What started in 2014 as a voters’ experiment with the politics of hope is now a phenomenon, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi acquiring almost a mythical image as an agent of change. As he completes three years in office, the Prime Minister and the ruling party, run with militaristic precision by his indefatigable lieutenant, BJP President Amit Shah, have emerged as the most powerful beneficiaries of the voters’ challenge to a status quo that has curtailed social mobility and promoted income inequality for decades.

The BJP is clearly the new natural party of governance, having decisively edged out the Congress in the national context. The party currently has more than 300 MPs and 1,700 MLAs across the country and it rules, along with allies, in as many as 17 States, while growing exponentially in States where it hitherto had only a marginal presence.

The party recently delivered a blockbuster, winning 57 of the 70 seats in the hill-state of Uttarakhand and a landslide in Uttar Pradesh, where it has roughly retained its extraordinary vote share: from 42.63 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has retained 41.57 per cent vote share and won 312 seats in the 403-member Assembly.

A new kind of politics

Senior BJP leader and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad describes the present phase as a graduation from the “politics of want” in the post-Independence period to the “politics of identity” and now “politics of aspiration and change”.

“I see these as distinct periods of evolution of the Indian state and society. From the ‘ mai-baap sarkar’ phase where licence-quota-permit Raj prevailed in the politics of want, India graduated to identity politics where regional, linguistic, caste and religious identities became the basis for partisan support base of different political formations. Now is the phase of political of hope, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the biggest symbol of change and hope for the future,” Prasad says.

There is a “credibility and trust quotient” that the PM encompasses in his capacity as the most attractive vote-catcher for the BJP. He retains, within his personality, shades of different caste and religious identities that still influence voter behaviour. “But most importantly, he is seen as someone who will deliver and act in good faith. The voter trusts him to take decisions for his benefit,” says the BJP leader.

According to Prasad, the BJP’s rise rests on the PM’s ability to keep faith with the voter; in continually targeting the PM, the Opposition has missed the point that the voter still trusts Modi. “We continue to expand because the Opposition’s understanding of the BJP and its leader is still rooted in the past. They have not realised that it is a new India and the voter is responding to a positive agenda set by the PM,” he says.

The counterview is that the BJP is cynically creating communal divisions to consolidate the Hindu vote, besides using state power to target and crush political opponents. Among the Opposition parties, it now seems to be political necessity to forge a Grand Alliance of all regional satraps with the Congress — for which the upcoming Presidential elections will be tested as a dry run. For the purpose, a call for a Grand Alliance against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was made on May 1 by socialists with the Congress and the communists.

Playing to Modi’s strengths

But in the absence of a charismatic leader to match Modi’s rhetoric and appeal, the Opposition is wary of turning the 2019 elections into a “clash of personalities”. Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh warned his allies that like Indira Gandhi in 1971, Modi will find it easy to trounce an alliance that focusses too much on him.

“We need to focus on issues rather than personalities. What we need to oversee is that we do not end up repeating what happened in 1971 when Mrs Indira Gandhi defeated a united opposition by the simple slogan – Voh kehte hain Indira Hatao, Mein kehti hoon garibi hatao (They say remove Indira, I say remove poverty),” Singh warned his allies.

According to Sharad Yadav, the chief protagonist of the Grand Alliance (along with Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) and Congress President Sonia Gandhi), the Opposition needs to find a positive agenda and fight the BJP jointly.

“The BJP is employing its Goebbelsian tactics to mislead people. Every week they raise a different non-issue – demonetisation, anti-Romeo Squad, cow protection – to divert attention from the fact that none of the promises they made in 2014 have been fulfilled. Where are the two crore jobs every year promised by Modi? Where is the 50 per cent over the input cost that was promised as MSP to the farmer? And they are use state power to target opponents. Their rhetoric will only be busted if we pool our resources. We are fighting an authoritarian force,” Yadav says.

But if it is an “authoritarian” force, it is still ruling through popular support. That the Opposition is losing successive elections and has no face to match the popularity of the Prime Minister only adds fuel to the BJP juggernaut on a roll.