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Business News/ Opinion / Online Views/  The many challenges before Narendra Modi

The many challenges before Narendra Modi

The realities of Indian national politics will force Modi to seek a wider support base

Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint (Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint)Premium
Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint
(Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint)

The selection of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could fill the inevitable leadership vacuum in the party after the gradual decline of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, the two men who were at its helm for nearly four decades.

The BJP has had no shortage of regional leaders as well as national strategists, but it had nobody with the countrywide appeal of Vajpayee and Advani. Much has been made of the Advani rebellion, but the events of the past week are far less disruptive than what happened when the trio of Vajpayee, Advani and Nanaji Deshmukh took control of the old Bharatiya Jana Sangh after the sudden death of Deen Dayal Upadhyay in 1968. The power struggle then was intense, and only ended when Balraj Madhok was expelled from the party.

Narendra Modi seems to have a smoother ride, what with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as well as the cadre behind him. The next stage of his quest for national leadership will be more challenging. Modi has to make a mark in the 2014 election. He has his task cut out. The vote share of the BJP has been declining since 1998.

The link between vote share and seats is wobbly in a complicated polity such as ours, with a surfeit of players in the election game.

A larger vote share need not necessarily translate into more parliamentary seats but sometimes a small gain in vote share could lead to non-linear gains in seats.

Yet, it is useful to remember that the Congress party got 30 million more votes than the BJP in 2009.

The BJP led by Modi will need to increase its vote share quite dramatically if it is to be in a good bargaining position after the election. Some estimates suggest that the party needs to push up its vote share by around nine percentage points if it is to get around 230 seats in the next general election, and by a further three percentage points if it is to make the half-way mark on its own. That seems a tall order, though many within the party are banking on a Modi wave. The massive turnout at his recent rally in Jaipur is being held up as a trailer of what is to follow.

It seems more likely that Modi will also have to begin to reach out to potential allies, since the National Democratic Alliance is now a shadow of its old self in terms of the number of parties in it.

There has already been a political realignment ever since Modi made his pitch for a national role, with the parting of ways with Nitish Kumar being the most prominent.

Other regional satraps such as Mamata Banerjee have also indicated that they will not ally with a BJP led by Modi.

This is the fundamental dilemma that Modi will have to grapple with in the months ahead. He has risen to national prominence because of the worshipful support he gets from his core constituency. The realities of Indian national politics will force him to seek a wider support base—either directly with different types of voters or with the parties that represent them.

Modi will have to balance one against the other, not necessarily an easy task. The voting numbers will demand such as repositioning.

Modi is a resourceful politician, who has already begun to widen his support base in recent years. He has projected himself as a man obsessed with the development of his state even as he has maintained his stranglehold on his core constituency.

Such a balancing act will be very useful when he seeks allies, both in pre-poll alliances as well as more practical deals struck after the elections. But he is up against the very effective political managers of the Congress. His supporters hope for some magic combination of a Modi wave and tough political bargaining with potential allies to see the BJP home in 2014.

Modi’s next moves will be against a backdrop that offers several advantages for him: there is public anger against the Manmohan Singh government, the economy is weak, inflation has been intolerably high for many years and there are communal tensions in some states.

There have also been structural shifts in the political battleground, especially the growing number of young voters, rapid urbanization and a more aspirational nation.

How Modi crafts his election campaign to leverage these advantages remains to be seen.

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Published: 16 Sep 2013, 06:24 PM IST
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