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When Govind Tai, the brother of Prithviraj Chauhan and a great fighter of repute fatally wounded Mu'izz al-Din in a personal combat during the first battle of Taraori (Tarain) in 1191, there was widespread jubilation in the Indian barracks. The Ghurid army virtually surrendered within hours. Prithviraj Chauhan, the last Hindu emperor of India before a long period of slavery, had won a famous victory against the Muslim invaders. History should have changed then.

India has a longstanding ability to suddenly go into depression when victory is at sight. King Asoka famously gave up combat at the peak of his powers and bestowed upon an entire civilization, the art of pusillanimity draped in the disguise of non-violence and peace. Had Prithviraj Chauhan not developed cold feet and instead pursued the Ghurid army and destroyed them once and for all, he would never have been defeated in the next battle of Tarain. History would have changed then.

The post-modern, new millennia example of India losing its focus and again committing the same historic mistake has to be the 2004 defeat of Vajpayee which led to a decade of darkness governed by foreign-funded NGOs and discredited assortment of left-liberal establishment-wallahs of New Delhi.

India’s proclivity to hurt herself just after a hard-fought victory is legendary. Perhaps no nation in history has been so wounded so many times just when the victory bells began to ring. Therefore, when Modi won the 2014 battle so decisively, the whole of ancient India (minus the liberals of Lutyens) was celebrating, for it was after a long time that a native born poor Indian with no famous last name had won such a thumping majority. History had changed then.

For many well-meaning pundits across India, the 2004 defeat of NDA still rankles. Quite a few of them wonder what would India be like if Modi were to be defeated. My unequivocal response to them is to understand the deep-rooted civilizational structures of “Brand Modi”.

Brand Modi is a three-dimensional political brand that has almost no precedence in India’s political history.

  1. Hindu Nationalism is the first dimension of the Modi brand. “I am a Hindu and a nationalist, therefore I am a Hindu Nationalist”, Modi had thundered in 2014. That is when Indian politics changed forever, because the artificial ban on using anything related to Hinduism imposed by the intellectual class of Delhi had been rendered virtually useless.
  2. Incorruptibility is the second dimension of brand Modi. Even his worst critics concede about his unimpeachable personal integrity because he simply has no need to make money for any progeny or political heir.
  3. Humble beginnings of a micro-minority, extremely backward caste leader rising from being a normal karyakarta to the highest office of the nation is again completely unheard of in India’s political landscape and therefore gives the third dimension to the Modi political brand.

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In the last five years, these three dimensions of brand Modi have only strengthened further in both depth and scale. It must be remembered here that most brands, especially political brands, start losing sheen within 3-4 years due to the vast constraints of political give and take. For instance, take the case of brand-Kejriwal or the AAP-brand. After having made a spectacular beginning around 2011-12, it is today virtually struggling to survive and is bending over backwards to get some alliance crumbs from Congress party against whom the whole anti-corruption agitation was built.

The brand Modi contrast is too stark not to notice. By showing the courage to strike deep into Pakistan territory rather than fall into familiar traps of nuclear diplomacy, the Hindu nationalist dimension has gained incredible strength in just 5 years. Likewise, BJP refusing to give tickets to Muslims even in state assembly elections adds another aspect to the Hindu Nationalist dimension. Modi’s no-nonsense approach of refusing to give token Muslim representation and instead giving tickets to minorities only if they are willing to vote for the party may have angered the editorial class, but has added immensely to his Hindu-nationalist stature. Similarly, BJP making dynastic succession a rare exception than a norm under Modi’s leadership also adds to the third dimension of the brand.

So today, when India begins its tryst with electoral politics once more, brand Modi stands as the sole representative of the aspirations of a nation. The opposition by not being able to create a counter brand either through the Gandhi dynasty route or the various regional party chieftains, has left a vacuum for Indians to choose from. When voters begin to exercise their franchise in 91 parliamentary constituencies spread across 20 states and union territories, this humungous inequality of brands will definitely be weighing on their minds. The argument that even in 2004, there was no counter to Vajpayee is hollow because Sonia Gandhi had led Congress to victory in a dozen odd states in those NDA years and was a strong contender to the prime-ministership although many within BJP mocked her.

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The first phase of elections where 91 MP’s will be decided is what we term as the “regional parties” phase as 52 of the 91 seats were with non-Congress and non-BJP parties in the 2014 elections. Our MAPi –Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – tracker has shown that in the run-up to poll today, of the 32 seats that BJP had won in 2014, about 8 are in the vulnerable category mostly spread between UP, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, while it is making some gains in the east.

On the other hand, Congress which had won 7 seats is actually vulnerable in 5 of those, and if the party loses a lion’s-share of the vulnerable seats, it would be in deep trouble challenging Brand Modi in the next rounds of polling!

The others and regional parties are expected to broadly maintain their tally or even add a couple of seats here and there provided how Uttar Pradesh votes today. UP is the key to BJP’s and regional parties’ plan for 2019, it is virtually standing between BJP and a humongous majority in this election. Of the 8 seats that BJP had won in West UP last time around, our MAPi tracker have placed 4 in the vulnerable/toss-up category for today. The other key state where our MAPi tracker has consistently placed the two MP seats of Bengal in the BJP gain category will also be an important barometer to understand India’s mood today.

We will be tracking all the key states today and producing two analytical reports – 1, post-noon and the 2nd one after polling closes – along with major updates in the days to follow.

You can also keep an eye on our tracker throughout the election season here – we will be adding more data parameters for live tracking as we go along.

[5Forty3 Live Trackers are here]