Prime Minister Narendra Modi is steadily establishing himself as a strong prime minister with dynamic global and local image. His clean image and emphasis on systemic reforms taking non-populist hard decisions in national interest is out stumping many opponents within and without his party. His governance appears linked to electoral strategy that connects him to people, transcending BJP and its leaders. Modi’s popular connect is carefully designed to shake-up BJP’s traditional image as urban- centric, upper-caste, middle- class party of traders and businessmen.
With that political constituency, BJP can never come to power on its own. Is Modi, then, strategising to revamp the party’s political constituency? Is he targeting that segment of Indian society that could give him political leverage, not dictated by the Hindutva framework of BJP and RSS? Modi made a beginning about this during last Lok Sabha (LS) polls when he single- handedly conducted a campaign giving BJP both happiness and anxiety; happiness because party got clear majority in LS, and anxiety because all party stalwarts got marginalised in the process.
Modi established direct rapport with masses throughout India registering accretion in vote share of all social denominations.
His performance in Hindi-speaking states was better, though he won one seat in Tamil Nadu and two seats in Andhra Pradesh with vote share accretions even in Karnataka and Kerala, where the party drew a blank. In revamping the party’s constituency, Modi appears to transform its social base.
He is taking steps that could not only annoy his traditional supporters, but also get the support of those social groups that never voted for BJP — poor, rural people and Muslims.
That may answer Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s criticism of Modi government being antipoor and anti-farmer. Modi has annoyed three major constituents of BJP’s traditional political constituency; bullion merchants, real-estate people and urban traders, and businessmen, all stashed with black money. When Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced 1 per cent excise tax imposition on gold business in the 2016-17 Budget, bullion merchants, mostly BJP supporters, went on a 42-day strike.
The gems and jewellery industry may have incurred over Rs 1 lakh crore losses due to the strike, the longest since independence. Earlier, the Manmohan Singh government was forced to roll it back after jewellers went on a strike against imposition of a similar excise duty in 2012. Another BJP constituency had been real estate people involving builders, city developers, promoters and contractors. The Modi government passed the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act in March 2016 that established Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) for regulation and promotion of real estate sector and to protect interest of consumers in real estate by establishing an adjudicating mechanism for speedy dispute redressal.
By giving RERA power like Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) that regulates share markets, the Modi government introduced level playing field for both realtors and common man. That, too, is an attempt to tight screws of BJP’s own traditional constituency. The third major target of Modi has been big and small trading and business communities, believed to be the traditional supporters of BJP.
With the demonetisation of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes, Modi has hit them hard. However, to be fair to Modi, he gave all these people a chance to convert their black money into white by opening voluntary disclosure schemes until 30 September 2016. Also, the government raised foreign remittances under the Liberalised Remittances Scheme for individuals to $2,50,000 per financial year on 26 May 2015.
Some question Modi’s motive and think that he had given enough signals to the rich to siphon off their black money, but they forget that foreign remittance could be in white only and are traceable; secondly, in 2007, PM Manmohan Singh too had raised the foreign remittance to $2,00,000 from $25,000. Modi has not only hit his traditional support base, he has also quickly captured new constituencies viz. poor, rural, youth and women cutting across caste and communal lines.
His Jan-Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion that resulted in the opening of 22 crore bank accounts, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana providing LPG connection to 5 crore BPL families, Skill India and Direct Benefit Transfer have positively impacted all social segments. The issue of triple talaq may fetch BJP some veiled votes from Muslim women! Modi is also moving carefully to make inroads among Muslims.
When he had an image of being anti- Muslim in 2014, he got 8 per cent Muslim votes at all-India level. Since then, he has travelled a long way. He is always inclusive in his addresses, made MJ Akbar the Minister of State for External Affairs, runs a government in coalition with PDP in J&K, befriended many Muslim countries. He also courted Muslims through the RSS outfit Muslim Rashtriya Manch and started Muslim Panchayats in Mewat in Haryana.
In some poll bound states, he is also concentrating on the caste calculus and trying to rope in the most numerous caste group OBCs and Dalits, thus offering them political empowerment and economic betterment. It demonstrates that while PM Modi is focussed on governance, he is not neglecting the next parliamentary elections. One thing is for sure; in the 2019 LS elections, BJP under Modi is all set to demonstrate a constituency revamp that may demolish the party’s traditional image and give it a more inclusive face.