The erosion of Modi’s popularity has many reasons.
Recently held by-elections to India’s national parliament and several state assemblies may be pointers to the decline and final fall of India’s charismatic and pugnacious Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The first signs of his declining popularity were evident last year when his party, the Hindu nationalist BJP, lost crucial by-elections in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh (UP). These included the Lok Sabha (national parliament) seat vacated by Modi’s handpicked chief minister of UP, who was a rabidly anti-Muslim Hindu priest from the eastern part of the state. In addition, the BJP lost seats in the state legislatures of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, two other strongholds of the BJP.
Another example is last month’s elections in the crucial south Indian state of Karnataka, which the BJP was expected to win because of the anti-incumbency wave against the ruling Indian National Congress Party (NCP). The BJP improved its seat count but was unable to get a majority, providing the Congress the opportunity to return to power as a result of its post-poll alliance with a regional party. Moreover, although the Congress lost seats in these elections, it garnered thirty-eight percent of the popular vote to the BJP’s thirty-seven percent and with its ally, JD(S), secured fifty-six percent of the votes. The Karnataka results were especially galling for Modi who had camped in the state for several days and addressed a record number of twenty-one campaign rallies. In doing so, he made the state election a test of his popularity—a test that he failed.
More important, in a series of by-elections were also held for vacant state assembly and Lok Sabha seats in late May. The BJP won only one seat, and that was also by defeating its ally the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Furthermore, out of the eleven seats, the NCP won five. Finally, the most critical loss for the BJP was the parliamentary seat of Kairana in western UP, which the BJP had made into a prestige contest. It was won convincingly by a Muslim woman running on the ticket of a party dominated by Jats, a landowning Hindu caste that until recently had been engaged in communal strife against Muslims.