Expect the ‘Modi vs Who?’ question to get more intense as the general election 2019 gets closer. Now that the opposition parties have overcome the initial hiccups to agree on a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) to oust the BJP from power, the debate is certain to shift towards the issue of leadership.
The media, particularly a large section of it that leans Right, would be busy painting a gloomy picture of the alliance, highlighting its inherent contradictions, conflicting prime ministerial ambitions and the general instability that such a coalition of regional satraps entails. Any stray statements from leaders down the rungs in any of these parties on the top job would be played full blast to reinforce the point that Narendra Modi is the only choice Indian has. Otherwise, the country is doomed.
How much of this is true? To begin with, the coalition experience in India has not been as disastrous as doomsayers would have us believe. India had been under coalition governments for close to three decades till 2014, when the BJP secured a majority on its own in a first for any party since 1984. The period witnessed opening up of the economy and steady growth. Small periods of political instability did not leave the economy in tatters.
Now, let’s look at the other contention. The logic behind the supposition that lack of a prime ministerial or chief ministerial face means a party or coalition is in a quandary has been proved to be flawed repeatedly in the last five years. The BJP did not project anyone as its chief minister candidate in Uttar Pradesh. The same was the case in Haryana, Bihar and Uttarakhand. Yet it won elections in three of these states handsomely. Also, naming a chief ministerial face does not necessarily mean a great advantage. In Karnataka, the party had named BS Yeddyurappa, yet it lost. In Delhi, it had projected Kiran Bedi. It lost.
When the Congress led a coalition government in 2004, it did not have a prime ministerial face to announce during the campaign, while the BJP had a powerful one in Atal Behari Vajpayee. The examples make it clear that announcement of a face for the top job does not necessarily make a great difference to the prospect of a party. If the overall public perception of the party is favourable, then the leader may act as a force-multiplier. If it’s the opposite, the voters will kick the party out, no matter whether the opposition has a leader or not.
The BJP and the entire Right eco-system would like the electoral battle of 2019 to be a presidential one, where people choose between two candidates, between Prime Minister Modi and any leader from the opposition, preferably Rahul Gandhi. The advantages are loaded in favour of the former, primarily because he is an excellent communicator and has a way with the masses. His other potential rivals lack the national stature. Rahul, who comes closest as one, is way short as a gifted communicator.
Yet, however much they may wish for a two-way contest, the Indian voter is much smarter. His voting decision is complex and built on several considerations, the leader being only a minor factor in the entire process. He is not likely to be sucked into the deliberate confusion built into the ‘Modi vs Who?’ question.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Odisha Bytes