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How can Defence Minister AK Antony make a statement that people wearing Pakistani army uniforms killed Indian soldiers? Till the time there is a capable government at the centre, there can be no guarantee of the country’s security.

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A change is required in the government in Delhi which does not understand what’s happening elsewhere… My last rally here was with Atal Behari Vajpayee, but things have changed since then. Haryana is going to shake up the Delhi Sultanate.

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I want every farmer to give me steel from his plough to honour this man who was himself a farmer and brought farmers to the country’s freedom struggle. It will be used to build a ‘statue of unity’ in Patel’s birthplace in Gujarat and will be twice the size of the ‘Statue of Liberty’.

Thundered Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on 15 September 2013 at Rewari, Haryana to a three-lakh-plus-strong crowd largely composed of ex-servicemen. That was the virgin rally of Narendra Modi after being anointed as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the aeonian 2014 general elections just two days prior. General VK Singh who was present at the gathering—then not a member of the BJP—eventually reaped a rich harvest of its ripple effect by winning the Ghaziabad Parliamentary seat by a record margin of 567,260 votes.

After May-June 2014 Delhi will change. A government committed towards Chhattisgarh will be formed… Earlier it was Indira Congress now it is Italy Congress. Their symbols have changed. Congress does not believe in any form of democracy…Fulfil Gandhiji's dream. Gandhiji dreamt that the Congress be disbanded.

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Seeing the people at the rallies, participation of women and youth...I can say that there is wave in Chhattisgarh, a wave of Dr Raman Singh.

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Wherever there are BJP governments in the states, Centre creates hurdles and obstacles.

That was Chief Minister Narendra Modi again on 14 November 2013 at Durg, Chattisgarh campaigning for incumbent Chief Minister Dr. Raman Singh’s re-election. Dr. Singh won a straight third term.

It was also the period when the cabal of professional Modi-baiters in the media had woken up to the fact that the 2002 riots stigma would no longer stick to him, and thus changed track. The spin was now altered along the variants of, “Fine, Narendra Modi has succeeded in Gujarat but let him step outside the state, he’ll fail miserably.” This opinion piece is an especially noteworthy and representative sample of the naked display of Modi-hatred that was running rife back then.

Conquest of the States

By the time Modi was done with Chhattisgarh, it was the turn of Rajasthan. Although the presence of the BJP strongwoman Vasundhara Raje was substantial, it was eclipsed by Narendra Modi’s extensive campaigning on the strength of his ever-growing appeal that saw the Congress crash down to a paltry 21 seats.  It also witnessed spectacular margins of victory for the BJP.  

It quickly became clear to the Congress, but more to the BJP that Narendra Modi was en route to becoming unstoppable. Very soon, the BJP was eating out of his hands as he unleashed his 2014 election campaign that perhaps can never be replicated even by him. But it was the impossible tally of 73 Lok Sabha seats that his party scored in Uttar Pradesh that really cast this new BJP in a remarkably fresh light. It is also significant that almost throughout the journey of Narendra Modi’s ascent to national centre stage, his trusted deputy Amit Shah had largely remained in the shadows, organising and revitalising the party apparatus across India.  

And this new BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah marks a thoroughly clean break from the past. This is a BJP with an unquenchable hunger for and endowed with a single-minded focus on conquest and seemingly brooks no challenge. It can be said that in the run up to 2014, Narendra Modi in one stroke completely disrupted the way polls are done in India. It appears that more audacious a campaign idea or strategy, greater was the passion with which he embraced it: almost everything during that campaign was larger than life. And so, in all fairness and with the wisdom of hindsight, the Congress didn’t even know what exactly bludgeoned it. Therefore, if a non-starter like Rahul Gandhi has recently reached out to Cambridge Analytica, it is precisely because of this.  

It is also well-known how Narendra Modi’s triumphant march continued even after he became Prime Minister by decimating the Congress (and other Opposition) in crucial states like Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, and the mother of all electoral victories, Uttar Pradesh. It is also a marker of his enduring appeal that the BJP won the recent Gujarat assembly polls beating a record five-term anti-incumbency, and now rules nineteen states in India.

Blast from the Past

Cut back to 2003 when the BJP had notched up serial state assembly victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. An NDA Government at the Centre, a booming economy, and a well-respected Prime Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it appeared that nothing could stop the party.

Until the 2004 bomb struck.

From then on, the BJP spent an entire decade in political wilderness nationally, and barely managed to hold on to the states. Barring Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat it had no large state in its bag. Its top leadership was rudderless and powerless even to discipline errant state leaders, powerful MPs, and influential chieftains within the party. In 2008, Karnataka gave it the much-needed Southern break along with an opportunity to revive its fortunes, but the party botched it up enormously. Consequently, it ended up with a huge blot, which torments it even today, so close to the upcoming assembly polls in the state.   

During the same period, only Narendra Modi in Gujarat, Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh and Dr. Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh largely kept the party’s fortunes afloat.

Both Narendra Modi and Shivraj Chauhan accomplished this by reducing the Congress party to near-permanent irrelevance in their respective states. They also stood defiantly against a newly-energized and overbearing Congress party in the Centre which continued to do what it does best: harass, weaken and then annihilate any opposition using mostly foul means.

Both Modi and Chauhan didn’t exactly have it easy. On the one hand, there was the Congress party’s dedicated “Finish Narendra Modi” Cell spending extra hours hounding him. On the other was the Gujarat BJP unit ceaselessly plotting against one another and against this upstart Narendra Modi who occupied the coveted Chief Ministership via lateral entry. Likewise, in Madhya Pradesh, the awful fracas unleashed by Uma Bharti which saw her exit and the short-lived succession of Babulal Gaur reduced the state BJP unit to shambles before Shivraj Chauhan was parachuted in.       

Meanwhile in the neighbourhood, the hard-won gain in Rajasthan was lost thanks largely to the then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s mishandling of the Meena agitation.

Even earlier, in Maharashtra, the BJP’s only stab at power came through its alliance with the Shiv Sena which acted like Big Brother, quickly became unpopular and lost power. It would take another fifteen years to recapture the state thanks to Narendra Modi’s high-powered campaign. Uttar Pradesh was equally squandered by the BJP thanks to unending intra-party skulduggeries and plots and coups. And Haryana since its formation in 1966 was nowhere on the BJP’s victory radar.

It’s only when we consider the fact that all of these signal states were wrested from the Congress and other non-BJP formations do we realize the enormity of what the Narendra Modi—Amit Shah juggernaut has attained.

In very simple terms, Narendra Modi became the glue that cemented and turned the divisive electoral politics of the Congress and its clones over its head. Or in the 5Forty3 parlance, he showed how the United Spectrum of Hindu Votes could translate into reality.  

Cut to the present.

Squandering Massive Electoral Gains

In the Rajasthan by-polls that concluded two days ago, the BJP received severe drubbings in all the three constituencies. It suffered setbacks by nearly two lakh votes in Alwar, 90,000 in Ajmer and 13,000 in Mandalgarh. It’s not merely a wake-up call but a slap-awake of epic proportions.

Actually, the rout in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections should’ve injected the fear of God in the BJP. And the party did show that it had indeed learned hard lessons from this. The outstanding successes in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are the most illustrative proofs of this fact.

But between then and now, the status quo appears to remain shaky in other states. And it should hugely worry the party.

As we speak, the BJP seems content to play second fiddle to Nitish Kumar in Bihar while not appearing to strengthen its own party apparatus there.

In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena has already declared its intent to go alone in the 2019 polls and has conveyed overtures to the Congress. Although Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has distinguished himself as a competent administrator and election-winner, it remains to be seen how effective he will prove in countering the combined might of the NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena.

Haryana presents a separate set of problems. M L Khattar is generally perceived as aged, weak and unable to tackle violence, arson, and similar outbreaks patronized by the deeply-entrenched Congress elements in the state.

Perhaps Jammu and Kashmir is the worst of all. One fails to fathom the manner in which the career-best tally of the BJP has almost been gifted away to the PDP. Needless, this bumper electoral harvest owes solely to the goodwill that Narendra Modi inspired in the state in 2014. But in about four years, this same goodwill has nearly been destroyed by the state unit of the BJP.

Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan—all big states—face polls this year. While Madhya Pradesh stares at a three-term anti-incumbency, Rajasthan already seems to be a lost case thanks mainly to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s high-handed manner of ruling the state. The same Vasundhara Raje who in 2013 had “credited her staggering victory and success to the party's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi” and gushed that “Modi is a very big factor. People have seen what he has done in Gujarat.”

In Karnataka, the BJP is deeply embroiled in factional feuds, one-upmanship games and problems way too many to list. It faces Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who has decided to brazen it out, using any vile tactic as long as it ensures victory—or at least stops the BJP in its tracks. It is not a pretty sight.  

The final picture that emerges from all this?

For the BJP, circa 2018 eerily resembles the aftermath of the string of state victories it garnered in 2003 and subsequently squandered it away in a manner that can only be described as silly and petty. Back then, there was the excuse of a weak national leadership. But today, one is hard-pressed to find a convincing reason why the BJP’s state leaders are recklessly splurging the tremendous gains that Narendra Modi got them. 

And back then, Narendra Modi could retain his hold on Gujarat by boxing the Congress into a corner and displaying decisive and tough leadership skills and showcasing Gujarat’s economic prowess to the world. Equally, Shivraj Singh Chauhan achieved the same outcome through a systematic method of voter persuasion, delivering on the economy, and creating an impressive and pervasive BJP ecosystem in Madhya Pradesh.  

This observation on leadership also leads to a related point: ever since 2014, every significant BJP state leader seems content to either lavish praise on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah or go the other extreme—running their states like personal fiefs.

A parallel can be drawn in the example of leaders like Lalji Tandon, Kalraj Mishra and company whose skulduggeries resulted in the unfortunate ouster of Kalyan Singh, one of the BJP’s tallest leaders. The only ill-fated consequence of this: the BJP had to remain mostly in obscurity for about fifteen years in Uttar Pradesh.

Is the three-seat loss in the recent Rajasthan by-polls a precursor to this history repeating itself?