Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma has been visibly declining since mid-2017. The point that is open for debate is whether or not he can reverse the slide by playing the several cards he is adept at playing. Paradoxically, the onset of the fade-out of Mr. Modi’s charisma coincided with the beginning of the makeover of Rahul Gandhi. The scion is no longer a presumptive leader; he has emerged as Mr. Modi’s prime challenger.
Regardless of how the political narrative concludes this year, Mr. Modi will surely rue his role in the emergence of the Congress president as a credible politician. Mr. Gandhi need not to be formally named as the prime ministerial face of the Opposition because, in its hurry to convert the electoral battle into a Modi versus Gandhi contest, the BJP willy-nilly elevated Mr. Gandhi’s political stock by unceasingly ridiculing him. Mr. Modi repeated the Congress leadership’s error of ceaselessly targeting him when he was Gujarat Chief Minister and elevating him from a regional leader to a national one.
Leaders like Mr. Modi run the danger of becoming their own nemesis. To assess his current standing, we need to weigh him against his own past. In 2013-14, there was certainty about the BJP’s victory; only the final tally was the subject of speculation. Back then, Mr. Modi was the alternative. In contrast, only a dramatic alteration in the current political narrative can ensure that the BJP gets anywhere close to its 2014 tally of 282 seats in the Lok Sabha. The party’s hopes of preventing a major decline in its tally is now significantly dependent on the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor.
Evidence of decline
The decline in Mr. Modi’s charisma is evident through both anecdotal and empirical evidence. The first signs of decline were seen in Gujarat in 2017 when people began walking out of his election meetings. From the scenario in 2014, when venues of his meetings reverberated with chants of “Modi, Modi”, visuals of people tossing Modi masks while leaving were ominous. Yet, the escape by the skin of his teeth was proof that much of the sheen had worn off. Throughout 2018, the empirical proof was added to what was already discernible. The BJP lost many by-elections, and the final confirmation came with the Assembly elections at the end of the year. For a party that won every election in the name of Mr. Modi, even when it nominated chief ministerial candidates, the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan defeat demonstrated that much of the hype around Brand Modi has eroded in the Hindi heartland. This was where the BJP won almost 200 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.