amongst various other social groups due to their enormous dissatisfaction with the performance of the UPA government, corruption scandals involving central ministers and skyrocketing price rise in the past couple of years. In the absence of any other viable national alternative, the BJP stands to be the natural gainer.
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Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
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