The results are in, and the Aam Aadmi Party, with over 53% of the popular vote, has reduced the Modi Wave to a whimper by claiming 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly. Arvind Kejriwal is back to being the route to redemption in Indian politics. The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo has lost the sensation of inevitable ascendancy. It is clear that Delhiites forgave Kejriwal for leaving the chief minister’s office after a mere 49 days, and that big money does not always win.

On the face of it, Amit Shah’s anointment of Kiran Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate appeared to be a masterstroke. But, following her awkward press conferences and interviews, it became exceedingly clear that she was no political operator. Her garish rambling on platitudinous issues in broken Hindi betrayed the staid administrative demeanour that had characterised her image. Nor did it help that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s state unit was up in arms – dispatching leak after leak that undermined her authority.

The elections, as Swapan Dasgupta has noted, showed that BJP retained its core base but failed to reach out to new groups, especially the poor, youth and perhaps women. A combination of rabble-rousing from BJP’s fringe, extensive negative campaigning and general dichotomy drawn by many Delhites between local and national politics probably played a role in driving these groups towards AAP.

Leading from the front

Narendra Modi staked his prestige on Delhi elections as he had done in all assembly elections prior to it. Despite the ubiquitous front-cover advertisements of our Dear Leader – which became more and more common as the Election Day approached – AAP managed to bag all the covers the day after the results were declared, without spending a dime. Clearly, Modi lost, and lost big. But this rout at the hands of AAP’s forces may have been Modi’s first real taste of electoral defeat.

Much like the most successful politicians across the globe, Narendra Modi’s political trajectory has taken him from one victory to another. Following his thorough inception into the RSS, he became amongst the chief organizers of BJP’s electoral rise in the 1980s, and 1990s. He was a key player in the first major victory of the BJP in Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation polls in 1986.

His managerial abilities were recognised early on by his superiors in the Parivaar. The 1990s saw Modi looking after the key rallies and ‘rath yatras’ of the period. He was behind both the notoriously successful “Ram Rath Yatra”, which would eventually go to Ayodhya and the not so successful “Ekta Yatra” under Murli Manohar Joshi. His organizational acumen would then be enlisted in paving the way for BJP’s electoral fortunes in North India. In many ways, Narendra Modi was the Amit Shah for the BJP during the 1990s.

New cocktail

It was this reputation for getting things done, as Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay notes in his biography of Modi, that led to the BJP High Command appointing him as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, once Keshubhai Patel had made a mess of the rehabilitation of the Kutch earthquake victims.

Once he took the reins of Gujarat, Modi managed to build a near-permanent coalition for the BJP based on economic growth and Hindutva politics. The verdict on his role in the Gujarat riots is still unclear, but there is no denying that community polarization has played its part in delivering BJP the safest saffron state in the entire country. This coupled with three back-to-back victories in Gujarat Assembly elections, provided Modi with an overwhelming influence over politics in Gujarat.

He would use this infrastructure to build on his public profile, which lay in tatters thanks to the treatment meted out by the English media post-2002 riots. Perhaps the biggest PR coup here was the Time magazine cover, which profiled him as an extremely serious contender for the Delhi throne even as Advani was plotting another go at it.

Thus, with a career marked by few setbacks – mostly related to fall-out with colleagues or superiors in the Sangh Parivaar– and almost no major electoral setbacks, this thrashing by Kejriwal is something Modi is unlikely to forget.

Moving on 

So what next?

The ripples would undoubtedly begin with smothered allies and embattled enemies. Shiv Sena has already called the election a verdict on Modi, and BJP’s foes – from Nitish Kumar and Lalu in Bihar to Mamata Banerjee in Bengal – have begun rejoicing at the puncturing of the Modi brigade.

More importantly, however, is the effect Modi’s battered image is likely to have on chief ministers who had little appeal in their states prior to Modi picking them. In particular, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar ought to be worried. If Modi underpins their political capital, then his setbacks are their setbacks. Machiavelli noted this about centralised political systems more than 1,500 years ago. The same, of course, cannot be said for the likes of Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh.

It requires indomitable will, intellect, self-belief and, yes, vanity for a man to reach where Modi has. Such traits have exhibited themselves in most self-made politicians – from Napoleon to Barack Obama. But as in their lives, reality has finally hit Modi as he realises that he is as much a follower of the script as he is its writer. As it dawns upon Modi that one cannot impress all the people all the time, we can perhaps expect him to be more lenient towards allies and a better interlocutor for his partymen.

Akshat Khandelwal's Twitter handle is @akshat_khan. He can be contacted at